Twilight: that most magic time at the end of the day. The sun’s final hurrah, that warm golden glow enveloping the world, dark shadows, a deep blue, in stark contrast. It’s serene, peaceful, something damn powerful and words alone don’t seem enough. Then, add a train, a tour train taking in the Alberta Prairies. Jump on board and roll along at a leisurely pace, the gentle rocking, the soft clickity-clack. Lastly, look out over endless fields of grain in the softening light…and just loose yourself.
This is the Aspen Crossing Twilight Train and Team BIGDoer is on the scene to record a trip. Enjoy!
First the venue, Aspen Crossing, it’s about an hour’s drive southeast of Calgary. Point yourself in that direction and go. You can come here to camp – they have nice treed sites or even a caboose cabin you can rent. You can come here to dine – they have a fine kitchen inside an old rail car that serves amazing fare…we’ve eaten there often. Then there’s a garden centre, gift shop and soon an “escape room” mansion. There’s a big emphasis on trains. Many come for the trains. We did!
Trains depart much of the year (weekends mostly), outside the coldest months. Lots of different themes to keep it interesting, Twilight Train being just one. The consist is made up of vintage passenger cars from the 1940s and 1950s. Coming in from all corners of the continent, documenting their lineage could fill up a whole post (and it did, here: Train Day at Aspen Crossing. These cars have seen a lot of different owners over the years! Lots of miles on them, but still going strong.
A standout in the collection is the stainless steel dome car. The upper level, a coveted spot, offers up a fine view of the train and the passing countryside. Some of the best seats on the train, right here. Sit back, cold one in hand, and watch the world go by. “Did you say something?” “Sorry, was lost in the moment.”
Many of the cars are set up for dining. Trains often include some kind of meal service tied to the theme that day. Twilight Train is more casual, food being optional.
An open air car, second from the end, is perhaps the most popular spot overall on near every run. Stand there, lean against the rail and take in the scenery. Minutes pass but it seems like seconds. The caboose offers a fine view, out the back platform, or better still from the cupola. There’s a candy store inside too. Just sayin’…
Mid-way back in the consist, a former baggage car with large open doors, is quieter for those seeking a bit more solitude or some breathing room (the train can get busy).
Musicians wander about. And on this run so does a character from Calgary’s past, Diamond Dolly…let’s call her an “entrepreneur” from the city’s early days…entertaining passengers with her stories and lively conversation. A train expert is on hand to answer any questions…there’s always the questions and he’s more than happy to help.
All this action, all this interaction, all this fine scenery and the mood across the board a jovial one. Not a frown to be seen.
The conductor makes sure the schedule is kept…and watches me impatiently as I run from the back to the train at the turnaround point, leaving Connie behind, to the front (a good jog) to take up residence in the locomotive. “There’s a train to run here!” Worry we’re a nuisance. Suspect probably not, but it’s always on our mind.
I stumble in the grass, the front of the train still a long way off. Seems I’m being watch. Chuckles are heard from the open air car. The conductor looks at his watch. Snap off a quick side of the train shot, while still in motion. No haste to be made.
Powering the train is a vintage locomotive, one of two the railway has in it possession. See the following report to know more about the one we rode, #8454, dating from the early 1950s (Montreal Locomotive Works “Alco” S3) and last used to switch a large inland grain terminal, before finding new life here. This: Aspen Crossing’s new locomotive gets delivered. This is the backup locomotive when the other is getting maintenance and being smaller has to work extra hard to keep the train moving.
Our engineer, a fine fellow, is an expert at the throttle and brake. Pure magic – might be an everyday job to him, something routine, but to us it’s something amazing to watch. I (Chris, Connie’s still recording elsewhere on the train) watch in awe…and recall riding in locomotives is nothing new to this author. He makes it look no harder than driving to the corner store. Does it have a backup camera? Now I’m being silly. This fellow also runs locomotives (steamers, yet!) at Calgary’s Heritage Park.
The train follows a line that once belonged to the Canadian Pacific Railway (ex-Lomond Subdivision “grain” branch). The section used today, dating from the early 1930s, runs from a point west of Aspen Crossing, roughly where the town of Farrow once stood, (connecting CPR track there), east through Mossleigh, the only real town on the line and home to some cool grain elevators (here: Prairie Sentinels – Mossleigh Alberta), to end of track at a point just shy of Arrowwood. That town’s one and only grain elevator can be seen off there in the distance. Aspen Crossing is just west of Mossleigh, by the way.
This track was last used by the CPR in the early 2000s but left in place afterwards. Aspen’s been using it for a few years now. Given all the time it was not used, it’s in remarkably fine shape.
Trains run caboose first for half of the run, there being no turn around or run around track on the line. The caboose, when leading, is a great place to watch the track ahead. Yank the horn pull. Loud!
The line surprisingly, has some fair grades, the locomotive having to work hard in places. Open doors help with engine cooling. Old locomotives, old anything, you know, they can be a bit cranky.
The scenery passed through is far more varied than one might expect here on the plains. It’s prairie, for sure, but rolling in nature, the line meandering through fields and pasture as though with no real destination in mind. A picnic site overlooking a little valley, is a stop on the “Meals in the Field” train. The feel is very rural – a once in a while there’s a grade crossing and a farm here and there, and fields, so many fields and that’s it. Hard to believe we’re not far from the big city.
Canola was in bloom on our visit. Nice yellow background!
Just past the “cemetery”, there’s an ambush. Bandits! They’ve been running roughshod for years, robbing train after train, year after year, the law seemingly unable to stop them. Damn robbers! One of them looks a bit too familiar…like Jason Thornhill, the fellow who runs Aspen Crossing. But he said he was back at the office. Hmmm. Money collected goes to charity. Perhaps they can put some aside to buy a new truck. Heck, I’ll take up a collection for them!
There’s the old Unity Saskatchewan Train Station – it belongs to a “collector”and not Aspen Crossing but sits beside the track. It looks stunning with low sun shining upon it.
The ride last a few hours, give or take. The speed is relaxed, yet time seems to just fly by. The sun drops further, shadows stretching longer and longer. More colours, yellow, orange, red. That blazing ball in the sky. All cameras pointed that way, all folks mesmerized. It lasts but a moment, the sun’s soon below the horizon and gone. Just as the train ride ends. Twilight is a revered time for photographers – it’s often called the magic hour among those serious about cameras. It’s our favourite time, even more so than night shooting.
Time to go home, but first everyone is welcome to tour of the locomotive. One last thing. One more excuse to not go home just yet. “Look, I’m driving a train.” Kids get giddy, men become kids, it’s a train thing. Once it’s in your blood…
We hang a little longer, till the last person’s gone. On a post-ride high, soaking up the still present vibe, even with no one about, we wander the now empty train. It’s a playground all to ourselves. Some more cool photos. But we gotta go, really we have to go. Sigh, one last look, hit the highway. That was one hell of experience. And we know, looking at the smiles of those who departed the train earlier, we weren’t alone in that feeling. We’ll be back. Suspect some of those on today’s train will be too.
Next ride watch for Team BIGDoer (trademark yellow shirts), say hi, buy us a beer, pose for a photo. It’ll be fun, we’d love to meet you.
Take the train, here: Aspen Crossing on the Web
(click “things to do” for train themes and schedules).
Love trains? And who doesn’t? Then these articles are for you…
The Railway. A charming shortline.
Under Wraps. Cocooned locomotives.
Trainspotting – Field BC Edition. Trains and wine.
Class of ’63. The last in a long line at another “Aspen”.
A day with Battle River Railway. An arrow straight line.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2017.
Location: Mossleigh, AB.
Article references and thanks: Aspen Crossing, Jason Thornhill, Rochelle Watt and the rest of the team there, Canadian Trackside Guides.
You can ride the Aspen Crossing Twilight Train. Look for the link above or Google it.