As Prairie Village activities ramp up for the season, several volunteers with the Friends of the Railway gave a presentation to library patrons Thursday, May 11.
While dressed in historical outfits, Laura Palmer and Bob Gehringer presented to a group in the newly-renovated Nancy Sabbe room in the Madison Public Library, educating the attendees on the history of Prairie Village and the railway. The Friends of the Railway is a group of volunteers who manage the railway, locomotives and train cars at Prairie Village. The group maintains the tracks, railway buildings and trains, with the group finishing restorations of the “Yellow Car” and dining car in 2022 and the caboose in 2023. They also host the train rides and school tours.
Prairie Village is a living museum featuring dozens of buildings, including the Lawrence Welk Opera House, the Emmanuel chapel car, sod and log houses, churches, a country school and a railroad depot. In addition, the Prairie Village, Herman and Milwaukee Railroad has several locomotives and train cars, and the village also operates a steam carousel.
The parent entity of Prairie Village, the Prairie Historical Society, got its start with a steam threshing bee in 1961. It was held by Joe Habeger at his farm, which was located about 13 miles north of Madison. After seeing “encouraging” results and good attendance, said Palmer, Habeger and a newly-formed group, which would eventually become the Prairie Historical Society, decided to start hosting the event annually.
The Prairie Village, Herman and Milwaukee Railroad, which is limited to the boundaries of Prairie Village today, was originally intended to be a historic railway from Junius to Madison with a stop in Prairie Village. It was the “brainchild” of Habeger and Paul Redfield, and though it wasn’t successful at the time, some of the original track still exists in Prairie Village. The PVM&H Railroad’s first locomotive was the 1927 Whilimine Victoria, which came to Prairie Village in 1969, but its Engine 29 might be the Friends of the Railway’s pride and joy.
“One thing that makes our railroad very, very unique is our Engine 29,” Palmer said. “It was World War II era but was built based on plans from the late 1800s. It is the only coal-fired steam locomotive that operates any place in South Dakota.”
The PVM&H Railway also has diesel locomotives, which Palmer and Gehringer said made Saturday and event train rides possible.
Prairie Village will be open through Labor Day, opening at 10 a.m. and closing at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The school tours for the railway began May 12, and weekly train rides will be held every Saturday at 2 p.m. throughout the season.
Other upcoming events including the Miss Prairie Village and Miss Prairie Princess Pageant on Jun 3, the Northern Bull Riding Tour on June 17, Railroad Days on June 24 and 25, the 29th Annual Car Show on Aug. 6 and the 60th Annual Steam Threshing Jamboree from Aug. 24 through 27.
The Steam Threshing Jamboree features an antique tractor and car show, horse- and steam-powered threshing, saw mill and machinery demonstrations, tractor pulls, a wagon train, railroad equipment and turntable demos and daily parades.
The Opera House Concert Series, held at the Lawrence Welk Opera House, will host three shows throughout the summer, with Divas Gone Country on June 17, illusionists Sean Watson and Chanelle Munroe on July 8 and Highway 96 on July 22.
After Prairie Village closes for the season in September, one final event is scheduled: the autumn-themed pumpkin train on Oct. 7.
For Palmer, it’s the combination of all of these activities, from the events to the railway to the museum, that makes Prairie Village a site worth visiting.
“That’s one thing that I’ve always stressed –it’s not the railroad, it’s not the tractors, it’s not the tractor pulls. It’s the whole package,” Palmer said. “I have a special place in my heart for Prairie Village.”