The sunshine train

Farm Forum

It wasn’t uncommon in the 1920s and 1930s for South Dakota cities to rent a train and send delegates out on a tour the state extolling their city’s positive aspects.

One of the most famous of these promotional trains was called the Sunshine Special. In May of 1925, it was touting the advantages of living and working in Sioux Falls.

About 175 Sioux Falls residents, mostly businessmen and women, climbed aboard the Sunshine Special at 10:30 Sunday morning, May 24, 1925.

The train headed first to the nearby town of Crooks.

Everyone aboard wore special uniforms, coats and dusters. All had what they called “sky pieces” on their heads—little felt hats with yellow cutout sunflowers pinned on them.

Since it was too expensive to hire the Sioux Falls municipal band to go along, and still have to pay the way of all of its members, the group hired a dozen bandsmen from the University of South Dakota, and another dozen from South Dakota State University in Brookings.

It’s doubtful the collegians were paid, but probably just went along for the fun of it.

Two engines and a railroad staff of 30 kept everyone fed and happy. The Chicago & North Western train had seven Pullman cars, two dining cars and other cars.

On board were 3,000 napkins, 5,000 pillow cases, 500 linen table clothes, 30,000 pieces of candy and 11,000 balloons to be handed out at the stops.

A radio station, KFVP, broadcast from the train daily, and the train even had a dentist office. Dr. Bob Jasman of Sioux Falls went along, dental chair bolted to the railcar’s floor.

After Crooks, stops were made at Tea, Lane and all the other little towns on the line, from Huron to Wolsey to Wessington and then 23 other towns on the line all the way west to Rapid City.

Write the author at