1880 Train

Every year, while my husband, Bob Schulenberg and I are on our annual trip to the Black Hills, we end the vacation with a ride on the 1880 Train. We know the route well, because it’s always the same. We know what sights are coming, because we have seen the so many times before. They just never grow old. Every time is…just fun!! The train is on a short, 10-mile-long track, and it simply goes back and forth all day long. One might think that the train has been around for 142 years as of 2022, but it has not. The 1880 Train was actually founded in 1957, so where did the “1880” part come in. The train got its name thanks to its founder, William Heckman, who wanted to recapture the nostalgic fun of the 1880s.

The track that the train runs on follows the original route of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad laid down in the late 1880s to service the mines and mills between Hill City and Keystone, so the route is authentic…even the original narrow-gauge tracks, which were 3 feet across. These days they have switched to the more modern broad-gauge track, which is 4-foot 8½ inches. The broad-gauge track made it possible to run faster trains, with increased passenger comfort, compared with the narrower gauge…not that the 1880 train goes fast. This train is a leisure ride, and nobody is in a hurry. While it is a tourist attraction, the Black Hills Central Railroad is also the oldest continuously operating tour railroad in the nation. It operates three steam and two diesel engines throughout the season. So much goes into making that final day of our trip an amazing day, and we are glad the train is there to make it so special.

A group, led by William Heckman was unhappy with the increasing prevalence of diesel engines since the 1940s, so the formed the group to ensure that “there should be in operation at least one working steam railroad, for boys of all ages who share America’s fondness for the rapidly vanishing steam locomotive.” It was a dream to preserve history, and I think it is amazing. The name “1880 Train” was originally a nickname by Heckman, but the name was so fitting, that it was made permanent. The Black Hills Central Railroad experienced a rebirth in 1990, with the line and facilities thoroughly cleaned and upgraded, and the existing locomotives restored to prime condition.

The ride is so pleasant. It takes you on a scenic journey through the beautiful Black Hills, giving you glimpses of rugged scenery, following the route of Battle Creek. You are given views of towering forests, pretty meadows and trickling creeks, as well as the remnants of old mines, allowing a glimpse into the remarkable past of mining in the region. A variety of wildlife poke their heads out from their hiding places, because they are just as curious about you as you are of them. From the train car you see the white tail deer, mule deer, wild turkey, mallard ducks, and cottontail rabbits that make their homes in the area. The train takes you over 15 road crossings where the locals and the tourists stop, take pictures and wave. The whistle sequence of long-long-short-long when approaching a crossing, introduces you to another part of history. This sequence is Morse code for the letter Q, and dates back to the time when the queen traveled by ship in England. Ships with the queen on board would do this sequence on the horn to announce to other ships in the harbor to get out of the way. The Queen had the right-of-way. When the queen switched to the railways, the same signal followed, and the Engineer did the sequence coming into a station to allow Her Majesty the right of way. The warning signal has been around for almost 200 years now! I wonder if it will change to a letter K when the Queen steps down. Time will tell, I guess. Nevertheless, Bob and I will continue to ride the 1880 Train every year, because we just love it.

While riding the 1880 Train on the last day of our annual trip to the Black Hills, Bob and I were sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the ride. It is a favorite part of our trip each year. One of the things that I like to do on these train rides, is to listen to what the people around us think of the journey. When you ride the train every year. You know the area, and while it is still very interesting to me, I do know the area. Others don’t, so it’s interesting to see what they think of this area I love so much. I almost feel like a local listening to the tourists who are viewing this place for the first time.

This trip’s most profound conversation was a little different, and it really made me think. The train has a recorded narrative, and a little boy, about 5 or 6 years old was listening to it. So often, children don’t really listen to such things, but this little boy was rather intently listening to the message. So as he listened, the narrator said that the train was in use during World War I and World War II, and the boy said, “What’s a war?” That really made me wonder…how nice it would be, not to know what war is. Yes, there have been wars in his lifetime, and indeed, we are in one even now, but this little boy is too young to really fathom the meaning of the word…war. He still possessed an innocence when it comes to war, killing, and death. That innocence is about to end, I suppose, because once his aunt or mother answered his question, he will forever know what a war is. He cannot go back to that innocence again. It is gone.

I came away from that experience a little sad. Children have such an innocent joy, and for this boy, that is changing. True…he won’t fully lose that innocence in one explanation, and it will depend on how much the adults with him can soften the truth for him, but no matter what we do or say, war and death go together, and death by war is not pretty. This boy has an imagination, and if he continues to question the adults in his life, he will begin to get a clear picture of war, and what it really is. Then, as he grows, that picture will become more and more vivid. He will know what death by war means. War is a part of life, and eventually we all know what war means, but for me, the question felt sad, because I was witnessing the beginning of the end of his innocence. It’s a moment I wont easily forget either.

My husband, Bob and I love the Black Hills. We go over every year for the Independence Day celebration, which also happens to be right around Bob’s birthday. It is a kind of double celebration for us. Bob and I love to hike, and we have a number of favorite trails in the Black Hills. Some trails we take every year, some only in years that we are in tip top condition, and we try to find a new trail once in a while. There is so much of the Black Hills that most people never see. The back country of the Black Hills, deep in the forest, is just stunning. These Independence Day trips are such a sweet retreat for Bob and me. We especially love the ride on the 1880 Train, as the grand finale. That ride is so relaxing, and it really never gets old.

Bob is such a hard worker. Even in Retirement, he spends a lot of time working on cars for people. There are people who totally depend of his knowledge and ability to keep their vehicles running, and I don’t know what he would do with himself if he didn’t work on the vehicles of all his friends and family members. Since his retirement, he has kept busy and has thoroughly enjoyed the work he does…plus the fact that he is his own boss. All the years he spent working for the City of Casper were great, but there is nothing quite like being your own boss. You work at your own pace and take only the jobs you want to take, and since Bob is such a social person, there is the added benefit of meeting people and making friends.

Bob is such a kind and thoughtful person, who always has something nice to say about everyone. Its a wonderful trait to be able to find the good in people, and that is just what Bob does. I don’t think he has ever met someone he didn’t like. That is something I love about Bob…his easy manner with people. It makes people comfortable with him. From adults to little kids. Everybody likes Bob. His nieces and nephews are all very fond of him, and love to spend time with him. They love to tease him and make him laugh, and he feels the same about them. Little kids are the best ones to watch. They can usually tell if a person is someone they would like, and Bob always falls into the “we like you” category. I have to agree with them. I like him too. He’s a pretty great guy. I liked him from the moment I met him…and I still do. Today is Bob’s birthday. Happy birthday Bob!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

When we think of eavesdropping, we think of trying to listen in on the conversations of people around us for the purpose of malice. However, not all eavesdropping is like that. I like to sit quietly in a room listening to the conversations going on around me, because you can learn so much about what other people think. My Great Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren, who wrote a wonderful journal about her family’s lives and the world they lived in at that time. Bertha quoted Charles Lamb, who in 1890 said, “I love to lose myself in other men’s minds.” I feel that way about eavesdropping.

If we are honest with ourselves, we all listen to the conversations going on around us. I can’t tell you how many times several tables in a restaurant end up in a conversation, because someone at one table said something that struck a chord with someone at another table. It is impossible for a person with good hearing not to hear the conversations going on around you, and I don’t think of it as being snoopy. Our ears were designed to listen to things going on around us. Maybe it was originally so that we could hear impending disaster, such as a growling bear, a tornado, a rushing flash flood, or screeching car tires, still our ears can’t avoid hearing the child saying something hilariously funny to its mother, the couple talking about something they don’t understand, or just the family saying something that you passionately agree with. We hear it, and eventually, our mouth cannot help itself, and we find ourselves engaging in the conversation we were just eavesdropping on.

Yes, sometimes people get annoyed when we try to engage in their conversation, but often, they do not get upset. Today, while my husband, Bob and I were riding the 1880 Train in the Black Hills, a trip we take every year when we go to the Black Hills, overheard the couple behind us talking about the many cars that stop and wave and take pictures of the train at every crossing. As I listened to their incredulity, I could stand it no longer. I turned and told them that people loved the train so much that they followed it from stop to stop to wave and take pictures. I was not being rude, just telling them about the love people have for the 1880 Train. They loved it. They asked if we lived in the area, and when we said that we just came every year, the conversation was on. We talked about the Harney Fire Lookout Tower on what is now Black Elk Peak (Formally Harney Peak), and that Bob and I have hiked it 14 times. Then I showed them a picture of us at the top. After they looked, the people behind them wanted to see too. I think they might have been traveling together, but I’m not sure. They might have been eavesdropping too. It was a great conversation, and no one was upset by the eavesdropping, in fact, they and we enjoyed the resulting conversation very much.

In the ten years that my niece Chelsea Hadlock has been a part of our family, she has become an endeared part of the family. Her sweet disposition and “always cheerful” personality, make her fun to be around. Chelsea is always smiling, and when she walks into a room, sunshine comes with her. I can see why my nephew, Ryan Hadlock fell in love with her. And she has been such a good mother to their children, Ethan and Aurora, who are well behaved kids, who love school, and are good friends too.

Chelsea is a stay-at-home mom, but she stays very busy. Chelsea has her own business called Subtly Nerd Shop. She is very much into Comic Con, and has attended a number of their events. She designs unique jewelry based on the feedback she gets for the Comic Con events, at which she has a booth. In the past,she designed amazing jewelry for every occasion, and I’m sure she would still do that today, if asked. Chelsea is quite talented.

No matter what Chelsea’s aspirations are in the business arena, her top priority is her family. She has made a lovely home for them, using her own designs much of the time. Her home is always warm and welcoming. She is a graceful hostess, and people enjoy coming to her home. She has especially made the kids rooms fit their ages and their personalities. They feel very special, because their mom made them feel special. They have a wonderful relationship with their mom. She is there to help them with their homework and their projects. She and Ryan are just perfect for each other. They have been best friends since the day they met, and in ten years, their friendship has only grown. Life is just perfect.

This year, the entire Hadlock family…my sister, Allyn and her husband, Chris; kids Jessie and Jason Sawdon, and daughter Adelaide; Ryan and Chelsea and their kids; Lindsay and Shannon Moore, and daughter, Mackenzie; and Kellie Hadlock, decided to spend the Independence Day holiday together in the Black Hills. That worked out quite well for Chelsea, because they are all going to ride the 1880 Train on her birthday…today. I’m sure this will be a great birthday week for Chelsea. There is almost no better place to spend it than in the beautiful Black Hills. Today is Chelsea’s birthday. Happy birthday Chelsea!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

“Every state has ghost towns. Eastern and Midwestern States are no exception. At one time or another you may have driven your car right by a ghost town, not aware of it. If you are a hiker, backpacker, or a hunter, you may have walked past or through a ghost town not knowing one was there.” I read that statement on a web site I was using to research stories for my blog. I had read many stories about ghost towns, but this one intrigued me. My husband, Bob Schulenberg and I have hiked many of the trails in the Black Hills, and I can’t even begin to count the number of times we have walked past old abandoned, crumbling, falling down buildings. To us, they seemed like just an abandoned farmhouse and out buildings, but now I am beginning to wonder if we have been one of those hikers who have walked right through a ghost town, and didn’t even know it. In fact, I’ll bet we have walked right through many a ghost town during our many hikes.

I love photographing old buildings, and often find myself wondering how long they had been there, and why they were left to rot. Of course, the Black Hills is rich in gold rush history, so a ghost town or tow makes perfect sense. We have driven through, and by some of them, and even passed through some while riding he 1880 Train, but for some reason, it didn’t occur to me that some of the old buildings we have hiked by could have been part of a ghost town, but looking back now, it makes perfect sense. I have often found myself wondering who lived there and what their lives might have been like back when the house was newly built. Still, it didn’t occur to me that it might be part of a ghost town. I guess that is because I always thought that all the ghost towns would be well documented with signs alerting the tourists to the site. In reality, those signs would be placed by the town’s owner, who was trying to make a buck by romanticizing the site…and that’s ok too, but that doesn’t mean that every ghost town was so well documented. In reality, it’s the ghost towns that are less documented that hold the most intrigue, because much less is known about them.

I think that the next time we hike and find ourselves passing by an old rotting building, that I will feel much different about the place than I did in the past. I think I will still wonder about who lived there, but also about whether or not it was a ghost town that once sprung up, and prospered, only to be choked out when hard times hit and the people who lived there moved on in search of a better life. That was, after all, the fate of every ghost town. It was a town that sprung up with the promise of becoming a bustling city, but it was in the wrong place, and life could not be sustained there, so eventually it withered and died off, leaving only the buildings to tell of its presence, and then only to those who happened to pass by.

Deadwood TrailheadFor a number of years now, Bob and I have walked the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Most is the time the trail seems like just that…a trail, but when it travels through an old cut where the trains went through a hillside, without having to go over it, I am reminded again that it really was a railroad. As we walk through those cuts, I can almost imagine a train coming through there. Bob can too, because he jokingly asked if we should watch out for the train. It is like we can see the trains, like a ghost train or an echo train.

It’s strange to walk where only trains have traveled prior, but with the Rails to Trails program, Where trains have traveledmany more people are doing just that. Since the trains are no longer using those tracks, it has become a great way to reclaim the space, and for people to be able to see the countryside on a trail that is a little easier that some of the backwoods trails that seasoned hikers take. Bob and I love our backwoods trails too, but trails like the Mickelson Trail and the neighborhood trail that we walk at home make for a good place to get some exercise without having to go to the gym, and neither of us likes going to the gym anyway.

The cuts in the Mickelson remind me a lot of our travels on the 1880 Train, between Hill City, South Dakota and Keystone, South Dakota. That train goes through a lot of those same cuts, and maybe that is why we can both Ghost Trainalmost hear and see the echo trains. It’s a place we have been before…a lot. We love to ride the 1880 Train. It is usually the highlight of our annual trip to the Black Hills…other than our hike up Harney Peak, which is our favorite hike of all the hiking we do.

As we move on past the cut in the Mickelson Trail, my thoughts move back into the reverie I always feel when I am out on the trail…any trail. There is such peacefulness there, and it’s so quiet most of the time. I can just lose myself in thought, which is probably why we don’t talk much on the trail. We are simply enjoying the scenery, and going where trains have traveled.

1385803_540236469386418_1650768861_nI don’t know how much of the Spencer genes, my cousins Gene, his son Tim, and even his grandson Daniel think that they have, but it’s possible that it’s more than they realize. Gene was a master carpenter, building beautiful furniture that anyone would be proud to own. In fact when I looked at pictures of the furniture Gene made, I wondered if he missed his true calling in life. Oh don’t get me wrong, because he was very successful, but that furniture…well, STUNNING doesn’t say enough!! Gene’s work was beautiful, and he passed that talent down to his son. Tim recently built a desk that is also quite beautiful, and shows that he has his dad’s talent. Daniel, while still a very young man, shows signs if that same talent for building things too.

Their talent is definitely amazing, but where did that talent come from. Well, I don’t know about the Fredrick side if their family, but our grandpa, Allen Luther Spencer had talent in that CCI12032013_0002area too. I have never heard anyone talk about his abilities as a carpenter, and usually when we think of carpentry, we think more on the lines of building a house, but the finer side if carpentry is furniture making. I hadn’t really given much thought to the type of work my grandfather did for the railroad, but when I saw the picture of the table Grandpa built, I was reminded of an dependent card my dad  had that said the his dad was a carpenter for the railroad.

Having been a passenger on the 1880 Train in Hill City, South Dakota, I have seen the work of the railroad carpenters. They have transformed those old train cars from junk to a thing of beauty. The carpenters who work on the 1880 Train have done just that. Still, of all these people, I have to say that the ones who have perfected the art of carpentry the most, would be the Fredrick family…and I’m sure you will agree with me on that one.

Friday was our last full day in the Black Hills, and while the hike for the day was the longest we did this trip, at 7 miles, we felt the best of all the hikes. I’m sure there are a couple of reasons for that. First, our muscles finally got used to being worked like they used to. Second and possibly the most important, it was cloudy and cool. While I prefer warm weather, most of the time, when hiking, cool weather is much better. The clouds kept the sun off, and while it was cool, it did not rain. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired when we were done, and truth be told…before we were done, but we made it. I have found something out about myself during this time…it isn’t just about finishing a hike…it’s about that something inside me that…that sense of accomplishment. I made it, even though it hurt, and made me tired, and many people would think I was crazy for walking 7 miles just to say I did.

The hike of Friday moved us to the 51.9 mark one way on the Mickelson Trail, which for us is 103.8 since we do each section twice. That is something I can feel good about. My hope for next years is that we will continue to stay in the necessary shape for the tougher hikes. We lost Harney Peak for this year, because we just weren’t in shape for it. That saddens me because Harney Peak is my favorite hike, but it also makes me more determined to be able to take that hike next year. Still, every hike is an accomplishment, and I am happy that we got to go.

The afternoon brought another of our favorite things to do in the Black Hills…riding the 1880 Train. Now I suppose many people would think that is kind of a little kid thing to do, but since I get sick on merry-go-rounds, and the carnival rides have the same effect, I’ll stick to the 1880 Train, thank you. It always allows me to imagine what it would be like to travel in the Old West…or even when my Dad was a kid riding the trains his dad worked on. I don’t think I’ll every outgrow the train rides. And riding the train in the beauty of the Black Hills is the perfect end to a lovely vacation.

My dad always loved trains. As a young boy, whose dad worked for the Great Northern Railway Company, dad had a pass to ride the train where ever he needed to go. I’m sure that his love for trains was fueled by the fact that he got to ride the train daily, a privilege that most people don’t have.

Dad has told us of his days of riding the train, and it always sounded to us like he was hopping the train, not riding with a pass. He never said “hopping a train” or anything, but we always thought that was what he meant. Maybe we thought that because it always sounded like such an amazing adventure. Or maybe he and his brother did “hop the train” on occasion, just to add to the excitement…something I’m sure his mother would have tanned their hides for.

Years later, when traveling to the Black Hills, my parents rode the 1880 Train in Keystone, South Dakota. It had been many years since Dad had been able to ride a train much, so it was very exciting for him, and it brought back those old memories of his days of riding the trains back in Wisconsin. They really enjoyed those train rides through the Black Hills.

When the Amtrak Trains came on the scene, I think my dad’s interest really peaked. He began thinking about taking a trip on the Amtrak. It would be a dream trip for Dad and Mom. They planned to ride the Amtrak Train up the California coast. The trip was to take several days, and they would sleep on the train. That would be a new experience for both of them, as all their other train rides were just day trips or less.

My dad was so excited about this trip. He was like a little kid in a candy store. I think that is how a lot of people feel when riding a train…like being a kid again. The wonder of something so new to them. And while riding a train wasn’t new to my dad, traveling that way was. He had always traveled by car. Mostly because he believed that you couldn’t see the country from a plane. But, this was different. They were able to view the countryside and it went by, and he didn’t have to drive. He felt like he was taking the trip of a lifetime. They were finally taking the ultimate train ride.

They had such a great time riding the Amtrak. It would be a trip that would live in their memories for the rest of their lives. They had taken many vacations, and all of them were filled with great memories, but there are always a few of your trips that live in your memory as the big trip, the best trip…the ultimate trip.

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