A whistle to start, slow-moving wheels, beautiful countryside passes by at a slow pace — for train aficionados, the Alberta Prairie Excursion out of Stettler is a trip back in time to the early days of Albertan history.
Our particular train was a diesel engine — specifically, a 1957 GP built for New York Central — this lovely beast took us on a slow journey through the prairies that is identical to any journey taken by Canadians during the 1930s and 1940s.
The cabin cars are also authentic. Purple and blue vinyl seats line the family car, which is made complete by a fenced-in play area at the end.
We somehow ended up in the adult car where we were transported to the world of the Polar Express. We had our ticket stamped by a conductor who looked strangely like Tom Hanks, the seats spun with majestic ease, and in a rather spooky coincidence… La Niña’s ticket flew out of her hand just as it was about to be stamped. Everyone rushed to grab it, but it became elusive and floated around in the wind until one breathless moment when it got itself stuck in a crevasse by the side of the train.
The experience was not entirely like the Polar Express. There was no snow (thanks!), no references to Herpolsheimer’s, and unfortunately, no army of chefs singing about hot chocolate.
Instead, we had a banjo player, mashed potatoes with roast beef, a good ‘ole country and western show, and the opportunity to live through a real-life a train robbery… the Reynolds Raiders stopped the train on horseback and ran up and down the length of it firing blanks while trying to avoid being shot by the law.
Everyone on the train managed to contribute something to the robbers (all donated to the Children’s Hospitals in Alberta) before the Raiders tried to make their getaway and were shot by the sheriff. The grand finale was a showdown at the outhouse that had the kids on the train howling with laughter.
Was it worth the three-hour drive from Calgary? Completely. Though next time I think we’d stay the night at one of the local hotels (the Ramada has a waterslide).
Some quotes from the pint-sized participant include: This is the best day I’ve ever had, and I’ve dreamed of this day forever, and It’s so great to be me. I can’t wait to tell everyone that I was on a train that was robbed by horseback.
Next stop: Big Valley…