When riving to Hill City from Rapid City, it is nearly impossible to miss the train that greets one as they are about to enter Main Street. That train is Engine Number 7, a part of the Black Hills Central Railroad and 1880 Train.
This May, Engine Number 7 turned 100 years old.
On Friday, May 10, a birthday party along with the seasonal opening of the 1880 Train was held.
Mike Grimm, operations manager for the 1880 Train, gave a history of the train at the celebration.
“I started here in 1987, and when I got to work here, Engine 7 was sitting out here on cribbing,” Grimm said. “They had some sort of a problem with it a few years before, and it was all torn apart. One of my first jobs was to help get it back down on its wheels. We got it moved down to the shop. We didn’t do anything more with it for several years.”
When the railroad was sold in 1990, the new owners were interested in getting it back into service.
At the time, Grimm said, there was only one engine functioning, so they understood the need to get Engine 7 working again, which happened in 1993.
It did OK then, Grimm said, but it is not the best engine in the world for its location.
“It was designed to be more of a short-line train where it ran on flatter grades with fewer curves,” Grimm said.
They soon discovered that the fuel consumption in Engine 7 was “atrocious,” Grimm said.
Their other train at the time would use 110 gallons of fuel and about 1,100 gallons of water to go from Keystone and back while pulling four cars, Grimm said, while Engine 7 would burn 250 gallons of fuel and nearly 3,000 gallons of water to do the same trek.
As fuel prices increased every year, running Engine 7 became more of a concern, Grimm said.
It got to the point where four cars would barely make it, so they got more engines to pull the cars. Engine 7 was originally built to burn coal, but that was short-lived.
“They got tired of shoveling coal,” Grimm said.
It was converted to oil in 1923, and they bought a special tank for it that would fit in the tender. That apparatus was still on the train when it came to the Black Hills Central Railroad around 1960, Grimm said.
Engine 7 has been involved in different movies, Grimm said, including two episodes of “Gunsmoke.”
Engine 7, though, is no longer used today.
The Federal Railroad Administration requires steam locomotives to undergo a boiler inspection every 1,472 days of service or 15 years, whichever comes first. That ran out in 2012, Grimm said.
“It is a big deal,” he said. “It would take two or three of us most of a year to complete that inspection. When that came due, we talked about whether we wanted to do it or not. The days that we used it were dwindling down and down…and it would be a big expense to do this inspection. So we chose not to keep it in service.”
One day, Grimm said, he would love to get it running again, and they are interested in preserving the equipment and keeping history alive.
However, he said, they need to be mindful of the finances.
“You can spend an awful lot of money around here,” he said. “And that could jeopardize the whole thing if you spend it in the wrong spot. I would love to get it back in service, but right now it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is not really designed to run on the railroad like we have here. Having it sit up by the highway is doing us more good than having it run.”
Making art out of history
Trains are a living link to the history of this nation.
Rick Mills, curator of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum, came up with a way to link the history of railroads to today.
The museum came up with an art project where students from high schools from around the state would create artwork of trains on old ledger paper.
The artwork, from over 20 students from around the state, is now on display at the museum through October. The exhibit was first unveiled on Friday, May 10.
“This is our first year doing it,” Mills said. “People love it.”
The contest was open to students in grades four through 12.
The students in grades fourth through eighth just had to depict something related to trains in their art while the students in grades nine through 12 had to depict South Dakota history.
The pieces of art can be purchased. Mills said the cost for them range between $25 and $100, depending on how the picture placed in the contest.
For more information on the exhibit http://www.sdsrm.org/railroad-ledger-art-program.html.