Oct 042016
Aspen Crossing Train Ride

It’s Train Day at Aspen Crossing! Come join in on the adventure and ride the rails in an eclectic mix of of old-school passenger cars sourced from all over North America. The consist, pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive, travels across the rolling prairies not terribly far from of Calgary, at a relaxed pace. Take in on-board entertainment, musicians and magicians, enjoy a refreshment, or just sit back and watch the world slowly pass by. But keep an eye open for train robbers.

For each trip there’s a theme, some are for the adults, others the entire family (today was wine and cheese – they had me at wine).

Team BIGDoer won’t just ride the train. No way! We’ll chase it, explore stuff up and down the line, take in the action, take in the quiet moments, look at the equipment of course, ’cause you know that’s what we do, and touch on the experience as a whole. Do it all, or do nothing. To borrow a horribly cliched phrase, it’s all aboard (can’t believe I sad that).

The Aspen Crossing venue is located near the tiny community of Mossleigh Alberta. It’s right along the highway…there is no way you can miss it. In addition to the excursion trains which will be documented here, they have a fine dining restaurant (go figure, in an old rail car), train station gift shop, garden centre, campground, cabins (not just any cabins but caboose cabins!)…lots of stuff here! Whether you come for the train excursion or just a causal visit, it’s well worth a stop. The people here will make you feel welcome.

Train Day at Aspen Crossing…and Chris and Connie are there to watch the action! Researched, written and photographed by Chris Doering and Connie Biggart (BIGDoer/Synd)

Let’s look at the equipment for the run…

Powering the train is a vintage model General Motors, London Ontario, GP-9. Built waaaaayy back in 1955, from the time it was new and until very recently it worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Yup they got their money’s worth out of this one. It’s still painted in CPR colours. Acquired just this year, it replaced a succession of smaller locomotives used by Aspen Crossing, which are now stored on a siding down the line.

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Outside the chopped nose, in appearance it looks pretty much as built. Under the hood, it had some major work done in the 1980s, but that’s about it. In the 1950s-1970s period could be found pulling passenger trains as well as freight across the CPR system. That railway had hundreds of similar locomotives, the last being stricken off the roster only recently.

Aspen Crossing Excursion

Train time at Aspen Crossing – our friendly engineer.

Providing electricity for everything is a specialized car housing a “Head End Power”, or HEP, generator. Built by General Motors for Canadian National Railways in 1959 it once housed a steam generator, used to heat passenger cars back in the day before electricity was used. Later owned by Via Rail, who took over CNR’s (and later CPR’s) passenger runs, it was used by that firm until the 1990s. It last worked for the the now defunct Okanagan Wine Train out of Kelowna BC and still carries their old markings. In their possession, they converted form steam to electrical power.

Other cars once used by the Okanagan Wine Train are stored on Aspen Crossing’s track further down the line. They are owned by a collector. Former CNR, later Via cars, they’re still in the latter firm’s recognizable blue paint.

The next car came from the Ontario Northland Railway (in fact many here did). Like many here, it’s had a long and storied history, under many owners. Built in 1947 by the Budd Company in Pennsylvania, as a diner, it originally belonged to the New York Central Railway. Later making it’s way up north of the border in the 1990s it spent time in BC (at British Columbia Rail for one) before heading east to Ontario for a time. Aspen Crossing acquired it recently. Like all Budd cars, it’s made of stainless steel (very tough and durable). It carries the name Milo after a town in the area – all cars used by Aspen Crossing are named after local communities.

Up next is another diner. This one has an “observation end”, windows at the rear that allow a nice view out the back if the car if it’s last in the consist. This one was also built by the Budd, but in 1948. It once worked for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, later Amtrak (the US equivalent to Via Rail) and later still BC Rail before finally heading east to the Ontario Northland Railway. It carries the name Lomond.

Farrow is the next car. It was built for the CPR by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1947. Later it worked for the Algoma Central Railway, in Ontario, headed down south for a while, was repatriated back to the CPR for time, and recently was acquired by Aspen Crossing. It was built as a coach, but now works as a dining car. It’s in the paint of a previous owner (Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern).

An an old baggage/postal car follows. It dates from 1950, came from the firm American Car and Foundry and once worked for the Union Pacific Railway. Seeing a good number of owners over the years, it last came from the CPR. Old passenger cars bounce around!

Aspen Crossing Excursion Train

Soon to head out.

The jewel of the collection is the dome car. Built in 1950 by Pullman Standard, it was one of six supplied to the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the US. They were known as Pleasure Domes (In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately Pleasure Dome decree…). Later conveyed to Amtrak, they went through a series of owners after their gig there, including BC Rail and Ontario Northland before making their way here. This is a rare and special beast indeed. Interestingly, some reports say most if not all the six domes built still exist. There is a lounge/concession in the lower level. Given the name Glenview, an early name for the town of Farrow just down the tracks.

Up next is Queenstown. It’s a sister car to Farrow and has an almost parallel history. The two have been hanging out for some time and where one goes, the other follows.

An open air gondola allows train riders the outside experience. The well beaten sides remind us the hard life freight equipment must bear.

The caboose is the final car. As it should be. Built in 1949, it was owned by the CPR from then until the 1980s. It later sat in front of the Ogden Legion in Calgary.

Keeping the Ontario Northland theme, Aspen Crossing also owns a former steam generator car, now also converted to supply electricity, that once belonged to the ONR. It is very similar to the power car on the excursion train, and has a similar lineage, earlier belonging to Via Rail and Canadian National Railways. It was built by the firm National Steel Car, Hamilton Ontario, in 1960.

Let’s take in the experience…

The train departs right from Aspen Crossing and travels a stretch of line running from a point just west of the venue to a point just east of the town of Arrowwood (so about 20 clicks each way). The track dates back to the 1930s and just meanders across the prairies. The train backs up half the trip account of no run-around track at each end.

Part way along the line, and the only town passed though, is Mossleigh Alberta. The most prominent structures in the tiny community and towering over everything are three grain elevators. These date from 1930. Two have been unused since the early 2000s and are owned by an historical society connected to Aspen Crossing, while the other belongs to a farmer and is used to store grain. To read more about them go here: Prairie Sentinels – Mossleigh Alberta.

A string of equipment is stored on the Mossleigh Elevator sidings. These include a couple of their earlier locomotives (Read about them here: Aspen Crossing’s new locomotive gets delivered), and miscellaneous rail cars acquired from here and there (we wrote about some of them before, see: DeWinton – De Winton – Dewinton). Also seen are those Okanagan Wine Train cars spoken of earlier. Lots to keep a train-nut drooling.

Excursion Train Aspen Crossing

The other half of Team BIGDoer.

The rest of the trip passes thorough rolling prairie. Outside the occasional farm or lonely remote crossroad, there’s nothing much in the way of human activity seen. If you come in the fall expect to see fields being harvested.

On runs, depending on the theme, anywhere from a light meal to full on gourmet dinner is provided. Our trip, recall, the theme was wine and cheese. Other popular themes include Ales on Rails and a Champagne Brunch run (I see a pattern here which I like). There’s also a Dinner Theatre outing, one that’s circus themed and many others. In the winters there’s the Polar Express. For the adults who like a little scary fun, check out the Halloween Train of Terror. They let us in for a moment.

Later, as the train continues to amble along, people are invited to leave their tables and wander about the historic cars. Each is appointed differently, some done up in warm tones, others brighter colours. All are stunning. While modernized in many ways the cars are in many ways much as built. Remember the old days, when people actually rode passenger trains to get somewhere? These cars are from that time. They’re the real deal.

The open air gondola is a popular spot to hang out. Ditto the dome car (there’s a concession there too). On runs where children are allowed, the candy store in the caboose is no doubt a noisy, busy place.

Give the leisurely pace the train takes a couple hours to complete its journey. Entertainers wander about amazing patrons with feats of illusion or charming them with homespun music. Everyone’s happy, everyone’s a friend. The stress of day to day life, for a time, is out the window. Train Robbers make an appearance relieving patrons of Loonies and Toonies, which then go to charity.

Sadly it has to end. The train backs into the siding at Aspen Crossing and the people disperse. Given all the ear-to-ear grins seen, it was a fun ride for all.

The train now quiet, we take some time explore it in an intimate way. It’s all ours. The setting sun lights each car in a special way, casting a warm glow over everything. It’s our quiet time – but we’re invited to dinner, by Aspen Crossing’s Jason Thornhill, so we can’t doddle long. Still, there’s time for a beer in the dome car, the Pleasure Dome, what a perfect name, and a bit time more to reflect. How many bums have sat in this very spot over they decades? Who were they? What’s their story?

Aspen Crossing Train

A former CPR locomotive is used as motive power.

Aspen Crossing excursion trains have been ruining for a couple years now. Initially a couple cars in length, the train size has grown with each passing season. If they keep it up at this pace, they’ll either run out or of space or needed a bigger locomotive to handle it all. Aspen Crossing itself goes back a decade or so and is a popular destination year round.

The rail line seen here once belonged to the CPR and was their Lomond Subdivision. The section here dates from 1930, and was one of the last prairie branch lines built. Abandoned, save for a stub running from a junction with their Calgary to Lethbridge Line, to just outside Arrowwood, around the turn of the century, the west half of the line is still retained by the CPR for temporary car storage. This makes getting new rail equipment into Aspen Crossing a challenge. They have to time it when there’s no cars on the line, or hope the CPR moves them aside for a time, while they’re delivered. One time they had to truck a locomotive in.

A bit west of Aspen Crossing beside the tracks, is a old trains station, formerly of Unity Saskatchewan. It dates from 1909 and was built for the Grand Truck Pacific. It’s privately owned and sits on blocks for the time being while plans, hopefully, are made to place it somewhere more permanent. Maybe at Mossleigh?

Coming to Aspen Crossing in October is the Train of Terror, a rolling haunted house. We got a sneak peek, but can only share a couple teaser pics. It’ll be fun scary. For adults only, if you’re interested in checking it out, go here: Aspen Crossing (click the Train of Terror icon). Space is limited.

More train themed posts…
Under Wraps.
Class of ’63.
A day with the Battle River Railway.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: September, 2016.
Location: Mossleigh AB and area.
Article references and thanks: Aspen Crossing, Jason Thornhill, Canadian Trackside Guides.

Aspen Crossing Caboose

The caboose brings up the rear.

Farming Alberta

Nearby, it’s harvest time.

Aspen Crossing Robbery

Shady looking characters in this old pickup.

Train Robbers Aspen Crossing

Train robbers!

Train Aspen Crossing

A lonely back road crossing.

Desperadoes Aspen Crossing

The “desperado’s” ride is a beauty – their quarry seen in back.

Aspen Crossing Mossleigh Train

The train moves at a reeeeelaxed pace.

Aspen Crossing Entertainers

Keeping you entertained, on board musicians and magicians.

Aspen Crossing Locomotive

Number #1624 was built in the 1950s.

Locomotive Aspen Crossing

The track used, ex-CPR, dates back to 1930.

Caboose Aspen Crossing

This train’s bound for glory…

Engineer Aspen Crossing

A friendly wave…

Grain Elevators Mossleigh

Drifting into Mossleigh, they’ll stop here for a time.

Aspen Crossing Locomotives

Aspen Crossing outgrew these smaller locomotives.

Aspen Crossing Mossleigh Train Scenes

A few random scenes…

Mossleigh Alberta Train

Blue cars, left, belong to a collector.

Aspen Crossing Dome Car

Elevators date from 1930.

Grain Elevators Mossleigh

The view back from the locomotive.

Mossleigh Alberta Train

With a toot-toot, the train prepares to head out again.

Unity SK Train Station

Beside the line, Unity Saskatchewan’s former train station.

Train Station Owl

A stern look from the resident owl.

Connie BIGDoer

Engineer Connie.

Aspen Crossing Train Ride

Backing into the Aspen Crossing siding, the fun near an end..

Aspen Crossing Queenstown

The car Queenstown built in 1947.

Dome Car Aspen Crossing

The crowds have gone home happy, it’s beer time in the “Pleasure Dome”.

Aspen Crossing GP9

In spite of being sixty years old, this locomotive is still earning a paycheque.

Okanagan Wine Train

The cars here have a varied and mixed lineage. Read about it in the post.

Aspen Crossing Farrow

Going back to 1947 is the the car Farrow.

Aspen Crossing Milo

Milo, a 1947 built “Budd” car with a storied history.

Old Passenger Car

Small details…

Aspen Crossing Lomond

Lomond, from 1948 has seen millions of miles under many owners.

Train of Terror

A “Train of Terror” sneak peek.

Aspen Crossing Train of Terror

Coming soon, real soon!

Train of Terror Aspen Crossing

Yum! Best served medium-rare!


Join the discussion...

32 Comments on "Train Day at Aspen Crossing"

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Michelle Primeau
Michelle Primeau

I soooooo want to ride this train! This would be awesome!!!

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

Love what you do!!! What will you guys do next?? A big fan of trains, great post! The doll!

bob lloyd

Great shots there Chris, its a shame the old elevator at Farrow is gone, it would have really added to the mood.

James McCullough
James McCullough

(via Facebook)
Already got our terror train tickets, going to be a great ride.

Ron Buser
Ron Buser

Awesome photos of the Prairie skyscrapers.

Ann Marie Taylor
Ann Marie Taylor

(via Facebook)
Our family loved the train ride. Great write up and fantastic pictures.

Alan Zakrison
Alan Zakrison

Great stuff! Will have to get down to the Mossleigh area again soon. Perhaps you didn’t have room, but just wondering why there was no mention of the old “Diefenbaker” Pullman at Aspen Crossing?

Dean Tiegs
Dean Tiegs

(via Facebook)
Mossleigh: you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Carlo Micillo
Carlo Micillo

Rode the train this summer. Was so much fun!

Rick Smith
Rick Smith

Now that’s just too cool ─ Yeah, it is!

Mannu Sabens
Mannu Sabens

Do they run often I want to make a trip out there and shoot them at some point?

Andrew Woolner
Andrew Woolner

(via Facebook)
Doing the “Train of Terror” this coming weekend!

Angela Barrie
Angela Barrie

First generation GMs are a real class-act. Most were In revenue service longer then the steam locos they replaced.


Another great article. I remember reading recently that some cars were being delivered from Calgary to the Aspen Crossing spur. The cars went all the way to Lethbridge before going back along the same line to the spur. The reason was that the cars couldn’t be backed into the spur going southbound so they were put on a northbound train in Lethbridge so the cars could be delivered. Probably not the most efficient way to deliver some train cars.

Here are a couple of links of interest:



Greg C Jewett
Greg C Jewett

Wow I need to get there!

Jill Strong
Jill Strong

Great times on the Train of Terror!!! Got my tix for this weekend!