Category Archives: Blog

Steam, Steel, and Smoke

As we grow older we often find that we forget things from our past and our childhood, that even to this day when we think about it can still bring back a tiny spark of joy and excitement. For me, I had Hot Wheels, dinosaurs, and my favorite, trains! I love trains, still to this day I can’t help staring as those iron-clad cars as they “clickity-clack” across the track(again with the rhyme!) I love all trains, but my favorite era is when steam, rather than diesel, ruled the rails. cattle call

There’s nothing more thrilling than hearing that steam whistle from the belly of a 4-2 Baldwin steam locomotive and listen to the steam hiss in and out, like a heartbeat giving life to the mechanical marvel!

However long railroading history may be in the U.S. its’ history is pretty short in western South Dakota. The first locomotive was brought from the Missouri by bull train to the Homestake mine in 1879. In 1881 Homestake began working on the Black Hills Railroad which would later become the Black Hills and Ft. Pierre Railway. It wasn’t until 1889 that rail would extend from the Missouri to the western side of the state. Even then only two lines ran from Chamberlain and Pierre both crossing the Cheyenne River in Pennington County. 

The rails in our part of the state helped facilitate a population boom as towns were spaced some 10-15 miles apart to refill steam boilers. This is also true for most western states. As the rails progressed westward history sees a merger with the great cattle drives from Texas to the Dakotas. Rail allowed quicker delivery of cattle to the east, though many still preferred to drive their cattle to the steamships on the Missouri. RR

Westward expansion and railroad growth will forever be entwined in our historys’ mind(again with the rhyme) being hard to have one without the other. This is why we decided that Artist Ride was in need of its own railway. So in the summer of 2013 I stood before the commission and presented my case that it was of the utmost necessity and benefit to the blossoming region of western South Dakota that we…build…this…railroad!! Or at least that’s how I had it pictured in my daydream.  Needless to say our railroad is an awesome addition to Artist Ride. The locomotive is a future addition-I’ll have to check on Amazon-hmmm… I wonder if they ship UPS?

Cabin Fever 2: The Conclusion

Alright, to continue my story. I know you were on pins and needles and just couldn’t leave your computer for fear you might miss the ending, well fear not!! Now, where was I…oh yeah…we had just placed the foundation of our cabin and had the appropriate logs in place. Much celebrating took place then, back slapping, hand shaking, Lord you’d have thought we reconstructed the Biltmore Estate the way we were carrying on! When we all regained our senses our cabin was still only four logs on the ground. Looking around at one another, the thought must have occurred to us all at once, “we’re gonna need more logs.”

Trucks, tractors, four-wheelers, and a-foot, we searched, felled, and drug logs from afar. Big ones, small ones, short ones and tall ones (better be careful I’m falling into rhyme)-we piled our stock and began selecting the most worthy logs for our project. After measuring for length, we hoisted the logs into place and notched them to fit the matching logs. Notching the logs was actually the most difficult because they had to fit perfectly to get a good seal between the logs.

Needless to say we didn’t finish our cabin that day. Rather, a series of days and a couple hundred hours found our cabin taking shape. We moved from using whatever logs were available, even rotten ones, to making sure the logs were rot free and had minimal gaps. After all the effort we want it to last a long time.

I have to say during the whole process I couldn’t help but think of IMG_0020those pioneers whose cabins were built for living. I mean they had to build their homes quickly to beat the winter, make sure their belongings were situated and weatherproof it to some extent. The drive and perseverance those folks had to have.

When it came to cutting the door out we had some interesting discussions! I thought it should be fair sized because we all hate squeezing through tiny doors. But Grant, he thought it should be fairly small, his reason being so when the ole grizzly bear chased you into your cabin you had a small enough door he couldn’t quite get in… haha he should be so lucky! We had a similar discussion when we cut out the window, only this time it had to big for when that old grizzly slithered through that small door you so carefully cut out you had enough room to jump through the window, slam the shutters, and run around your cabin and lock that old grizzly inside! 

WINNER! Take that you ole’ grizzly! Then…while you’re congratulating yourself, you hear the bear settle in for a long winters nap and then the snow begins to fall….hmmmm….now what?

Probably the most unique feature of the cabin is the half round roof. The original plan was to put a straight roof on it. But, we were able to shape five cottonwood branches, that already had a slight bend in them, to fit almost perfectly, and I do mean perfectly in place!


Rafters installed and all the logs tied down it was time to move our cabin to its new home about a mile up the river. Using the four-wheel drive John Deere tractor, we hitched up our cabin and prepared for take-off. The John Deere pulled tight the chains and gave a mighty groan and the cabin moved an inch then stopped! It soon became apparent that our cabin was much heavier than we expected. In order to move it we resorted to pulling it with the John Deere while pushing it from behind with the backhoe, what sight it was. 

An hour later, after a lengthy pull across the prairie, the cabin came to its resting place along the Cheyenne. It was quite a process but the end result was well worth it. The best part was seeing it put to use by all the artists imagination during the 2013 Artist Ride. So now you know…the rest of the story! 

Be Like Remington

Be Like Remington

The Artist Ride in South Dakota can create a world worthy of the next great artist.

Written by Bill Markley Published August 31, 2007

A delirious blood-covered cavalry soldier rises up.

Firing his pistol, he makes a mad dash to run through the Lakota warriors. One warrior rushes forward and tomahawks the soldier to the ground. Shouting a cry of triumph, the warrior bends over the prostrate soldier, grabs his hair and places his knife to begin scalping. It grows quiet, except for clicking sounds.

“Okay! That’s great! You can stop now!” shouts Jim Hatzell, Artist Ride director, at a group of 20 Western artists taking photos.

Jay Red Hawk, the Lakota warrior, stands up, reaches his hand down to me and pulls me to my feet.

“Close shave for you, Bill,” says Jay, with a grin. “Lucky for you, Jim told us to quit!”

I tell him “I’m gettin’ too old for this,” but I don’t really mean it.

One weekend each August, Grant and Jo Dee Shearer’s 20,000-acre ranch near Wall, South Dakota, becomes a journey back into the Old West. Cowboy, Indian, Mountain Man, military and pioneer models rendezvous at the Artist Ride where approximately 50 artists set up the scenes and models to fit their vision of the West. Like Frederic Remington, who utilized his cameras and sketch pads to create his masterpieces (see p. 30), these artists also take reference photographs to help them create their Western art.

The picturesque Shearer ranch, featuring steep bluffs rising above gnarled old cottonwood trees alongside the Cheyenne River, is a working cattle ranch that includes longhorns and horses. Little has changed in this part of the country during the last hundred years.

The Artist Ride began in 1984, evolving over the years so much that the event organizers limit it to about 50 artists and 80 models. Lavon Shearer, Grant’s father, was one of the pioneers of the Artist Ride.

“It all started when a few of us took a little wagon ride with a few riders and cowboys down in the Badlands one weekend,” Lavon says. “The artists, Dan and Cat Deuter, went along. Of course, they took lots of pictures. Dan and Cat said ‘Lavon we need to do this again next year. We got good pictures.’ So, the next year we did it again with a few more people and artists. They all said ‘Boy, this is really nice. Let’s do it again.’ Then we started to hold it along the Cheyenne River on our ranch.”

When these shutterbugs create a painting of the Old West, they strive for accuracy. That’s where Jim Hatzell comes in. He contacts the artists and asks for their wish lists of models and scenes. Then he does his best to fulfill on them. One year, Hatzell says, “an artist asked me to find a Model-T car that the artist could change into a chuckwagon. We got it for him.”  Another time, an artist wanted Pancho Villa-esque Mexicans and the 1916 U.S. Cavalry. If Hatzell isn’t told the requests in advance, the models won’t know what gear to bring with them.

The best part about the Artist Ride is the cooperative community it fosters. “The Ride is like an artist co-op,”?Hatzell says. “If you need a stagecoach, we’ll get a stagecoach and then pass the hat to pay for it.”

The artists and models get along so well that after the shots for the day have been captured, they settle down together for hearty meals such as pork chop suppers with beans and baked potatoes. Some folks bide their time at the Dead Horse Saloon. A stone’s throw away, a large bonfire usually blazes. Old cottonwood tree trunks surrounding the fire make good seats as folks discuss the day’s scenes and make plans for the next day. Father and son ranchers from downriver often

sit on logs, strumming their guitars and singing cowboy songs. “I’ll play anything

but ‘Leaving Cheyenne,’” one father may say. Of course, someone inevitably shouts out, “Play ‘Leaving Cheyenne!’” The backdrop of flames silhouette several couples dancing.

A breeze may blow in, cooling the hot August night as a full moon rises over a ridge where coyotes begin to howl—the perfect ending for a day at the Artist Ride.

via Be Like Remington.