Thursday, 5 June 2014

Train and B&B Combo

We hurried out of town early last Saturday morning to catch the train leaving Stettler, Alberta heading about 40 kilometres south to Big Valley. It was a spectacular tour, well worth the 2 hour drive. The train we rushed off to see was the Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions historical tour using diesel locomotive No. 1259, built in 1957.
Diesel Electric Engine #1259
The diesel/electric locomotive towed 10 cars of various vintages and decors. The journey took about 2 hours that seemed to fly by at maybe 25 to 30 kms/hr. We travelled through small towns, open parkland, modern agricultural farmland and past pothole ponds filled with ducks, geese and song birds. Even spotted a few deer, a coyote and a wild cat. Just as we thought we had arrived safely in the historic town of Big Valley, a gang of horse riding cutthroats stopped and held up the train. They gathered any loose change they could coax from smiling, picture snapping tourists before we were rescued by our train guard Gabriel Dumont.
One Desperado
After the notorious gang has been either killed off or taken prisoner, any cash they absconded with will be donated to either Edmonton or Calgary hospital for sick kids. We heard that they collected over 400.00 this trip. Shortly after the robbery, we arrived at Big Valley where we were all hustled off to the community hall for a roast beef supper. A glass of wine and lettuce salad, spuds, carrots roast beef and gravy topped off with various desserts were enjoyed to the accompaniment of a country western band known as Domino. They sang a song that I had only ever heard a fellow guide sing at Knight Inlet Lodge called "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate." They sing about the dangerous life of being a pirate on the mighty river Saskatchewan. After supper was over we had an hour to tour the many old fashioned shops, museums and collections in Big Valley. Soon were were chugging our way back to Stettler, entertained by a couple of singing musicians in various cars as well as some historic interpretations of trains, rails and railway dependence to each community.
Phoenix House

At the end of the day we had booked a room at Phoenix House B&B in Stettler. This is an original "Eaton's" house sold to farmers in the 1920s from the Eaton's Catalogue. The house has been renovated and refurbished after a fire several years ago. It now boasts 3 modern bathrooms, one for each private bedroom. In the morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast and great conversation with our hosts Dave and Barb.
Donalda's Oil Lamp

We left Stettler working our way back home by a round about route. Our first stop was at Donalda where the worlds largest oil lamp sits in a small park. This lamp is an introduction to Donalda's lamp museum which was closed this day. We still enjoyed the visit, especially our surprise as we left town dropping down into a "badlands" type river valley. As we sat on the breaks of this valley, Fay spotted huge windmills in the distance so we thought we would just run over there to take a look. Distance can be deceiving in the heat waves of the clear prairie air. We drove for at least 1/2 hour before we could start to see the wind turbines spread across the prairie landscape. Once close to them, we get a sense of how big they are. The towers are 80 meters tall that support the wind turbine powered by 3 44meter blades catching the mild wind.
Multi-Purpose Land
A soft hum emanates from each turbine. There are a total of 83 towers spread out over 15000 acres of private land in Paintearth County, east of Stettler. They create enough power for 50,000 homes. This wind farm was built and is managed by Halkirk Power.
A few miles away we saw a farmyard with a barn roof covered with solar power collectors. A few miles further down the secondary highway we could see giant drag lines on the skyline. These monsters remover several meters of overburden to reveal a seam of coal. Miles of reclaimed land surrounds the actual mine site itself. A few miles east is the coal fired generating station fed by large ore trucks hauling coal from the giant mine site. We pause at a small park that demonstrates how coal has been mined for years in this region from small ore cars used to push coal from underground stopes to small shovels that began the open pit mining era.
Fay Dwarfed by the Shovel

I do pause to ponder the future of this land environmentally. Coal fired generators do contribute to our global climate changing crisis. We have turned over acres of diverse prairie grassland and aspen parkland to create single plant agricultural land base. We travelled past oil pumpers and of course the large wind turbines notorious for wild bird collisions. It is a difficult conundrum that we live with as humans these days. Do we want the industry that contributes so much to habitat degradation? Do we challenge industry to work harder to reduce their footprint upon the natural land? Do we celebrate industry who do strive to rehabilitate their damages? Which is the better evil that we should support, the wind farm or the coal fired generation of electricity? Many, many questions for sure. Perhaps more awareness for the difficulties we face will reap answers to some of these questions.
A Bit of Colorful Prairie Quirckieness

All in all we enjoyed this tour through another region of beautiful Alberta. It is full of beautiful scenery,  innovative industry and sturdy, hardworking people. We did enjoy a few Wow Moments this trip through Alberta.

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