THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF
THE CROUCH LINE
The crouch line was an important railroad for the area. It connected the mining town to Rapid City and later served as a daily destination for picnickers and tourists.
"Railroads were the preferred way to travel through the Black Hills for two generations. The Dakota Wyoming and Western line was formed in 1901 to provide a direct rail link between Rapid City and the central Black Hills. The line up Rapid Creek required over 100 bridges in 37 miles. The line was completed to Mystic in 1906. It operated as the Rapid City, Black Hills and Western until closing in 1946, but it's still called the Crouch line in honor of its builder and first owner, C.D. Crouch." (1)
The crouch line had a slow start. Conceived in the early 1890's, the railroad had not materialized through the turn of the century. In 1904 a local periodical wrote: "...one of the richest mineral sections of the county, Pactola and Silver City, are now without a railroad." A plan was now in place: "The Black Hills & Missouri River Railroad, however, will tap it on its east-west line from Rapid City to Mystic, on the Burlington. Some fifteen miles of grading are completed, and bridges finished and tracks laid on eight miles of this road, while the directors give out that the forty miles between Rapid City and Mystic will be completed and equipped within a year. Along the surveyed route, following Rapid Creek, are the mining camps mentioned and great quantities of timber that will be available for mining purposes." (2)
This railroad was a true feat of ingenuity. It followed the crooked canyon carved by Rapid Creek to Mystic. Locals would joke that the bends of the line were so sharp that the engineer in the locomotive could hand chewing tobacco to the brakeman in the caboose. (Floyd, 2009)
"The original idea had been to extend the road far beyond, but that was never done. It did get through to Mystic, though, in 1906, and there was a big celebration May 27 of that year, marking the laying of the last rail. It was a hard job, with deep cuts through hard rock, with 105 bridges across Rapid Creek, and with enough curves to make fourteen complete circles if they were put together. The twenty actual miles climbed by the thirty-five mile road see an ascent of 1,790 feet." (3)
The train stopped at Silver City. From the Rapid City station to the Silver City station it was exactly 27 miles. Other nearby stops included mile #23 with a stop at Pactola (a historic place now underwater) and a stop at mile #31 at Canyon City, located on Rapid Creek just below the mouth of Slate Creek, a site of gold placer mining in the 1880's and '90's.
The crouch line is important in the history of Silver City. All we have today is the railroad bed and the pilings of the bridges. But it is easy to imagine the liveliness of the canyon when the train would make its daily trips.
(1) www.gorp.com, Black Hills National Forest, Hiking Deerfield Trail & Lake Loop Trail.
(2) "Black Hills Illustrated", 1904
(3) Rapid City Journal July 6, 1936
(4) Railroads of the Black Hills. Fielder 1960
Floyd, Dustin D. "Progress Crossing". Deadwood Magazine, 2009.
Barely a year after being completed, in June of 1907, an unprecedented eight inches of rain fell in the area causing the creek to flood. Many of the bridges railroad were washed out. It was a terrible blow to the prospects of the new railroad. Eventually and through dogged perseverance the Crouch line was rebuilt. Practical as they were, they figured that it was easier to redirect the creek than to build new bridges. That is exactly what they did in Silver City. This is the reason that the creek is surprisingly straight as it crosses town. Close inspection reveals how two bridges were eliminated by simply redirecting the creek.
THE PERILS OF THE LINE
By late 1907 the railroad was up and running again, but on November 15 of that year, a terrible accident happened just up from Silver City on bridge 28.32 (where the first foot bridge now sits). The Rapid City Journal led with "Terrible Death, Disastrous Wreck Caused by Burning Bridge". The accident happened late at night. In that location, there is a narrow gorge and the bridge had been built 26 feet above water level. "Somehow the bridge had caught fire and was burning well when No. 11 burst around the bend going at a good pace down the gulch. Engineer Almore Harper tried to stop the train, but he could not stop. He must have jumped when he saw that he was heading straight for the burning bridge, because he got off the train alive." However, the fireman perished and the conductor lived because some of the rear cars stayed on the track. "The freight was hauling coal from Sheridan, Wyoming, for Rapid City residents, and when the engine went down it pulled three gondolas of coal after it, which ignited in short order." (4)
The railroad had many names over the
years. These mouthfuls were a
testament to the dreams and
aspirations of its various owners:
Dakota & Wyoming Railroad
Dakota, Western & Missouri River
Dakota, Wyoming & Missouri River
Missouri River & North Western Railroad
The Crouch Line
Black Hills & Wyoming Railroad
Black Hills & Missouri River Railroad
Rapid City, Black Hills & Western Railroad
WHERE THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY
"...recognized as the crookedest railroad in the United States. A gas car makes a 44 mile round trip each day and will drop passengers off anywhere on the route and pick
them upon the return, allowing them ample time for fishing. Round trip fare $1.05 to $2.70. This makes an ideal day's outing at a very small cost."
From a 1940 advertisement.