CIS 4th Grade Student has an Interesting Pen Pal
Chadron Intermediate School 3-4 Grade students have been reaching
out to members of the Chadron community this year through a pen
pal program with the residents of Prairie Pines Lodge and Assisted Living.
Since November 2020, the students have sent and received more than
300 letters and art projects with the residents.
This program was started by CIS Librarian Christine Ambrose and
Principal Bill Cogdill as a way to ease some of the loneliness the students
and residents faced during the Covid pandemic and quarantine. Students
in all library classes wrote a letter about themselves and were randomly
assigned pen pals at first. More have been added over the past few months.
There has been a wonderful response from both the residents and students.
The letters and cards received are shared in class and the students are
enjoying hearing about the lives & histories of the residents.
Kansas Yellow Hawk is a 4th Grade student at Chadron Intermediate School.
She has a very interesting pen pal in Lynn Bilyeu. He is a 97-year-old
resident and Chadron High School Class of 1941 member. After serving
in the Coast Guard, Lynn went to work for CNW Railroad. “They called it
the Cowboy Line,” said Lynn. A history of his time on the railroad was
published in 2017 by the Scottsbluff Star-Herald, and then The Seattle
Lynn joined the railroad in 1946 as a student telegrapher, learning to use
the railroad’s version of the Morse Code. He worked in many of the tiny
towns along the route, such as Long Pine, Crookston, and Lusk, Wyoming.
Eventually, he became a dispatcher. “It was a single-track railroad. The
dispatcher had to keep the trains from running into one another,” he said.
“All we had was a telegraph to tell a train to get on the siding and let the
other train go by.”
The technology he used changed over the years. “Telegraphs gave way to
telephones and radios. Bilyeu came to Chadron as a telegrapher in 1950 but
was promoted to a dispatcher. By then the trains were hauling mostly freight,
with growing competition from trucks as the nation’s freeway system
expanded. The railroad made up some of the losses hauling coal, rebuilding
its Wyoming tracks, and connecting with the Union Pacific. But the passenger
service ended.” “That gave them an excuse to start closing the depots,” he
said. “We had no agents along the line to receive the trains, so we started
using radios.” As the overnight dispatcher, he sat alone in the Chadron depot
from midnight until 8 a.m. “It was kind of lonesome,” he said. “During the day
there were lots of guys around.” Lynn retired from the railroad in 1984.
In April 1995, the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company was
acquired by the Union Pacific Railroad, and the company ceased to exist.
Its Chadron successor, the Nebkota Railway, began operations in 1994 on
the old Cowboy Line track between Merriman and Chadron. For a time, it
offered a three-hour passenger excursion through the scenic Pine Ridge.
By 2007, Nebkota had abandoned almost all of the line from Merriman to
Chadron. The old Cowboy Line, its ties and rails removed, has become the
Cowboy Trail, a rails-to-trails recreational conversion. From Chadron to
Norfolk when completed, it will cover 321 miles.
Lynn has shared pieces of his history and knowledge of the Morse Code
with the students. He talks about how much fun he still has as a ham radio
operator. He still talks to friends all over the state and world. Kansas and
the other students have greatly enjoyed learning about his place in
Chadron’s history. CIS intends to keep the program going into the next
school year as well. They are grateful to everyone who has been a part
of this wonderful experience.
Kansas Yellow Hawk, with a letter she received from Lynn & a picture to mail.
Lynn Bilyeu 2017 and at his Chadron desk in 1983.