Prairie Village to run steam locomotive for Railroad Day; Traditional event scaled back to just one day

By MARY GALES ASKREN, Staff Reporter Jun 23, 2021
Submitted Photo
THE STEAM LOCOMOTIVE helped to shape the region. On Saturday, the No. 29 steam locomotive will be used to pull the passenger cars for Railroad Day.
The threat posed by COVID-19 kept the gates of Prairie Village closed on Mother’s Day weekend, the traditional opening weekend. Too, school closures prevented hundreds of children from swarming over the grounds throughout the month of May.

Passengers will once again be able to board a passenger car behind a steam locomotive on Saturday when Prairie Village hosts Railroad Day.

“The whole experience is a bit different,” said Bob Gehringer, a longtime member of Prairie Village’s railroad committee. He said the smell of a steam locomotive is different as is the sound. “You get the whistle instead of the horn.”

This year, Railroad Day has been scaled back, both intentionally and due to unforeseen circumstances. In the past, two days were set aside to recognize the historical significance of the railroad to pioneer life.

“Historically, steam locomotives were basically the mechanical horse that allowed the country we live in to flourish, that allowed businesses to flourish in South Dakota,” said Rick Mills, curator of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum.

Between 1872 and the 1940s, when the highway system was developed, the railway was used for everything from moving mail to delivering anything shipped in the region, including kit houses sold through the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog.

“It was pretty much what developed the state,” Mills indicated.

Changes for this year include scaling down the annual event from two days to one, which means no service is scheduled in the Chapel Car Emmanuel on Sunday morning. In the past, visitors could attend a nondenominational worship service in the restored chapel car which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also, due to unforeseen circumstances, Mills will not be making a presentation on Saturday as scheduled. He has been rescheduled to speak during the 58th Annual Steam Threshing Jamboree in August.

However, train rides will leave from the Wentworth Depot at regular intervals between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. The No. 29 steam locomotive will run for this event. The railroad committee only uses a steam locomotive two or three times each year.

“You have to start at six in the morning if you want steam by ten to start running,” Gehringer explained.

The doodlebug, a self-propelled rail car traditionally used to drop off mailbags and pick up milk, and the motorcar traditionally used for inspecting track and making repairs will also be available for rides. In addition, visitors can tour both the Chapel Car Emmanuel and the roundhouse.

At the roundhouse, visitors can see the other locomotives, including the No. 10 steam locomotive which is currently undergoing repairs. They can also see what is known as the “State Fair car.” Constructed in the early 20th Century, it was last used for giving rides at the South Dakota State Fair.

Faron Wahl, Prairie Village manager, noted the railroad is an important part of the Prairie Village experience. The PVH&M line is one of the things which sets Prairie Village apart as a living history museum, pairing as it does community life with the mode of transportation which made that life possible.

“The railroad is integral to who we are in South Dakota,” Wahl stated. “That’s how most of our small towns got here.”

To enhance the experience for visitors, the historic Herschell-Spillman carousel will also be operating by steam on Railroad Day. Wahl reported that Lonnie Lembcke, who will be operating the carousel, has been working to prepare it for Saturday.

A vendor will be available to offer food and beverages, so visitors can plan to spend a whole day on the grounds.

Prairie Village is also hosting the annual Variety Show at 7 p.m. on Sunday at the Lawrence Welk Opera House. Wahl said it’s a good opportunity to sit back and relax in air-conditioned comfort. For those with a season pass, admission is free.