Aspen Crossing, near the village of Mossleigh and not terribly far from Calgary, is a family friendly fun and entertainment venue, with a campground, a fine restaurant and numerous railway themed attractions (and much more). This group has recently acquired a stretch of track which to run tour trains, a former CPR branch line disused for a some time, but with the rails still in place. It runs right behind their facility and with lots of hard work has came into their possession, to be “unabandoned” and put back into regular service.
In order to pull these trains the, they have acquired a locomotive. Join us as we document it being delivered…by truck!
Our subject today is a Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) model S3 built in early 1952. Originally owned by Canadian National Railways, it was one of several dozen of this model on their roster. These compact switchers toiled away in yards and worked industrial spurs, rarely venturing outside these environments. MLW started in the early 1900s, building steam engines, and closed in the mid-1980s. For most of their history they were affiliated with the American Locomotive Company (Alco) in the US.
A short ten or so years after being built, the locomotive was sold to the Manitoba Paper Company (later Pine Falls Paper) in Pine Falls Manitoba, northeast of Winnipeg, and was used to switch their expansive mill.
In the late 1990s it found work at the Prairie Dog Central, a tourist train operator based out of Winnipeg. You could say this was a warm up for its Aspen Crossing job. In the mid-2000s it found its way to Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, where it was used to switch cars at a Parrish and Heimbecker Company (P&H) grain terminal. At times it could be seen adorned with Saskatchewan Roughrider’s flags. Go Riders!
In 2015, it was sold to Aspen Crossing. How they came upon it is a rather interesting story. They were in the market, a search that wasn’t going that well, and happened to bump into a person visiting their venue that was connected to the P&H company mentioned earlier, who knew, coincidentally, that his firm had a surplus locomotive for sale, in running shape and looking for a job. Pure chance.
Interestingly, the elevators in Mossleigh, in the past, belonged to the same P&H firm. A second rather interesting connection.
Under CNR ownership and again today the locomotive carries the number #8454. At times in between it was numbered differently. Its outward appearance today, overall, is pretty much as built. Roller bearings on the wheels where added sometime in the last decade however. It carries a “fuel sipping” (a relative term) six cylinder “Alco“ diesel engine creating over 600hp.
The locomotive, over sixty years old and still hard at work, will be used to pull Aspen Crossing’s tour trains, compromised of several 1950s era passenger cars, an open air gondola and caboose. Trains will run every weekend during the summer, and other select days. There are two possible destinations, which they’ll alternate. One of those runs will take passengers past the grain elevators that will be the backdrop for many of the pictures seen here. Some outings will have specific themes – Ales to Rails IMMEDIATLY caught my attention.
Round trips will take several hours and speed will be a blazing 10mph (16kph). High speed rail this is not! Rather it’s all about the fun, relaxing and slowing things down, spending time with family and friends, the pure joy of train travel. Roll along, soak it up and loose one’s self in the moment as the prairies pass by.
Mossleigh’s grain elevators, by the way, will be the subject of their own report soon. We visited them a few years back, but an update is needed. Notice each has it’s own distinctive lean.
The railway line to be used by the tour trains was built around 1930. It”s today a stub ended branch, which once extended further. Aspen Crossing owns the eastern end, the CPR the west, which then connects to that firm’s Calgary-Lethbridge secondary line. That is why the locomotive was trucked – there were rail cars in the way, which CPR stores on their stretch of track and was unwilling to move (ahhhhh, the always caring and benevolent CPR). Aspen’s section of the line, surprisingly, is overall not in that bad of shape despite not being used for some time.
The locomotive was brought up from Lethbridge and was unloaded along a stretch of track in Mossleigh, the only suitable sized flat space that was close to Aspen Crossing (about a click away). This beast, small by locomotive standards but still a substantial load, was carried on a huge multi-wheeled low boy trailer pulled by a heavy duty tractor. Shadowing it were pilot trucks. The locomotive trucks or bogies rode separate, on two flat decks. Two heavy road-cranes were used for the lift. They had a tender truck that carried blocking and rigging. Add it all up, it took an army of vehicles to accomplish the move. And lots of skilled manpower too. An ambitious undertaking!
The heavy haul trucking firm that handled this move, CDI International of High River, is no stranger to this sort of load. In the past, they moved Aspen’s dining car, the passenger cars used in the tour trains and that little yellow locomotive.
The bogies were offloaded first and the locomotive gently placed atop them. Part way into the lift a wind storm moved in, but by then they were committed to the move, which ended up being competed with no problems, even in spite of mother nature’s attempt to thrown a wrench into things. This wind whipped up the dust making photography a big challenge however.
From the time everything arrived at the lift site till the locomotive was hauled away took perhaps a couple hours. It was handled smoothly and professionally.
Once on the rails, Aspen Crossing’s other locomotive, a General Electric built (late 1950s) industrial “critter” hauled this new member of the family back to their facility for some final work. This engine is rather small and not really suited to haul the passenger trains planned and instead is put to work doing other yeoman tasks. This author, in the 1970s, crossed paths with it many times. It worked at the the Manitoba Sugar Company plant (Winnipeg) back then, only blocks from where I lived at the time. I used to hang by the huge factory often, watching cars being switched about. Later it worked at a sugar plant in Taber Alberta before coming here only recently. It too, ironically, arrived by truck.
Read more about these excursion trains here…
Aspen Crossing – Celebrating our Railway Ties!
A BIG thanks to Jason and the rest of the Aspen Crossing team, who went out of their way to accommodate us. A great group, every one, we wish them the best of luck.
If you’re ever out that way, take the time to stop by even if you don’t take the train. The dining is wonderful, we’ve been a couple times, there is a greenhouse, gifts shop and place to park your motorhome or trailer, for a night, or longer. No RV, sleep in one of their cabins, made from a real caboose.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2015.
Location: Mossleigh, AB.
Article sources: Jason @ Aspen Crossing, Canadian Trackside Guides, Parrish and Heimbecker records, Book: Furrows of time – a history of Arrowwood, Shouldice, Mossleigh and Farrow, 1883-1982.
All photos were taken with permission.