In our house, trains are a very big deal. An ever-changing wooden track winds through our house – under and sometimes over the furniture. We encourage our little guy’s train obsession as much as possible, so on the May long weekend last year we took him to ride on a real steam train at the Alberta Railway Museum, a hidden gem that sits just inside Edmonton’s northeast limits.
The gleaming black hundred-year-old engine announced itself with a loud whistle as we waited on the wooden platform outside the restored 1909 station. The train pulled up in front of our wide-eyed boy – his face was filled with wonder. To my three-year-old, trains are as alive as he is – to him he was meeting a superstar.
Take a Speeder Car and Climb a Caboose
Inside the shining passenger car, the conductor in a vintage costume punched our tickets and we pulled away, noses to the glass. According to the conductor, the engine is actually a rare steam/diesel-powered hybrid. The trip was a perfect way to see all the museum’s buildings, locomotives, freight cars, cabooses and even a crane-car. As we coasted back and forth along the short straight track, we picked ones to explore up close after the ride – all of them, obviously.
The steam train runs on long weekends in the summer and every other weekend during the season you can ride little orange speeder cars used for track inspections. We’ll try that this year. We climbed into passenger cars, freights, cook cars and bunks. We got up close inside the engines and scrutinized the gigantic oily gears. But our favourite was the caboose – the brain box it’s called – which the conductor used as an office and living quarters. Inside we climbed a ladder into the raised cupola and looked down the length of the train from way up high.
Tips for Moms and Dads
Do the ride first to get a sense of the grounds – the steam-works shop was a big hit that we might have missed otherwise. Because of all the climbing in and out of cars, it’s better to bring baby in a carrier instead of a stroller. The station has a café but we brought a picnic and perched ourselves at the handcar behind the station. One of my favourite things about the whole experience was the happy volunteers, who run the museum, kept offering to take the pictures so I could actually be in them for a change. Feel free to ask anyone in costume for help.
Puffing across Alberta
We’ve circled Calgary’s Heritage Park in one of their two flawlessly restored steam trains and puffed along on the Fort Edmonton steam train. This summer, we’ll visit the Alberta Central Railway Museum in Wetaskiwin – and one day soon, we’ll book seats aboard the Teddy Bear Special and ride the Alberta Prairie Railway from Stettler to an old western boardwalk at Big Valley. Our railway adventures in Alberta have just begun.