Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1880s Train

Next on our Bucket List was a ride on the 1880s Black Hills Central Railroad, which runs between Keystone and Hill City, South Dakota. At one point, the tracks vary from a 4% to 6% grade, making it one of the steepest railroad routes in the U.S. We took the trip with our RV friends, Mark and Dale Bruss, shown here in front of the engine which pulled our six-car train.
We were told that this engine, a 2-6-6-2T articulated Mallet, was built in 1928. It is the only one of its kind in the world which is still in operation. It runs on conventional tracks, which are 4' 8" wide instead of the 3' width of the Narrow Gauge trains, and burns recycled oil.

The train crosses County Road 323 nineteen times. At each crossing, the whistle sounds two long blasts, followed by a short and a long blast. We were told this is Morse Code for the letter "Q." It seems that Queen Elizabeth started the tradition by having the ship on which she was traveling sound the "Q" so other ships in the area would know the Queen was on board, and would yield the right of way. Railroads soon picked up the signal, and now train whistles everywhere sound a Morse Code "Q" when approaching a crossing.

Scenery along the route includes not only track-side farms, ranches and residences, but views of the Black Hills and Harney Peak. We were pleased that the cool weather has turned the aspen bright gold, contrasting sharply with the dark green of the Ponderosa Pine and Black Hills Spruce.

While Dale and I gazed out the windows and snapped photos, John, and Mark just behind him, enjoyed a short nap between train whistles at the railroad crossings.

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