My Biggest Toy Weighs 70 Tons!

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My husband Bill Lutter, me, and a visitor at the Village.

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625 SE 1st Street Madison, South Dakota 57042

It is said the only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys. Considering this is written for the Iron-Men Album magazine and I'm a woman, I still consider this to be true in my case, as my biggest toy weighs approximately 70 tons and is an 0-6-0 steam switch engine. Let me give you a brief history of our railroad and then I'll explain how I got involved in such big toys.

The Prairie Village, Herman and Milwaukee Railroad had its beginnings in 1969 with the purchase of a 2-foot gauge, German-built railroad locomotive. Wilhelmine Victoria No. 7 was built in 1927 by Orenstien & Koppel of Berlin. This company still exists, producing agricultural equipment. Wilhelmine is an 8-ton locomotive with an 0-4-0T wheel arrangement. Wilhelmine operates on about 150 lbs. of steam pressure. Ten of these locomotives were imported to the U. S. and one of them found its way to Prairie Village.

In 1976 a group of Madison businessmen acquired an 0-6-0 Lima built switcher and some rolling stock in order to create a tourist train to run from Madison, South Dakota, to Junius, South Dakotaabout seven miles to the west. The 70 ton, coal fired train operated well, but the venture was financially unsuccessful, running for only one season, 1976. The locomotive then sat at Prairie Village as a static display until the fall of 1987, when one of the owners of No. 29 decided to steam it for the annual Threshing Jamboree. The Loco needed only a minimum of work to put it back into operation, and it performed flawlessly on the only track left to it at that time a 1000 foot section of rail owned by Prairie Historical Society. This train was purchased by the museum in 1988 and plans were begun to acquire the rail and roadbed needed to extend the track. One of the volunteers had been a civil engineer working for the Great Northern for 16 years, and he now undertook the responsibility to survey and plan the work. At this time a major donation came to the Village in the form of a 15-ton Burro railroad crane. This crane became instrumental in building the two mile track around the perimeter of the 80 acre Village grounds. The track encircles the entire Prairie Village grounds and is built using about a half-mile of original Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, & Pacific track. The track passes through the site of an 1879 ghost town, Herman. This brings us to the origin of our name. The railroad starts at Prairie Village, runs to Herman, and then back to Prairie Village on the Milwaukee Railroad.

Our newest locomotive is No. 11, built in 1924 by Alco at their Cooke Works in Pennsylvania. An 0-4-0T, it carries its water and fuel on the locomotive itself rather than in a tender behind it. It weighs 35 tons and operates at 150 lbs. of steam pressure. No. 11 was acquired from the Historic Deadwood Central Railroad in Deadwood, South Dakota. She was loaded on flatbed semi trucks for the trip to Prairie Village in the summer of 1992.

Besides our engines, we have a collection of rolling stock. We have several cabooses, tank car, boxcar, combo car, snow plow, and a very rare chapel car. Also included are a number of motorcars used for track maintenance, and a diesel powered track mobile used for yard arrangement. This is a very handy vehicle as it has both rail and rubber wheels. We have a rail bus for rides also.

We have three depots for both display and loading of passengers. One of these is a rare union depot. The depot is home for a collection of model trains and also houses a hand pump track car like you see on so many cartoons, and a foot pedaled velocipede. We are in the process of installing a turntable and small round house. Completion of that will be dependent on donations.

Now back to how I got involved with these big toys. Machines and motors have always been a fascination for me. Growing up on a farm with tractors and trucks, I could always be found helping my dad with something mechanical. Anytime we went to town I was always thrilled if I was lucky enough to see a train come to town. I loved the sound of the tremendous power, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe I would someday be an engineer on one of those fascinating machines. That brings us up to about five years ago when my husband bought himself a motorcar. I must admit I wasn't entirely thrilled with his purchase at first, but once he had it cleaned up and running on the track, it wasn't too long before I had my hand on the throttle. Anyway an older gentleman friend told me I would look really good up in the cab of old No. 29. So I took to the books and studied all I could about steam operation and learned the basics on our steam-powered merry-go-round. Next I graduated to our narrow gauge Wilhelmine and now finally I engineer and fire the big toys alongside the big boys and I love every exciting minute.

Prairie Village, located two miles west of Madison, South Dakota, is operated by the Prairie Historical Society, a non-profit organization, and maintained by volunteer workers.