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Return To Hill City

October 2, 2010

I recently wrote about visits to the Black Hills Central Railroad I made back in the 1990’s as a preface to returning there in August. That trip has come and gone, though recent events have delayed writing about it.

One of the requirements of a good photo essay is, obviously, photography. Nothing makes for a more iconic image than an articulated steam locomotive blasting up a steep grade, smoke billowing forth in a volcanic plume as the exhaust shouts toward the heavens.

This is the exact sort of image I didn’t take.

My purpose for this trip was video, and working with up to three video cameras at most locations left no time to bother with the still camera. Sure a few stills would have been nice, but the wealth of great video scenes that resulted leaves me with no complaints. But while my trusty Cannon stayed safely packed away while the train was on the road, I did take the camera out for a tour around the locomotive servicing area before the first run of the day.

I pulled into the parking lot around 8 o’clock. A bit of haze drifted skyward from behind some parked equipment as I got out of the car. The hostler was already at work bringing the day’s locomotive up to operating pressure. I walked past a string of parked passenger cars with a caboose tacked neatly to the end and found an old friend parked nearby.

#7 was the first Black Hills Central locomotive I had seen under steam back in 1994. She was cold and lifeless this day; silent but only slumbering. Somehow she seemed a little smaller than I remembered. Perhaps it was her larger stable mate a few tracks over.

Still sitting quietly but with fire in her belly was the locomotive I had come to see; former Washington logger #110. This 1928 Baldwin 2-6-6-2T had been purchased by the railroad the last time I had been there, but had yet to begin her journey to her new home.

#110 seemed a bit of a contradiction to me. She is at the same time a beautiful piece of engineering and an ungainly machine. She is deceptively small, much larger at first glance than she is upon further examination; those tiny pilot and trailing trucks combined with the 44” drivers look in proportion to the rest of the machine and only give away her true size as you stand next to them.

Now don’t get me wrong when I say she is an ungainly machine. She has a stark beauty in her own way, as does any locomotive under steam. It is just that by their very nature, articulated tank engines seem to be missing something that smaller tank engines do not. A small 0-4-0T, 2-4-2T, or even a 2-6-2T, seems well balanced, especially one with the slight protrusion of a fuel bunker behind the cab. An articulated tanker on the other hand just seems as though something has been lopped off. It is rather like a freight train with a FRED replacing the caboose, you get used to it but it never looks completely right without that missing element.

Parked between #7 and #110 was another old friend, a much more well proportioned tank engine. 2-6-2T #104 was the locomotive I had found under steam on all but my first visit to the railroad.

Unlike #7, which had lost its box headlight and gained an old style wooded pilot since the last time I saw her, #104 was just as I left her. She was cold this morning, but otherwise ready to go.

After visiting the slumbering steamers I had spent time with years ago, I refocused my attention to the locomotive that was coming to life. #110 was in need of a bath, her running gear caked with grease and grime. While this may have made inspection more difficult, there was a certain beauty in a few days’ worth of heavy use sticking to the steel of her rods and drivers. Here was a locomotive being worked just as hard as she ever was in her service life hauling lumber in the Pacific Northwest.

As the oil fire slowly brought her up to working pressure, the hostler and another shop employee were busy working on the trailing truck. They were less than enthusiastic about the assembly; not without reason as the locomotive had dropped its trailing axle while hauling a full train in the not so distant past.

Not exactly Baldwin’s best designed part seemed to be the popular assessment.

By the time the locomotive was ready to go on my second day of shooting, the shop crew had given her a self-supplied steam bath. Even with the road grime removed, the running gear of the front engine showed plenty of evidence of hard running.

Once she was hot and ready for the road, the engine crew climbed aboard and she snaked her way through the yard. Before tying onto the train, she pulled to a stop at the water tower to fill up before the first run to Keystone. The fireman clambered atop the boiler, and with a wave to the crowd lowered the spout into the tank. It took several minutes to fill the tank.

As I said earlier, the primary goal of the two days in Hill City was video. Looking up into the cab from the ground, one of my cameras was ready for the run to Keystone. Thanks to the crew for their cooperation, as I set up to allow the viewer to be a back seat driver aboard a 2-6-6-2T.

Following work on a video on Louisville & Nashville #152, I’ll be editing the two days worth of footage into a video titled “Mallet In The Mountains.”


Photos by Mary Rae McPherson.

Copyright 2010 – Mary Rae McPherson

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2010 11:39 pm

    Very nice indeed! I hope we get to see your video after you get it edited. Will you be selling DVDs? I certainly hope so! At least let RFD-TV run it on their Trains & Locomotives series. Those tank engines are awesome!

    • October 6, 2010 9:43 pm

      RFD TV is not really an option, especially since they went commercial. This requires closed captioning for new programming. Not gonna happen.

      Some of my videos are currently listed on eBay, and I look to be taking out classifieds in Train and R&R in the not too distant future.

      The current project is on L&N 152, with the Black Hills Central to follow. Union Pacific in Nebraska and the Crab Orchard & Egyptian in steam and diesel are also in the works. Several possibilities after that, though no firm plans.

      Also in the works for next year is the return of Southern steam, which I plan to feature Southern Railway 2-8-0’s 154, 630 and 401. The 401 footage is already shot.


  2. October 2, 2010 11:44 pm

    Great video! How can we get a copy? I love those tank engines.

  3. Dave Peel permalink
    October 3, 2010 4:57 am

    Thanks for teaching me a new word (hostler) on this miserable damp Sunday here in the UK.
    Whilst we still use ‘ostler’ for someone who looks after horses (of the flesh and blood rather than iron variety) the person who prepared steam engines and took their fire down after use was, AFAIK, only ever known as a cleaner.

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