The State Fair Special has been taking up space in the roundhouse at Prairie Village near Madison for years. This week, though, a long-time volunteer decided to take it home.
“They wanted the Black Hills Central to take it,” Tristan Scott said, referring to the train more commonly known as the 1880 train based in Hill City. Due to the size and weight of the car, that didn’t prove to be feasible.
“I chimed in and said I would take it,” Scott said. “I think it’s historically significant locally because it’s from Huron.”
Constructed in 1909, the 50-ton combination car was in service with the Chicago and North Western Railroad for 51 years before being donated to the South Dakota State Fair in 1961. For a number of years, the 70-foot car – which carried passengers, baggage and mail in its heyday – was in use there.
“There used to be an excursion during the State Fair where they would take train rides,” said Bob Gehringer, a member of the railroad committee at Prairie Village.
That ended decades ago, and the car was donated to Prairie Village around 1996. Initially stored outdoors on a side rail, it was moved into the roundhouse when weather began to take a toll.
“They put it inside with the idea of restoring it at some point,” Gehringer explained.
Eventually, committee members realized the restoration was unlikely to occur due to the expense and began to explore other options.
While the Black Hills Central was interested, the track used for tours includes a significant hill which made the car’s bulk unattractive. Most of their cars are about 15 tons, according to Gehringer.
“We’ve been putting off a decision about this for ten years,” Gehringer said, noting that it would have been dismantled and sold for scrap had they not found a home for it. “We felt lucky to find someone who would take it.”
Scott, who is a volunteer at Prairie Village and one of the diesel engineers for the Prairie Village, Herman and Milwaukee Railroad, works for the Ringneck and Western Railroad as a freight conductor. He said that he became interested in trains as a boy by visiting Prairie Village with his dad.
“Dad came up when Bill Nolan was still kicking and would help him out,” Scott said. They would also attend the annual Steam Threshing Jamboree and Railroad Days.
“With the exception of last year, I’ve ever missed a Jamboree,” he indicated, referring to 2020, when the Jamboree was cancelled. He now displays stationary engines there each year.
Scott doesn’t have specific plans for the State Fair Special beyond restoring the car, work he intends to do himself. While he is attracted to the mahogany interior and the rear section of the car where the boxes for sorting mail are still in place, he knows that his first project will be fixing the roof.
Because he hopes to restore the car to look like it did when it was in use, Scott began doing research before committing himself to relocating the car to his property east of Ethan along SD-42.
“There’s one in Wisconsin that’s identical to this. I went and looked at it for ideas,” he said.
This week, the move is taking place. A couple of weeks ago, the car was moved to the track near the east gate for easy access to SD-34.
On Monday, Robinson House Moving of Mitchell was beginning the process of lifting the car on blocks so that beams could be placed under it. Once that was done, it would be moved just like a house from Madison to Ethan.
When asked if the move posed any unique challenges, owner Pat Robinson shook his head.
“Everything goes together piece by piece,” he said. “We’ve never moved a railroad car before. We’ve moved a lot of different stuff, but not a railroad car.”