An invaluable piece of Alberta railway history changed hands on Monday for the princely sum of one dollar.

That's how much Edmonton's Alberta Railway Museum paid for Locomotive No. 73, the only Northern Alberta Railway steam engine to escape the scrap yard.

"This locomotive was an essential part of opening up this province north of Edmonton," said Joel Mullan, vice-president of the Alberta Railway Museum. "If it wasn't for them [the locomotives], we wouldn't have the farming in the Peace Valley that we do now."

Locomotive No. 73 is the last of its kind from the days of the Northern Alberta Railway, which was taken over by the Canadian National Railway in 1981.

Engine 73

This sign hangs on Engine No. 73. (CBC)

Built in 1927, the locomotive hauled train cars filled with wheat, crude oil and other produce to and from Fort McMurray, passing right through Edmonton's downtown.

It wasn't a quick or an easy ride — the train would take 15 to 16 hours one way and would reach a top speed of about 40 km/h.

Andy Johnson was once a trainman on Locomotive No. 73 trains, so the engine is a living part of his personal history.

"When you'd come into town, you were quite welcome because everyone would be waiting at the station for their mail or for their people," he said.


Andy Johnson laughs while he recounts his time on Locomotive No. 73. (CBC)

"The people would be so grateful, they appreciated it. And they were your friends."

Johnson's passion for trains weathered the transition from steam to diesel. After Locomotive 73 was retired in 1960, he was promoted to conductor on the same route, bringing passengers, mail and trappers from northern Alberta on diesel powered trains.

As for Locomotive No. 73, it was owned by the Canadian Railway Historical Association, until that single dollar changed hands on Monday.

Mullan said museum staff will now be focused for now on beautifying the old locomotive so it can live a long life and serve as a reminder of Alberta's northern transportation history.