A Short Train Trip
Assiniboine Park Railroad
The shrill whistle sounds to every corner of the park, even to the parking lot of the zoo, calling children and adults to take a ride on the miniature replica of the Pioneer 440 American locomotive, “Old Iron Horse’, on its 24 inch gauge track. Not diesel or gas powered, this engine is real live steam powered, one of the 58 that exist today.
Tim Buzunis is ticket seller, conductor, and engineer. Tim has owned and operated the train for the past 30 years. His father, Peter, bought the train and began its operation in Assiniboine Park in 1964.
I follow the sound, find the station, purchase my ticket, settle in my seat in back of the second car watching the families choose seats and I admire the post card and the ticket which Tim allowed me to keep as a souvenir. On the nine minute ride through the forest, past deer calmly chewing an afternoon snack, with whistle blowing at each curve, memories travel through my head :
– Full size CN trains chugging freight regularly east and west on the telegraph studded tracks a quarter of a mile away from our Saskatchewan family farm;
– Passenger trains always whistling by our country road railway crossing bringing passengers, mail, packages from Simpson Sears or Eaton’s or who knows where, to our two grain elevator town, Davin, pausing just a few minutes to load our cream destined for the Creamery in Regina while we pause longer waiting for the mail to be sorted in the tiny post office attached to the Leipi General Store;
– Occasionally it took my mother and 4-5 year old me to Regina for her doctor appointments, and once it tooted desperate warnings as my youngest sister Rose and I in the buggy raced Indian pony Nellie to beat it past the crossing on our way to school. We just made it!
The massive iron machine was a source of wonder me, an eight year old boy, standing on the platform beside wheels which dwarfed me. To my amazement the engineer oiling the pistons took me up into the giant engine to show me the many levers, the massive furnace below the boiler full of fire, and the black shiny chunks in the coal car that fed the blaze.
Amazing that fire and water could power a massive machine from coast to coast of our huge country! It did. I can vouch personally for the miles of track between Regina and Guelph, Ontario, in 1961, and then between Guelph and Vancouver in 1965, riding in the dome car through the Rockies!
As Pioneer 440 pulls into the Assiniboine Park Station, I remember my little toy train powered by a wind up spring racing around its small circular track a couple of times then coming to an abrupt halt.
But this powerful little train whistles one last time and glides to a smooth stop to wait for the next set of passengers and perhaps a next round of train memories.
All photos courtesy of Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ.