A Train Ride On The Alberta Prairie Railway Through The Badlands

Alberta Steam Train

Alberta Prairie Railway
Fares $30 – $150 depending on the excursion
Trains depart from Stettler, 2 1/2 hrs northeast of Calgary. While you *could* make it a daytrip, it would be a long one. We camped at Rochon Sands the night before our train ride.

There’s a thing about trains in my family.

My grandfather is a bona fide train nut. He’s the kind of old man who will go down to the station for no reason other than to stare at the engines coming in and out, jotting down their numbers like he was collecting bird species.

Later, he heads home with his scraps of paper and flips through books to look up the history of the engines. So, when I took my boys on the Alberta Prairie Railway for an adventure this weekend, I made sure to get a picture in front of the engine.

Alberta Prairie Engine

“Hi thanks for info here is the history of the engine,” my grandfather wrote back almost immediately after I emailed him the photo. His keyboard lacked punctuation, and his capslock got stuck as he continued.

“model GMD 1 BUILT in 1960 for CNR RETIRED IN 2000 this locomotive went to CANADIANRAIL SERVICE THEN TO CENTRAL VERMONT THEN TOALBERTA PRAIRIE WHERE YOU RODE IT THEY EWERE USED IN LIGHT DUTY THERE IS SOME RUNNJNG IN YARD SERVICE IN EDMONTON AND THE BC SOUTHER HAS SOME DOING YARD SERVICE IN ABBORTSFORDHAS ONLY 1000 HORSE POWER NEW ONES TODAY ARE 4400HORSEPOWER I BET IT SOUNDED LOUD AND SHOOK THANKS SEE YOU SOON GRUMPS.”

As he approaches 90 next month, my grandfather has been celebrating with great train trips – on his own. Last year he went across the country, this year he took a trip up north to Haida Gwaii, taking a train through to Prince Rupert.

He’s taken trains in the Alps, Alaska, and on his last visit to us in Calgary, I took him to some railyards near our home to just sit and watch the engines work.

Watching trains in Calgary

I didn’t catch my grandfather’s unabashed love of trains, but I still feel like a kid when I go and ride Thomas at Heritage Park or see an old fashioned station like the Alberta Prairie Railway has in Stettler and Big Valley.

Stettler Grain Elevator

Train Station In Big Valley

Alberta Steam Train anniversary

For 25 years, the Alberta Prairie Railway has been making the journey between Stettler and Big Valley, and back. Long ago, this short line was an important part of grain movement in the province, now it’s a chance to spend a day in the badlands, relaxing on the railway and watching out for bad guys.

Yes, I said bad guys. The Alberta Prairie Railway has a tendency to get robbed, so if you’re on board for a fancy dinner, murder mystery, or just a Sunday afternoon ride, watch out for the bad guys.

Just before you pull into Big Valley, the train stops to ask if anyone needs to use an old outhouse on the side of the tracks. This is where the bad guys pop out, riding horses, shooting guns, and then they board and rob the train.

AB Steam Train Gets Robbed

Is it scary for kids?

Maybe. I warned the boys ahead of time, so Charlie had packed his Batman outfit to wear so he could ‘get the bad guys,’ while Zacharie wore a sheriff’s badge so he could pitch in and save the day too.

When the bad guy boarded our car, Charlie jumped from his seat and wrapped himself around the guy’s leg. It was pretty funny – even as the guy was brandishing a gun to shoo Charlie away.

The guns are a little spooky in this fun theatre. They do wave them around a lot. They do get pointed at people (and the kids), there is shooting of the bad guys, and they fall off their horses outside the train as if they were dead.

I think a chat ahead of time with the kids can mitigate some of the fear that might come from experiencing the wild west in real life.

At the end of the ‘show’, a good guy saves the day, gets all the bad guys, and everyone gets up from where they fell and waves to the crowd.

Good Cowboy Saves The Day

Bad Guys on horses

BTW, the money the bad guys rob from the train that is then rescued by the good guy gets donated to Alberta’s Children’s Hospitals. Our ride was worth $300 for the cause. A great idea.

Depending on your trip, when you pull in to Big Valley, a buffet will be waiting for you in the community hall. Ours was an afternoon ride, and we had salads, cold cuts, fruit, and cookies all spread out.

Lunch On the Alberta Steam Train

You then have time to wander the streets of this dusty town and explore the buildings, the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame, and the old town jail.

Big Valley Centennial

Big Valley Motors

Canadian Rail Hall of Fame

Big Valley shopping

Big Valley Jail

The ride is about 90 minutes from Stettler to Big Valley, a 90 minute break to explore, and then a 90 minute ride back.

The boys enjoyed the day and I did too. For a few hours, I imagined I was 9 taking the train by myself to visit my grandparents in Montreal.

Alberta Steam Train Caboose

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