Taking the train out of town: Ethan resident installs train and tracks for 1909 attraction

Dec. 11—ETHAN — Tristan Scott goes outside the norm for recreational activities.

The 22-year-old rail worker and Mitchell Technical College alum decided to assemble a short railroad track and an authentic passenger car that's over 100 years old near the town of Ethan.

"Anybody can buy a boat, but not everybody can buy a railroad," Scott said. "Or build a railroad, I should say."

Scott purchased the train car for $1 from Prairie Village in Madison, a historical preservation site that depicts what life was like in the 1900s for pioneers homesteading South Dakota.

Scott, who has volunteered at Prairie Village for a few years and visited the site frequently as a child, said the site was looking to downsize the number of train pieces to a more manageable number. So Prairie Village was willing to work with him to take the train car for a minimal price knowing he would have to transport to his property, just east of Ethan, along State Highway 42.

Scott has always been interested in trains and tractors and older automobiles, saying it was the mechanical aspect that he appreciates the most.

"I collect unique things. And I thought this is unique and it's locally significant to South Dakota." Scott said. "Originally, it started out as a commuter train in Chicago. Then it became a regular passenger service between Huron and Aberdeen, and then it went to Prairie Village in 1991 and now, it came here."

Scott's planning for the train began early this year as he began talking to Prairie Village about the possibility of getting his hands on the car. After working plans out with Prairie Village, Scott had to decide where he was going to put the train car.

Originally, Scott, who lives within the Ethan city limits, was planning on bringing it into town. However, he was able to work out a deal with his uncle and purchased a piece of land about a mile east of the town along Highway 42, just inside the Hanson County boundary line.

Before he started installing the train track, Scott decided he want to have a little fun with his neighbors before he started doing work on the ground.

"It actually started as a joke, believe it or not, and I like to stir the pot. I put up a sign that said, 'Coming soon: Kongo Klub south,'" Scott said. "That really had people fired up, and then I was doing all of this dirt work. So, everybody was saying, 'I don't know what's going on here.' ... Then all of a sudden, I was building railroad tracks. And I had people say, 'Well, I guess we kind of expected that out of him.'"

Scott spent all summer installing the roughly 550 feet worth of track onto his property that runs straight north and south, and perpendicular to Highway 42.

To keep the rail and train car historically accurate, Scott installed used ties from other rails and ties that came from Madison. He also installed speeders — which were used to inspect rail lines until about the 1980s — tie carts he acquired from Mitchell and Ethan, and a railroad crossing that he got from Mount Vernon to go along with the passenger car.

The most expensive part of the project so far has been transporting the car from Prairie Village. Scott hired Robinson Housemoving to transport the car about 70 miles southwest of Madison. Despite weighing 50 tons, the train car was moved as a singular piece. It took three days between, from Monday, Nov. 22, to Wednesday, Nov. 24, to uninstall, transport and reinstall the car from Madison to Ethan.

On the highway between Ethan the James River, Scott thinks that his train car is a cool site to see. He hopes others appreciate it as much he does.

"I think just more people get to see it this way," Scott said. "It's not that I'm asking for attention or anything, but it is pretty unique."

Scott said he's only aware of one other location in South Dakota where a train car is parked near a road — that's near Miller.

Currently, the 112-year-old car is in poor condition, according to Scott. But he's hopeful he can give it a full restoration and actually let people see the inside of it.

"The outside will get repainted and I'll put a new roof on it and fix whatever windows need to be fixed," he said. "I don't really care to take people up in there right now because the steps, they're just kind of hanging there. It's got an all-mahogany interior in it but unfortunately, with the water damage from the roof, it needs a full restoration."

As Scott works to restore his new train car, he jokes that he will eventually have his own mini-version of a Prairie Village just outside of Ethan that will include a depot of his own at some point.

While he'd prefer to find an original depot, building one of his own would be more likely from a financial standpoint and probably more adaptable when it comes to zoning and permits for it.

For now, Scott has plenty of work to do on the pieces of equipment that he has and restoring them to their original condition.