Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The rising star of Lead, South Dakota

Few of us are without ancestors who had some relationship with railroading. Either they worked for the railroad, traveled by rail, or shipped cattle, timber or grain by rail.

Admittedly, the mystique of railroading afflicts some of us more than others. I attribute my interest to my father, who spent most of his working life as a machinist at the Chicago & Northwestern Railway roundhouse in Chadron, Nebraska.

So when Wayne Paananen appeared before a gathering of the Lawrence County (SD) Historical Society at Lewie's in Lead earlier this month to talk about the renovation of the old Black Hills and Fort Pierre roundhouse, I was hooked.

Like many folks, I have driven by the old structure many times without recognizing what it was. Nestled atop Lead next door to the Golden Hills Inn and Convention Center, it’s easy to miss it. Too, it’s a considerably smaller roundhouse than the full turntable roundhouse that served as the economic hub of Chadron for nearly a century.

The Lead roundhouse served the Black Hills and Fort Pierre Railroad from about 1901 to 1930, providing six bays in which engines and other rolling stock could be repaired and maintained. The narrow gauge line was an important part of early 20th century transportation in the northern Black Hills – particularly for Homestake Mine.

We understand the structure was destined to be demolished in 1999, but that’s when it was bought by Stan Adelstein of Rapid City, who apparently hoped the structure could be renovated and preserved as an historical landmark. He eventually sold it to Dr. Duane and Phyllis Sander of Brookings. Phyllis was born and raised in Lead. Duane was one of the founders of Daktronics in Brookings.

Lots of folks have been involved in this major renovation, which was to have been completed by June of 2008. Paananen says it’s taking longer than expected, and that the new owners and construction people want to “get it right.” Eventually, there’ll be several businesses in the building, including a restaurant, gift shops, a coffee shop, and space for artists.

Highlight of the October historical society tour was a sneak preview of the “Living Map” project developed and promoted by Paananen. Visit this link to our Roundhouse Gallery; it provides a few views of the renovated building and the multi-media presentation given by Paananen.

We’ve long thought that Lead has some opportunities to re-create itself following the closing of the Homestake Mine. The Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory project was a harbinger of things to come. The opening of the old Lead Roundhouse in the coming months will be another, and it promises to be another new feather in the hat of Lead.

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