A Trip Down Memory Train!
Featured in Ambassadair Trips Magazine
Bob Stevens kept a conductor’s hat and string tie for decades, in memory of the 1880 Train he worked on when he was just 13 years old. In July 2016, Bob and his wife Barbara took their three sons and families, 14 members total, on Ambassadair’s Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park trip where they returned to the 1880 Train for a ride to Hill City, South Dakota. During the train ride, Bob wore his conductor’s hat and string tie.
When Bob was 13 years old, he traveled from his home in Detroit, Michigan to Hill City to spend the summer working for his father’s army buddy, Bill Heckman. Bob’s father and Bill served in the army during World War II.
According to the 1880 Train’s website (www.1880train.com), Bill Heckman and Robert Freer, a sales engineer of diesel locomotives in the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, organized a group who believed “there should be in operation at least one working steam railroad, for boys of all ages who share America’s fondness for the rapidly vanishing steam locomotive.” On August 18, 1957, the first official train operated on the Black Hills Central Railroad from the Hill City depot, up the four-percent grade of Tin Mill Hill, to Oblivion. The route was nicknamed “the 1880 Train,” likened by Heckman to riding a train in the 1880’s.
During Bob’s childhood summer with the 1880 Train Experience, he lived by himself in a train car, which he describes as “a fancy car designed for railroad executives.” Every morning he fed his pet coyote and had breakfast with the Heckmans. During the day he greeted visitors and sold popcorn. Bob says it was a wonderful experience which taught him personal confidence, a can-do attitude, the value of hard work, and how to play billiards.
In 2016, when Bob and Barb arrived in Hill City by train, with their family in tow, a local television crew happened to be filming that day. Bob was interviewed about his childhood experience and was even featured on the evening news, a highlight of their trip. The experience, scenery and amazing views brought back fond memories for Bob of one of the best summers of his life.
There were so many memories made including the kids enjoying the train’s whistle blow, the gold mine tour, and even making waffles for breakfast in the K-Bar-S Lodge dining room. The grandchildren were awed most during the final evening of the trip at Mount Rushmore. The patriotic music and light show gave them chills and was a fantastic end to their family trip.
Traveling with Ambassadair meant, “Someone else was in charge so I could enjoy my family,” says Barb. She continues, “The trip was kid-friendly and there were lots of fun activities for the children.”
Bob and Barb have taken many trips with Ambassadair and have been traveling since their sons were small children. They appreciate Ambassadair being local to Indiana and note, “It’s fun to travel along with other Hoosiers.”
Trips like Bob and Barb’s bring families together to create memories that last for generations. Bob’s grandchildren were able to see first-hand how he spent his summer years ago and understand ©Black Hills Central Railroad, 1880 Train special memories for their family, and for this what he experienced. Each and every trip created one, in particular, a greater appreciation for Bob’s conductor’s hat and string tie.
By: Kelsey Batten