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Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions
A Major Alberta Attraction - Great For The Whole Family

People say nice things about APST

Following is a news story from the Calgary Herald written shortly after Alberta Prairie introduced its "Fine Dining" experience which is available only during the months November through April of each year.

Things cookin’ on little train
Tasty fare and fine scenery draw folks to Stettler line

DEBRA CUMMINGS
Calgary, Herald
     I’ve eaten on trains before. Even if the experience is billed "fine" dining. Or so I thought. Moments later gazing out of the modern dining car with a crisp, Chardonnay in hand, I choked on my snotty obsolete thoughts.
     For there, borne on the impeccably white gloves of APR’s Bob Willis, was a flute of lemony shrimp cocktail followed by creamy peppery asparagus soup, an orange and crunchy water chestnut salad and then the superb entree.
     Served on fine china and linen-laced tables, the fine dining experience that runs during APR’s off-season (Sept.-April) was full of twists. Not only was the food excellent, especially the marinated pork medallions – but the roadside attractions were an enchanting roll back in time.
     Crooked, long-abandoned barns, white picket-fenced farm yards, hand-scribbled "eggs for sale" signs, oil wells that danced up and down at flat horizon, a coyote, an owl on a fence post – all viewed from comfy seats in a 90 minute ride from Stettler to Big Valley.
     Sometimes it takes a visitor and a certain degree of desperation to make you play tourist in your own backyard but it can be a hoot, especially if you choose a direction that’s new to you too.

NUMBERS ON RISE
     Precisely the impetus behind many of the 21,000 passengers APR moved across the prairies last summer, up substantially from the 9,600 they saw in 1990, the year the operation began.
     Alberta Prairie Railway is the six year old brainchild of businessman Don Gillespie and a pool of shareholders who envisioned pumping new life into a handful of central Alberta communities as well as two old locomotives.
     The dining car I was on is their latest acquisition – a 1950s CN passenger coach which operated out of Montreal until 1995.
     Recently gutted and jazzed up with new oak tables, chairs and siding, its mandate is to run in the off-season, catering to smaller crowds (80 a run as opposed to the summer numbers of 400).

    In the summer APR runs steam and diesel operated cars three times a week out of Stettler. When meals are included in the themed packages they’re not on board but at community halls, in pokey whistle-stops like Rowley, Big Valley, Donalda and Morrin.
     Hissing and whining our way into Big

Valley for an hour lay-over, we chat to locomotive engineer, Gus Annas who shyly tells us how he’s plied these tracks for decades witnessing the transformation of steam to oil to diesel.
     Gazing out over the maze of now rusted track in Big Valley he says: "Steam is still a challenge…and running an engine for a movie is certainly romantic but a stressful job."
   With only four qualified steam engineers in the area, they all land work when a movie crew rolls into town.
     "Heck", says Annas, warming up, "I’ve even worked with Anthony Hopkins, who’s as nice as nice can be."
     Yes, check out those credits in Legends of the Fall, Why Shoot the Teacher or the TV serial The Marshall Series and you’ll spy names like Gus Annas, Red Robinson and Don Millar.
     A stroll through Big Valley, once a thriving coal mining operation in the ‘20s which 5,000 people then called home, is another lonely echo of more affluent times.

     With a current population of 340, the old-time proprietor at the ice cream parlor wipes her cracked hands on her apron, leans over the gleaming chrome counter and wows city-slickers with tales of three-storey heritage homes with triple garages being flogged this summer for $55,000.
CHATTY FARM FOLK
     Besides chatty farm folk, grateful for APR’s infusion of cash into their community (last year’s figure was close to $60,000), there’s a cute museum at the restored 1912 station jammed with old black and white photos, blueprints of the coal mine and a fully loaded station master’s office.
     Out across the tracks are the ruins of a roundhouse where once locomotives and cars were serviced – their story now told by well-illustrated signs.
     Then it seemed the whistle blew, the second seating began and it was our turn to play hearts in the bar car.
       But we never did finish that game.
     When Loose Change started wailin’, we started rockin’ and quit when the sun slid down over the grainaries of Stettler.

IF YOU GO
 
    Hop aboard Alberta Prairie this summer for a chug back in time. Running every weekend from now until late October are specialized excursions from APST Limited Specials to murder mysteries and a Hallowe’en Ball that roll passengers from Stettler to various historic stops through the heart of Alberta. The following list is nowhere complete, it’s just meant to wet your whistle, so to speak.

Reservations Recommended

Alberta train attractions

For additional information you may contact us by one of the following methods...

By Telephone...
1-800-282-3994
(in Canada) or
(403) 742-2811 (outside Canada) or
(403) 290-0980 in Calgary.

By Fax...
(403) 742-2844

By Snail Mail...
Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions
P.O. BOX 1600
Stettler, Alberta
T0C 2L0 (Canada)

By e-mail...
Alberta Prairie at info@absteamtrain.com

 

SORRY! For security reasons we are not able to accept reservations via e-mail. Instead, please call:
1-800-282-3994
(in Canada) or
(403) 742-2811 (outside Canada)

Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven-days a week June to September
Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday October to May

 


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