mi-southern-prairie-railway

This is the second year the Southern Prairie Railway has been running. (Southern Prairie Railway)

At the town of Ogema, Sask., the Southern Prairie Railway is about to hit the tracks for its second year of tours.

The refurbished 1922 passenger coach runs out of the town located about 120 kilometres south of Regina, and passengers are lining up.

Cheryl Generous, CEO of Southern Prairie Railway, says the train attracts people of all ages.

"We get people in their 90s that are coming and telling us the stories of when they would come to the train station when they were children and how it affected their lives. And you just see the nostalgia just coming out of them. It's a love affair," she says.

"You can just see the passion in their eyes."

Generous recalls a six-year-old boy who took the train last year. He had a backpack with stuffed toys and kept taking the toys to the back of the train to show them the tracks through the window.

"He came up to me and said, 'Thank you. This has been my lifelong dream to ride a train.' He was six," she exclaims.

"I mean, it attracts everybody, right from the ones who are building the nostalgic experiences to the ones who actually get to relive a very positive [one]."

The Southern Prairie Railway chugs away on a stretch of the Red Coat Road and Rail Tracks, one of the first short line railways in Saskatchewan. The track was bought from Canadian Pacific Railway in 1999 by farmers who didn't want to lose the line when CP left.

Generous says there were many in Ogema who dreamed of a tourist railway.

Saskatchewan was the only province between British Columbia and Quebec without a full-sized tourist railway, she says.

Generous and her husband, Devon, moved to the area about seven years ago. They are a self-confessed crazy train family.

Devon Generous has worked in the train industry for 37 years and can rebuild steam engines, while Cheryl Generous has been involved with the railway for 19 years. They have two sons who are conductors.

"The joke in our family is we don't have white blood cells. We have little choo-choo trains," she says with a laugh.

With great help from the community, Generous says, Southern Prairie Railway was born.

It runs several different tours from May through the fall. The most frequently offered one is the Heritage Train tour, which runs west along the old CPR branch line to Horizon, Sask., and includes a tour of an old grain elevator. The tour lasts a couple of hours.

"All of them, you will see really beautiful countryside and wildlife," Generous says. "Last year we had deer, moose, fox, coyotes.

"I didn't know there was such a variety of ducks. I thought a duck was a duck, but apparently not. We saw several species of duck last year. Mud hens, cows, horses, lamas. So we get quite a variety that the people can see."

The Star Gazer tour will run in September and is led by a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

"He's awesome," says Generous.

"He'll tell you stories like The Cremation of Sam McGee and during that story there's part of the northern lights. So after he finishes telling you the story, he starts to get everybody on the train interactive about the myths and what's real about northern lights."

The Sam McGee yarn is one of the more famous poems by Robert Service.

At Horizon, everyone gets off the train and the astronomer guides them through the stars, explains Generous.

"He gives us a guided tour of all the constellations, so we're out there for a good two hours looking at the stars, all guided, and then he tells a couple of stories on the way back."

If a train ride could make your mouth water, it would be the Pitchfork Fondue Train.

If You Go...

Tour schedules and fare information can be found at www.southernprairierailway.com.

Reservations are strongly recommended. All train tours also include entry to the Deep South Pioneer Museum in Ogema.

The tour runs to Horizon and back and includes a meal of "pitchfork fondue steak," baby roasted potatoes, homemade baked beans and fresh coleslaw. Generous says a gentleman named Merv Brandt pulls out a 150-litre cast-iron cooker and a massive pitchfork that holds dozens of steaks at a time.

But if you're travelling on the second Saturday of the month, be prepared for a holdup — literally. Tours on those days will be robbed by "guys and gals on horseback," says Generous.

"They even have a black bag that says 'loot bag' on it," she says, chuckling.

"People really like to be robbed like you would not believe."

The "loot" is actually for charity. For example, one of the four "robberies" is to raise money for juvenile diabetes and the money will go to the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Generous says if Mother Nature co-operates, there will be a Christmas train too.