Shortly after the formation of the Battle River Railway NGC (New Generation Coop), a group of interested people started dreaming of teaming up with them to consider running a tourist train on their line. On March 29, 2012, thirteen people from the line communities met to discuss the feasibility of such a venture.
On March 6, 2013, this group formed a not-for-profit society called Friends of Battle River Rail Society. Our first objective was to promote and encourage participation and common involvement in a tourist railroad. Our second objective was to purchase a passenger car. To this end, a supper, silent auction and dance were held in Alliance. The date was April 13, 2013. As a result of the hard work of the group, enough money was raised to purchase the car. To add to this fundraiser any business or individual could donate a minimum of $1000, which would then give them the honour of being in the Platinum Club. The club was initiated as an incentive for each member in knowing that they would receive one of the first rides in the new passenger car. Enough money was raised and the 1952 Pullman passenger car was bought. It was originally part of CN’s passenger car fleet when they provided regular service across Canada in the 50’s and 60’s. It was being stored at the Kamloops Heritage Society. We bought it for $55,000 and the transportation costs for it to be brought to Forestburg by rail was $6300.
In June of 2013, the group purchased the former Youth Centre in Forestburg, to be our headquarters. After a great deal of cleaning and fixing, the “Friends” moved in and named the building ” The Station”. This is where our meetings are held and where we do our planning and hold our functions. It also serves as a museum for our Train memorabilia, an art gallery, conference facility and banquet room. We applied for and received a CFEP grant to be used for our first stage of major renovations.
This year, 2017 is our fourth year of excursions for people near and far. Our new name on our brochure is “Battle River Train Excursions.”
Over 5000 brochures have been printed this year going out to Alberta tourist bureaus and businesses all over Alberta. We started offering six to eight Excursions throughout the year and this year ran twelve. Our rails consist of 55 miles of straight track with our cars travelling at an average of 25 miles per hour starting, ending or stopping in our little towns of Kelsey, Rosalind, Heisler, Forestburg, Galahad and Alliance.
February starts our year with a Valentine run, “Love is in the Air” from Alliance to Kelsey for the famous Kelsey Dinner Theater in the tiny Kelsey hall where talented local actors put on amazing and entertaining plays. Chocolate covered strawberries and fresh cinnamon buns and drinks are served on the train by wonderful volunteer hostesses dressed in classy red dresses and pearls.
In April we offer an Easter Egg-travaganza from Forestburg to Galahad where the Giant Easter bunny awaits the passengers for the big Easter egg hunt which is a highlight of the trip.
In June 2016 we offered our first Heisler Historic Hotel run from Forestburg to the 1920 Heisler Hotel. New owners had purchased the hotel a few years previous and have totally renovated the inside of the hotel! A great destination venue for our train.
In 2017 our first Scandinavian Day train run was put together with the train starting at Kelsey. From Kelsey, the train powered down the track to Forestburg where a Scandinavian gourmet meal and entertainment awaited us at our train station hall.
In 2016, a Garden and Gourmet run also happened from Kelsey to Forestburg with a gourmet dinner of locally sourced food waiting in the beautifully decorated hall. Tours of the historic elevator, museum and some beautiful yards were another highlight of the day.
Since the start of our Excursions in 2014, the Octoberfest run from Alliance to Heisler’s famous Sausage Supper has been happening. This event has been happening in the Heisler community for 60 years now. An amazingly talented accordion player entertains guests onboard the train along with wonderful hostesses cheerfully dressed in their German costumes serving tasty German snacks and drinks.
Santa Daze in Alliance is our last ride of the year! The train is full of bustling children and their families. Santa is waiting to greet the train in Alliance and from the station they are taken to the hall on a flat deck with straw bales for seating, pulled by Santa’s white truck!! Lunch is served here by the local ladies. The children can sit on Santa’s lap and after presents can be bought at the market vendors right there in the hall. Over in the arena, the families can skate with Mrs Claus and Santa’s elves and your Christmas turkey can be won by turkey curling. A turkey is thrown down the ice to marked curling rings for $2 a try! The closest to the centre circle is the winner!! The often brisk snowy afternoon ends with a giant fire and wiener roast, hot chocolate and fireworks! A magical day for families!!
In 2015 we reconstructed the heating system on the passenger car and now have heat on our train for those cold months we offer rides. In order to power that heat on our car, we needed a huge generator. Every time a generator was needed which was almost every run, a volunteer would have to take a truck and trailer to Stettler to pick this huge generator up. The generator then needed to be mounted on the back of the engine with a telehandler and then removed the next day after the train run and returned. Many volunteer hours went into this process. This is when Ken Eshpeter started looking into a Genset Car that would hold the generator that was needed. This would free up rental costs and many volunteer hours for this process. In 2016 an old Boxcar was found and purchased for $2000. Talented volunteers then installed a 175-kilowatt generator in the Boxcar which now gives our passenger car power and heat!
In early Spring of 2017, Ken Eshpeter had an inspiration that our Train needed an “Open Air Gondola” car. This car would allow our passengers to move from the passenger car through the gondola car to the caboose, experiencing amazing nature and wind in your face as the train travels down the rails. Ron Valliere, a friend of Battle River Rail found an “open-air car ” that was ready for “salvage ” in CN’s fleet of rail cars and donated the car to Friends of Battle River Train Excursions. This gondola car was in rough shape and needed much work, including intense cleaning, a new floor, welding to create walkways between the cars, sanding and painting to get this car looking presentable. 4-H members, avid volunteers and board members gave endless hours to make this car presentable!
We now have a passenger car, gondola open-air car, and caboose for tourists to experience and taking one back to the “Good old Days!” The Battle River Railway owns the two engines we use to pull our passenger car and we pay them a fee to pull our cars on our excursions.
Summer of 2017 brought celebrating Canada’s Sesquicentennial (Canada 150) with four more rides added to our year. Two Old Time Market Days were created in Forestburg with Jodi Pettigrew organizing this with the Town of Forestburg and our volunteer train board. This created activities that our passengers and locals were able to take in when arriving in Forestburg by train. A parade, the Bill Webb Art Studio, the historic Oberg elevator tours and the museum opened their doors to many people. Great entertainment was held at the train station and Museum gazebo. Smiles, laughter and reminiscing were in the air.
Our theme for the two days was 1920’s and our Hostesses were well dressed in their 1920’s long dresses and saucy hats! They walked the parade and streets along with our smartly dressed conductors and added that special 1920 ‘s touch and feel to Forestburg’s Sesquicentennial Market days.
Our first ever “Great Train Robbery” run happened the weekend in August after Market Days. Many hours went into the staging and planning of this run! 4-H Alumni Horse Club members and a few other recruits were the Train Robbers! Great fun and much laughter were heard as the robbers came on board searching for money from our train guests pockets and using their “water pistols” as ammunition. Even our engineer and conductors were held at gunpoint for ransom money too!
We enjoy sharing our beautiful countryside, our wildlife, our history, hospitality and the uniqueness of the individual communities with our train guests.
You will be greeted by our congenial conductors Jerry Weller, Ken Eshpeter, John Oberg, Ernie Gamroth, Caroline Boddy that are always smartly dressed in their sharp black vests, bow ties and black formal conductor hats along with the beautifully dressed hostesses in their detailed sewn costumes, dresses and hats made by Cynthia Sibley.
The team makes a great picture as you are greeted with smiles and laughter at the steps of our 1954 Passenger car.
The ride down the 55 miles of track will take you right back to the days of wonderful train transportation.
All of these runs are all totally coordinated and executed with hundreds of volunteer hours. Only the engineer on our train has a paid position. Thank you to our great Train Board volunteers – Ken Eshpeter, Virgie Robb, John Oberg, Doreen Blumhagen, Judy Solinick , Caroline Boddy, Muriel Fankhanel, Ernie Gamroth, Joanne McMahon, Joanne Jackson, Diane Damman, Cynthia Sibley, Shara Lynn Weller and Jerry Weller, train conductor.
These dedicated volunteers who shine and put in long days for our excursions to happen and the planning of them bring tourists of all kinds to our beautiful areas in Flagstaff and Camrose counties to experience the wonderful train travel of 60 years ago.
Thank you to Shara-Lynn Weller for this little piece of history.