The 1880 Train – Homage to the Iron Horse

The 1880 Train

Keystone and Hill City, South Dakota.

If you’ve hung around these parts for any length of time, you may have noticed that I have an interest in trains, and especially an interest in steam engines. On our journey in the fall of 2021, we stopped at Keystone, South Dakota with the goal of an excursion on the steam train known as The 1880 Train. The train has daily runs between Hill City and Keystone, South Dakota with the route traveling through the forests of the Black Hills and areas of open prairie in the two-hour 20-mile trip between Keystone and Hill City. You can board the excursion train at either station, and you will follow the original route of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. That line served the mines and mills between the two Black Hills communities.

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The scenery through the mining country is spectacular.

According to their website, the Black Hills Central Railroad, operators of the 1880 Train, is the oldest continuously operating tour railroad in the United States. Their livery consists of three steam engines and two diesel electrics.

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The route parallels the highways in some locations along the route.

Expect a one-hour ride between each city with a 15-minute layover time. Add about 30 minutes at arrival to pick up your tickets and board the train. On the day of our trip, the line wasn’t long, and we had our tickets in plenty of time to visit the gift shop prior to departure.

In the image above, you may notice that the engine is operating in reverse as it pulls the train to Hill City. At Hill City, the engine connects to the other end of the train and pulls the train in the forward direction.

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Expect waves from the drivers who have the opportunity to see the train as it crosses the highways in several locations along the way.

Since there are both steam and diesel trains on the line, they identify the engine type on their schedule. If you want to ride the steam train, you can pick an appropriate time for your trip. They do mention on their site that for mechanical reasons, they may have to substitute a diesel engine for steam, should the necessity arise. The engine on the day of our journey is a 2-6-6-2T articulated Mallet, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1928. It was first put into service in hauling timber in Washington state. After a stint in Utah, it was retired to a Nevada railway museum before being purchased by Black Hills Central Railroad in 1999. The restored engine went back into service after restoration in 2001.

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Meadow with a meandering creek

One of my favorite photos to come out of this journey happened as we passed into an area with a few residences. There is a large valley that lies between two forested areas, a few scattered homesteads dotted the landscape. The creek itself wasn’t visible, but the color of the prairie grasses left the telltale signs of its presence. The creek left a meandering leading line that directs the viewer’s eyes from the foreground into the background ensuring a good look at both sides of the image.

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Crossing the highway

All along the route, we crossed the highway known as the Old Hill City Road several times. The rails also run adjacent to Battle Creek as it also meanders through the countryside. From this view, the forest of the Black Hills was especially thick.

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Keystone, South Dakota

As we pulled into the Keystone Depot, we passed a small park that features Engine Number 7, a retired steam engine on display near the depot. The 15-minute layover allowed a bathroom stop. We considered browsing the gift shop, but it was too crowded to go in, especially considering Covid mitigations. Instead, we enjoyed the beautiful sunshine outside until it was time to reboard.

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Buck and two does

We saw lots of deer in the forest as we traveled by. Here, a buck and two does were captured as we went by. The shade required a slower shutter speed for my aperture priority shot, and the doe on the right moved just slightly introducing a small amount of motion blur. I have a couple of other images of other deer spotted along the way in the Flickr album that goes with this post.

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Engine 110 at the Keystone Depot

Lately, I’ve decided that I can process a few more images than I share here, and store those images in my Flickr gallery. All of those images, as well as the images you see here) are in 2K HD for closeup pixel peeping in my Flickr album. You can find that gallery of images here.

The 1880 Train schedule and online ticket purchases are available on the Black Hills Central Railroad website here.

John Steiner


  1. Thank you John for the memories! We did this some years back with my family from Ireland and they still talk about it!

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