Farm Collector Blogs > Aussie Trek Across America

Aug. 8 to 10: South Dakota

by Ron Bywaters

Tags: road trip, trek across America, tractor drive, South Dakota,

Day 43

Four of the men made the short trip to Sturgis, S.D., last night to see what all those bikers get up to.

Upon arrival, their taxi was pelted with golf ball size hail stones which kept them pinned in the vehicle for half an hour. Once the storm had passed they evidently had a ball — most of the offered photos where unprintable on our reputable website!

The decision was made that the best way to see the Black Hills of Dakota was by tourist coach and this proved to be a very wise choice. The hills are steep and the roads quite narrow and as we found, to our dismay, somewhat dangerous.

The day started out wet after showers most of the night, but the promise of clearing skies gave us hope for good sight-seeing. Indeed, by the time the pancake breakfast at the Fort Hays Dances with Wolves film set was over, the skies were blue again.

First stop was at the famous Mt. Rushmore where the four presidents’ heads are depicted in carvings on the mountain — a really impressive sight. The sculpture took shape between 1927 and 1941 under the guidance of artist Gutzon Borglum, but was not formally dedicated until 1991.

Then it was down and around on the Iron Mountain Road, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, a real feat of engineering. Not just hairpin bends, but also pigtail bends as well. Massive rocks are part of these mountains, and four tunnels have been cut through as part of the road building. Three of these tunnels give glimpses back to Mt. Rushmore, evidently deliberately placed so by the engineer, Peter Norbeck.

We were hoping to see some of the local wildlife, but the only ones to make an appearance were a group of donkeys, so tame that they are obviously well used to tourists coming and offering them “treats.” Then, after a very substantial lunch at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park, it was time to move on.

By this time the weather had deteriorated again with not just rain, but also quite heavy falls of hail, almost resembling snow where it gathered along the roads. This made the already dangerous bends very slippery and our driver was taking extra care as he edged his way around the Totem Pole Rock which rose up steeply from the road.

Suddenly there was an awful crunch and to the horror of the passengers, a motor cyclist was seen sliding into the rocks, having skidded on the bend and hitting the bus. A second cyclist slid his bike across to the other side of the road and there were fears that both may have been badly hurt. Fortunately this was not the case and although they were removed by ambulance, they were both able to walk.

A rather more subdued group of passengers continued the tour, again through very beautiful rocky outcrops and by the time the next stop at the very beautiful Sylvan Lake came around, it was again fine. Two of the tunnels would have made for scary driving before the accident, but having only 4 inches of free space made for a breath-holding experience. The drivers are obviously very carefully selected for their exceptional skills under these circumstances.

Last on the agenda was a visit to the Crazy Horse Mountain and Memorial. This will be even larger than the Mt. Rushmore carvings and stirs the imagination. Many years or work on this site leave much more to be achieved before this mountain sculpture resembles the models produced by the artist Korczak Ziolkowski.

To complete the tour, a dinner and Western Music Variety Show gave everyone a happy end to a long but very enjoyable day. Guests were treated to the sight of three big orange tractors parked outside the main entrance!

Day 44

Our two missing tractors and their crews arrived at Rapid City, S.D., last night after their visit to Oshkosh, Wis., and it was an opportunity to have new photos of all five tractors and all 14 crew members.

After an early meeting, it was arranged to have all present in uniform for the photo shoot and then to meet at 12:30 to travel in the RVs to Wall Drug, the shopping complex we had heard so much about.

With seven members traveling in each of the two RVs, the trip to Wall Drug took a little over an hour and the crews went their separate ways to see and experience as much of this attraction as possible in 2-1/2 hours.

Wall Drug has been in operation since 1931 and is still run by members of the original family. The early key to success during the Depression was for the owners, Ted and Dorothy Hustead, to give away free cold water to all customers. Word soon spread and this center is now enormous, with all manner of little shops and arcades, but all within the one complex, and with a Western feel which has maintained the significance of this business. Historical photographs are much in evidence and the café alone seats 530 people. As well as the shopping, they have a wax museum and outdoor activities for the children.

This was George’s birthday and a crew dinner was planned for the evening, so everyone made the fairly short trip to Ruby Tuesday restaurant in taxis for what turned out to be a really enjoyable evening. As well as celebrating George’s big day, it was an opportunity for those crew members who had been missing from the team to catch up with all that had happened in their absence.

Day 45

An absolutely perfect day to go sightseeing around the Black Hills of Dakota again.

Six members of the crew (Dick, Barbara, Ron, Kerry, Neville and Peter) took off in the RV for areas north of Rapid City and realized that one would need more than a day to do this area justice, but we did our best!

First stop was for morning tea at the picturesque Lake Pactola where several families of Canada geese were very anxious to help Dick and Barbara dispose of any stale bread. The ranger tried to spoil the fun by asking for an admittance fee, but this was happily paid and gave us the option of stopping at all the various attractions within the Forest Recreation Management’s care, if only we had the time!

A very minor road led us to a fantastic little town named Rockford where we were asked two questions: “How on earth did you come to be in Rockford?” and “Why didn’t you bring the tractors?” The small shop-cum-tavern was adorned with caps, business cards, bras, T-shirts, memorabilia, etc. We could not help ourselves — had to order lunch there and soak up the atmosphere. The rest of the town was comprised of a dear little church, another store, a hall and an assortment of very old, but fascinating buildings left over from the gold rush. This was like a time capsule of American history from another era and we just loved it.

For a real change of scenery, we visited Savoy, just near the Spearfish Canyon, to see the Roughlock Falls and once again, we were in for a treat. The falls were very pretty, if not large, and the scenery was breathtaking — tall cliffs and lovely walking trails down to the falls. This is the kind of place one needs to spend a couple of days, but our hour was certainly enjoyed.

By this time we were running a bit behind schedule and very nearly gave Deadwood the miss — lucky for us we did not! A walk down the main street was like stepping back in time and a visit to No. 10 Tavern to see the 5 pm rendition of the “Re-enactment of the Shooting of Wild Bill Hickok” was very opportune. Not one, but three of our number — Dick, Peter and Ron — were chosen to take part in the play. Dick was the barman, and Peter and Ron were card-players at the table with “Wild Bill.” It was hilarious — two members of the public were roped in as bargirls and managed to look the part as they ingratiated themselves to the card players! All in all, a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, Carolyn and Allan visited the Bear Park and the Underground Waterfall and are reported to have thoroughly enjoyed their visits.

“Cumber” and Jeff’s stop with us proved to be short, as they have arrangements to meet friends at Salt Lake City and our route would have been too slow to get them there on time, so they have headed west. We will catch up again when we reach Salt Lake City around the Aug. 25. Before they took off, Cumber gave a ride in his tractor to a visiting lady, Laverne Leible. Mrs. Leible was so thrilled that she sent us a photo of the event.

See photos and read more on Ron’s website,