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.