A City on Track: Sioux Falls & the Railroads

A City On Track

 

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Railroads played in important role in the evolution of the Sioux Falls community. In the exhibit, visitors will learn about the different railroads in the city and the individuals who promoted them. Not only does the exhibit provide a wealth of information, it also has hands on activities for kids. Kids can try on hats and sell tickets while pretending to work for the railroad. In addition, visitors can take a seat and ride in a simulated train car while reading a newspaper. Come to the museum and learn about the significant impact of the railroads.

 

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The burgeoning railroad industry in South Dakota had its roots in both the Civil War and the Transcontinental rail lines that were built following the war. The railroad was an important asset to the North during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The Union had more rail lines, trains and cars, which helped transport troops and supplies to the warfront. The main outcome of the war upon railroads was the US government’s standardization of the gauge of the rails. The uniformity of track size across the nation resulted in major expansion to the interior of the continent and farther westward. The first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 by joining the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines, creating a continuous railroad line from coast to coast. Although never connected directly to a transcontinental line, South Dakota and the middle of the country was opened to transportation and made much more attractive for settlement. Cities in Middle America vied for railroad connections that would bring new settlers, new business and expanding horizons.

 

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Sioux Falls citizens saw early on that their city needed railroad connections if it was ever to grow. By 1876, the nearest rail lines were at Worthington, MN and Sioux City, IA. If Sioux Falls wanted to become a regional leader, it needed a rail connection in order to haul out its products and bring in people and goods to the area.

 

 

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The cost of building a railroad was enormous. The company had to buy tons of rails and ties. They had to secure the right-of-way to build their road. They had to survey, level and grade the path that the road would take. The railroad companies and investors also had to pay for the labor to create and maintain their industry. Workers were employed to lay the track, build the train, run the locomotives, etc. It was a large investment to run a railroad, and all expenses had to be paid before the train could even start to run and turn a profit.

 

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The competition to lure a railroad to town was fierce. Commonly, tax breaks or other governmental inducements were offered. People would band together to secure the right-of-way for the railroad in order to persuade it to build to their town. Towns or their citizens would also donate the land a railroad would need for a station or switching yard. Bribes were even made outright to railroad officers. It was extremely desirable to draw a railroad to town and it seems that no measure to obtain one went too far.

Garretson, SD, is one town that made a remarkable effort to be on the route of a railroad. Originally the line was to run 5 miles north of Garretson, through Sherman, SD. A.S. Garretson, an executive with the Great Northern Railroad, used his influence and land to have the line moved southwards. He offered free lots for businesses to move whole buildings to his town. Consequently, the town of Garretson was named in his honor.

 

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The Chicago & North Western Railway ran from 1859-1865, and kept this particular fire grenade onboard one of their trains. If a fire had erupted on board, the entire extinguisher would have been thrown onto the flame, breaking the fragile glass and spreading the liquid inside.

Fire grenades were invented in 1860 and were used for approximately the next 40 years. They were made of destructible glass filled with liquid. They commonly were constructed with an oval or oblong shape and were designed to be light and easy to handle. Their compact size made fire grenades a popular safeguard against conflagration in small interior spaces such as hotel rooms, schools, commercial buildings, and railroad cars. By 1886, dry methods of fire extinction were being used.

 

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