Riding the miniature rails: "Along the Way"

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN)- For the 78th year now, motorcycles are the star of the show this week.
But decades before motorcycles, there were trains.
And in one Northern Hills town, miniature trains still draw eyes, commemorating those days gone by.

Up in the old gold town of Deadwood, traditional style brick roads are lined with bright shiny bikes, a fun contrast between present and past.
But in a basement beneath a T-shirt shop, the nostalgic sounds of old railroads still fill the air. And for just a dollar you can put your nose up to the window and watch these miniatures ride the rails.

"So back when I was 8 years old my dad bought me my 1st train set and we built our 1st layout in the basement on a little 4 by 8 sheet and that's where I learned how to lay track and do work with plaster and making mountains," says Jack Anfinson, President of the Northern Hills Railway Society

Anfinson has been a member of the club since 2010. There are pictures of trains lining the hallway, including some from here in the Hills.

"In the Black Hills there were 3 railroads and the 1st one that started up was the Black Hills and Fort Pierre and that was owned and operated by the Homestake Gold Mine," Anfinson says. He goes on to say " The Deadwood Central ran passenger service from Deadwood to Lead and back. And then the Fremont Elkhorn and Missouri Valley came up and they serviced all the mines up in the hills."

Many of the places that dot the landscape of their massive display are just imaginary.

"So alot of times we'll build places that maybe we've been or we've seen or places that we've liked," he explains.

And some of what we see, are part of history, like the miniature Homestake Gold Mine. Jack says he got the blueprints for Homestake and started building.

"Believe it or not those 2 buildings are built out of cardboard boxes. And I take aluminum foil duct tape which is sticky on the backside and I press it in a form to make the corrugated siding. And then each one of those pieces of corrugated siding are put on one piece at a time," Anfinson says.

And then he turned it over to another member, who he says is a good painter.

"And he did all the weathering and the detailing on it to make it look like it was aged and sitting in the weather for a while," Anfinson says.

Scenes as realistic as the ones here, make it even more fun to watch these trains run.

Jack says to the best of his knowlege the club was formed in 1987 and has been in several places including the KOA in Central City, and the Opera House in Lead, before moving here in 2010. The club is all volunteers, that have clearly poured a part of their heart into their work. One example is the coal out in front of the model Black Hills Power building.

"The coal that we used for that bunker there we had gotten from Gillette and the member that got the coal put it in his coffee grinder and ground it up with a coffee grinder and then had to throw away his coffee grinder," Anfinson explains.

The topography looks in so many ways, like the Black Hills themselves.

"After you trim it up and spray it then we apply the green material to it that gives it the true look of a tree," he says as describes making trees for the exhibit.

"Each locomotive has it's own designated controller and it has it's own frequency so you can have up to 99 trains on your layout with 99 different controllers and you can run all 99 trains at once if you wanted to," he explains.

Which they don't. This is not a big money operation.

"We have the dollar machine that runs the trains and we hav ea donation box and between those 2 they keep us funded enough to keep our operation going," Anfinson says describing their finances.

Outside, main street in Deadwood is lined with bikes. It is a tradition. But In a place whose golden history is so full of railroads it only makes sense to preserve those memories, with miniature trains that still chug through the hills, just like they used to.

And by the way, if you're interested in joining, they're interested in new members.
If you'd like to check this place out for yourself, it's on Main Street in Deadwood, in the basement of a T-shirt shop, just across from the Mineral Palace.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call or e-mail us to let us know.