During its August 21 meeting in Pierre, the South Dakota Railroad Board voted to proceed with Invitation for Proposals to purchase state-owned rail lines.
The board, part of the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT), heard details of the proposed program from Karla Engle, chief legal counsel and special assistant attorney general for SDDOT.
After a history, clarification of the board’s responsibilities and scope, the proposal itself, and a lengthy question and answer period with Engle, the board voted to proceed.
According to SDDOT, “4,420.5 miles of railroad were constructed in South Dakota, with the last track laid in 1948. Since 1909, rail abandonments have resulted in the loss of service on over 75 percent of the maximum system. The state, in cooperation with private railroads, was successful in restoring service on over 900 previously abandoned rail lines in the state. Currently there are 1,977 miles of operating rail lines in South Dakota.
“As a result of the Milwaukee Road embargo in 1980, South Dakota was confronted with the loss of over 50 percent of its total operating rail mileage. The state analyzed each line individually and identified the essential rail lines vital to the economy of South Dakota. Some of the embargoed essential lines were purchased by other railroads and service was restored. The remaining essential lines for which a private solution could not be found were purchased by the state.”
Engle said South Dakota has performed major rehabilitation on the lines, currently has operators on all the lines, and there is a growing interest on acquisition of these lines. South Dakota’s railroad lines assist the state treasury, rail operators, and agriculture producers who need cost-effective transportation of their goods.
“The board has a lot of freedom to determine the process it is going to use to dispose of a state-owned line,” said Engle. “The authority is really quite broad.”
During questioning, it was confirmed that the department would not provide to potential buyers any estimates of future taxes imposed on the lines. Railroad companies which own property outside of South Dakota might be able to extrapolate potential South Dakota taxes from those comparisons..
Potential buyers of railroad lines must follow the Invitation for Proposals (IFP) requirements.
According to the IFP, “The department invites proposers to submit responses to this IFP for the purchase of all, or part of, any one or more of the following railroad lines. The sale(s) will consist of all track structures, associated rights-of-way, all appurtenances and including but not necessarily limited to rail and fastenings, switches and frogs, ties, ballast, roadbed, embankment, other structures, or other track materials necessary for support of operations.”
Rail lines for sale include:
MRC Line — Mitchell to Rapid City
Total mileage: approximately 285.1
Mitchell to Kadoka segment leased to MRC Regional Railroad Authority (through 2031)
Operator: Dakota Southern Railway (through 2031 via sublease)
Overhead trackage/haulage rights on Burlington Northern Sante Fe, LLC (“BNSF”) Railway’s lines to multiple interchange points for traffic originating/terminating on the MRC Line; trackage rights over BNSF line to access CHS Inc.’s grain elevator shuttle facility at Mitchell; interchange rights with BNSF at Mitchell
Dakota Southern Railway Company holds a right of first refusal
Class I and Class II purchasers require consent of BNSF Railway to maintain trackage/haulage/interchange rights
Segments from Kadoka to Caputa and Caputa to Rapid City are railbanked.
Maple Street Yard in Rapid City leased to American Colloid Company for car storage (through July 26, 2026)
Britton line — Aberdeen to Geneseo Junction Connection, North Dakota and Jarrett Junction to Britton, South Dakota
Total mileage: approximately 76.6
Leased to Marshall Regional Railroad Authority (through 2025)
Operator: Dakota Missouri Valley & Western Railroad, Inc. (“DMVW”) (through 2025 via sublease)
Interchange rights on BNSF-owned track in Aberdeen with Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad, Inc. (“RCP&E”)
DMVW holds right of first refusal
Napa-Platte Line — Napa Junction to Platte
Total mileage: approximately 83.3
Segment from Napa Junction to Ravinia (approximately 54.5 miles) leased to operator, Dakota Southern Railway Company (through Nov. 30, 2026)
Overhead trackage/haulage rights on BNSF’s lines to multiple interchange points for traffic originating/terminating on the Napa-Platte Line; interchange rights with BNSF at Napa
Class I and Class II purchasers require consent of BNSF Railway to maintain trackage/haulage/interchange rights
Segment from Ravinia to Platte is railbanked (approximately 28.8 miles)
Sioux Valley Line — Elk Point to Canton, and Beresford to Hawarden, Iowa
Total mileage: approximately 68.0
Leased to Sioux Valley Regional Railroad Authority (through March 21, 2034)
Operator: D&I Railroad Co. (through March 21, 2024, via sublease)
Overhead trackage rights over BNSF for aggregates from Hawarden, IA via Canton, SD to Wolsey, SD
Overhead trackage rights over BNSF to Sioux City, IA for interchange with UP and CN
Class I and Class II purchasers require consent of BNSF to maintain trackage rights
Sioux Valley Regional Railroad Authority holds an option to purchase, which may be assigned to D&I Railroad Co. upon approval of the Board
Yale Line — Huron to Yale
Total mileage: approximately 15.3
Leased to East Central Regional Railroad Authority (through September 23, 2020, with automatic one year renewal)
Operator: RCP&E (through September 23, 2020 with automatic one-year renewal)
Wolsey Interchange — Wolsey Interchange
Total mileage: approximately 4.2
Leased to RCP&E (through June 11, 2026)
Subject to Track Improvement Memorandum between the Department and BNSF
Railroad ownership and operation may be profitable, though difficulties do exist.
On August 2, a Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern freight train derailed near New Underwood. RCP&E stated the train “consisting of three locomotives and 60 loaded cars … encountered a significant washout due to flash flooding … The three locomotives and approximately 15 rail cars derailed, with the lead locomotive on its side.”
The South Dakota Railroad Board next meets September 18, in the Department of Transportation Commission Room in Pierre, starting at 11 a.m. CDT.
Christy First in Trouble and Tahnasha Stricker, inmates in the state Women’s Prison in Pierre who escaped Friday, Aug. 23, were taken into custody Saturday, Aug. 24, by Rosebud Sioux Tribal Police in Rosebud, according to Michael Winder, spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Corrections.
Rosebud is 82 miles southwest of Pierre.
The women took a Dodge Dakota pickup truck at their community service job site on Friday and drove off without permission. The truck was located when the women were arrested, Winder said in a news release shortly after 1 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 25.
Winder has said in previous cases that failure to return to prison from a work assignment constitutes second-degree escape, a Class 5 felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The two women were placed on escape status, said Winder in a news release late Friday afternoon, Aug. 23.
Winder described First in Trouble as 33 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, and 230 pounds. She is serving three sentences: two two-year sentences for drug possession and failure to appear, both from Pennington County; also, a five-year sentence with three years suspended for ingesting an illegal drug from Mellette County.
Stricker is 31 years old, 5 feet 4 inches tall, and 170 pounds. She’s serving two sentences: a one-year sentence from Hughes County for using an illegal drug and six years and three months for possession of an illegal drug from Minnehaha County.
Francois Fiddler, 22, of Pierre, was arrested Saturday, Aug. 24, by city police after they were called to a reported assault in the 100 block of Bulow Drive, which is about a block north of Lariat Lanes and a block east of Garfield Avenue/U.S. Highway 14 truck bypass.
The charge of aggravated assault in domestic violence that he faces carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if he were to be convicted.
According to Police Capt. Bryan Walz, about 11 a.m. Saturday police arrived to find Fiddler and a woman in an argument in which she said he strangled her and took her cell phone when she tried to call for help.
“A third party attempted to intervene to assist the (woman) and was struck by Fiddler,” Walz said in a news release.
Fiddler was taken to the Hughes County Jail and held.
On Monday, he was charged with aggravated assault domestic violence as well as possible misdemeanor charges of simple assault and interference with an emergency communication, according to Walz’ news release.
Fiddler appeared in court Monday afternoon via ITV from the jail and was charged with the aggravated assault/domestic violence count, a Class 3 felony with a possible 15-year sentence; and two misdemeanor counts: simple assault of the third person and interfering in an emergency communication.
Fiddler told Magistrate Judge Leo Disburg that he has worked full-time at a Pierre hotel for about a month and moved to Pierre from Eagle Butte about six weeks ago.
He said he lives with a relative and couldn’t pay his rent if he wasn’t able to get out of jail on bond.
Fiddler also is wanted in Sioux Falls on a $5,000 bond on a burglary charge that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison if he were to be convicted of it, according to what Disburg said in court.
Disburg set Fiddler’s bond on the Pierre charges at $6,000 cash, which is what Hughes County State’s Attorney Roxanne Hammond requested.
Disburg asked a jail official if the booking information indicated that alcohol was a factor in Fiddler’s arrest and the answer was yes. Disburg then ordered Fiddler to avoid alcohol, including bars, and to have no contact with his two alleged victims, as part of his bond conditions.
Disburg appointed Pierre attorney David Siebrasse to represent Fiddler and set his next court appearance for Oct. 15 when he can enter a formal plea.
On Friday, Aug. 23, a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the opening of the new Onida substation.
“We had a good turnout. It was a little windy, but we can’t control the weather,” said Shayla Ebsen, communications manager with East River Electric Power Co-op, Madison.
The facility, located a mile south of Onida on Highway 83, is owned by East River Electric Power Cooperative.
Construction on the new substation began in September 2016, was completed during the fall of 2016 at a cost $3.65 million. This new plant replaces an outdated facility from the 1970s and will now convert 69,000 volts (69 kilovolts) down to 24,900 volts (24.9 kilovolts).
“We appreciate the great working relationships with East River Electric, Ringneck Energy and the city of Onida,” said Rodney Haag, Oahe Electric general manager. “This new substation has improved the reliability of Oahe Electric’s energy delivery system to our member-owners.”
During the event, representatives from East River Electric, Oahe Electric, Ringneck Energy, the Onida Area Development Corporation and the Onida Chamber of Commerce discussed the benefits that the new substation brings to the area.
This facility services users in the Oahe Electric Co-op, including the city of Onida--which has a population of around 650 people--and the Ringneck Energy ethanol plant.
“We are excited for the enhanced capabilities of this new facility, in meeting the growing energy needs of Onida, Ringneck Energy and the surrounding area,” said East River Chief Operations Officer Mark Hoffman. “This new substation will have the ability to serve new growth in the area for years to come, just further enhancing the region’s economic development opportunities. East River and Oahe Electric are strong supporters of the ethanol industry and are pleased to work with Ringneck Energy to meet their power needs.”
According to Chris Studer, chief member and public relations officer for East River Electric, the old substation sent stepped-down electricity to subsequent transformers, which subsequently stepped down that still-too-high voltage to usable ranges for customers.
Studer compared electricity and power lines to highway traffic; where a four-lane highway has been doubled to eight lanes. The substation can supply enough voltage to more than two additional ethanol plants.
Most customers use 120 and 240 volts for their homes, while the ethanol plant has some machines that use 480 volts.
The new substation, through newer and more efficient equipment and two transformers, can send stepped-down voltage to those other, smaller transformers, eventually serving more than twice the number of current customers.
“We have started construction on the rebuild of our Logan substation, which is west of Blunt in Hughes county, and plan to have construction completed in early 2020. We also have plans for a new 115 kilovolt to 69 kilovolt substation north of Pierre and plan to rebuild our 230 kilovolt to 115 kilovolt Sully Buttes substation, 12 miles west of Onida in the near future,” said Shayla Ebsen.
Perched wide-eyed by his grandfather, John Burkholder, as a boy, listened to tales of open range days in Fort Pierre and along the Bad River during the 1880s and 90s.
There was the story of how his grandfather, Charlie Mathieson, grew up on a ranch founded by Charlie’s father, George Mathieson, in 1879, and expanded westward when the Great Sioux Reservation was opened to white settlement in 1890. Burkholder said some 9 million acres of former reservation land were opened then and cattle and sheep operations quickly moved 100 miles west, from east river settlements to new west river digs.
The Mathieseon family included four sons — Bob, Dick, Jud and George — who’d come up from Yankton to Fort Pierre with mother Ann, in 1879 for new economic possibilities. All four brothers would go on to found ranches and together they would own a large piece of ground along the Bad River, near Wendte, about 20 miles west of Fort Pierre.
Fort Pierre back then was a one square mile settlement of 300 souls built on land allocated from the reservation to facilitate trade with the Lakota bands then ensconced on the reservation, which included most of western South Dakota.
The Mathiesons were interested in cattle, and trading into the Black Hills, where gold had been discovered. There was a powerful need for goods to supply the miners and others opening up the Black Hills at that time. Goods came up the Missouri River on a steamboat from Yankton, then the Mathiesons and others transported them west. The Mathiesons drove ox trains loaded with goods for the mining camps from 1876 until 1881 when the railroad reached the Black Hills.
Burkholder learned from Charlie Mathieson how his father, George, had enlisted in the Dakota Cavalry at age 15 during the 1860s; how George came to Fort Pierre, and how George and the brothers went further west in the 1890s.
They chose to follow the Bad River because it offered their cattle plenty of grass, water and winter shelter, but they may also have had an inkling that at some point in the future, the railroad would follow the flatlands along the river too, their land becoming more valuable.
He heard how George Mathieson traded three ponies to an Oohenumpa (Two Kettle) Lakota man named Black Tomahawk for land and a cabin along the river, the start of his ranch.
His grandfather talked about how the railroad came to Pierre during the 1880s. And watching “Gunsmoke” and “Wagon Train” episodes on television with his grandfather, Burkholder heard his Charlie lament the close of the open range day at the turn of the 20th century, and note how most cowboys were more like Festus than Marshall Dillon in the old days.
The last big roundup took place in 1902, Charlies told his grandson, because by 1904 most of eastern Stanley County was being homesteaded, ranches being replaced by farms, cowboys being replaced by settlers. Soon the influx of settlers would have the political clout to push the ranchers out, with fence laws to keep cattle out of their crops. The big ranchers began consolidating, running smaller herds, and leasing land on the reservation to feed cattle.
During the open range period (1890 — 1902) there were two roundups per year, spring and fall, in the west river area, with the cattle being driven to Fort Pierre, ferried across the Missouri River to the railhead in Pierre, then shipped to Chicago’s meat-packing industry.
Charlie told his grandson about how the log cabin he grew up in had a sod roof that leaked when it rained, but it also had a wooden floor, that great Grandmother Kate was very proud of. This was unusual at the time, Charlie told his grandson, most cabins had packed dirt floors, not wood. So when roundups came and Ann was feeding all those cowboys, they were fed on tables set up outside because she didn’t want spurs raking her nice wooden floors.
Charlie was the youngest of 12 kids and his life took a different turn from the ranch as he grew up. He went to college in Michigan and received an engineering degree. He became a road commissioner, taught school, and eventually began selling road equipment for an eastern manufacturer. The company sent him to Indiana, then to Atlanta, Georgia, where he eventually retired. Missing the ranching life he knew as a boy, he cobbled together a property of 600 acres of former farmland in north Georgia and stocked it with about 150 head of cattle. And that is where Burkholder entered his life, with grandpa reminiscing about the good old days back in South Dakota.
Burkholder, a California dentist today, was so smitten with his grandfather’s tales that he began retracing his family history and this meant coming to South Dakota annually to see and experience some of what his grandfather saw.
As a result of this, Burkholder shared some of his discoveries in writing, with an article “Poised To Profit: Fort Pierre And The Development Of The Open Range In South Dakota,” in the South Dakota State Historical Society’s “South Dakota History” magazine, Vol. 41, No. 3.
He will also be sharing his family’s story via a Powerpoint presentation with west river photos from the 1890s that depict the open range era and a talk at the Dakota Western Heritage Festival, taking place Sept. 13 — 15 in Fort Pierre at the Fort Pierre Expo Center.
The festival includes the following events:
Friday, Sept. 13 — Wagon Train and Trail Ride, departing from Fort Pierre at 8:30 a.m. and returning about 4 p.m. This event is $40 per person and includes a ticket to the steak dinner at the Expo Center after the train and trail ride. The Hayes Fire Department will host the steak feed and tickets are available at the door for this. Also, cowboy poets and musicians, including the Herb and Arlene Pitan Family, will provide the entertainment from 6 — 9 p.m. at the Expo Center.
Saturday, Sept. 14 — Features a full slate of activities and entertainment. The entertainment includes Plains Folk; Rising Stars of the Prairie youth contest winners and awards; historical family presentations, including Burkholders, from 2:30 — 4: 30 p.m., followed by the Stirling Ranch Rodeo Supper and performance.
Sunday, Sept. 15 — Cowboy Church, a cowboy breakfast and Plains Folk performing again
For more information about the festival contact Carmen Cowan Magee 280-8938, Gary Heintz at 222-0079 or Willie Cowan at 280-1021.