Railway Days at Calgary's Heritage Park

Okay, before you all say “oh, there’s Geoff and his trains again!”, I would like to emphasize — for the record — that I only did this because the Society was desperate for people.

The Society, of course, is the Rocky Mountain Rail Society. But you’re thinking I was up working on 6060 all weekend, guess again. I remained in town … at Heritage Park. The Park is a recreation of life in a prairies town/city circa late 1880’s to around 1910 or so. Depending on where you are in the Park, you’ll see roughly appropriate recreations. (I think only a few things in the Park are authentic — most were rebuilt from pictures and plans.)

One of the things Heritage Park has done for the last 17 years is hold something called “Railway Days”. It’s a draw that brings out more people to the Park, and causes the local modellers and rail hobbyist organizations to come out and show off their things. Naturally, this brings out the Society to show off what we’ve got, raise a few bucks for funding, and hopefully snag a few more members.

Don, who organizes all the local events (I sometimes wonder if he actually sleeps at nights), asked me to be there most of the weekend — all of Sunday. I didn’t have any firm plans otherwise, and agreed. I arrived an hour early Saturday morning, expecting to have to go through the rigamarole of setting up the displays. Everything was already in place when I arrived.

I had an hour to kill. This gave me an excellent chance to wander around the Park. I haven’t seen much outside of the roundhouse, coach house, and the main street. I didn’t go for a huge walk, but got a better idea of what the Park is like. Luckily, the weather was infinitely better than last year’s (for once, I have no entry to link to!) — it was bitterly cool and rainy the entire weekend, keeping the people away. On Saturday, we had bright, sunny skies, and though it started off a little cool, warmed up very nicely.

We were put into the roundhouse, along with the other commercial interests. This was a little disheartening — we’re not commercial. We’re non-profit. We sell things, yes, but just to earn some money so we can pay for projects we need to do. As it stands, we only made $600 for the weekend, and our profit margins on that stuff is quite low.

Of course, we’re not there so much to make money. Our goal is to raise awareness. We’ve been around almost 20 years now, but we’re not known outside the rail community. Even within the community, we regularly get stories that 6060 has been permanently retired and put up on static display. It’s particularly a challenge when we’re told this to our faces at trade shows.

It’s so much easier when you can roll your steam locomotive into a town, pop open a door and announce “We’re here!”

Fortunately, we didn’t have too much trouble with people finding us. As the roundhouse is a fairly major attraction, and we were right next to the door, we had a steady stream of visitors both days. Last year, we were in the Coach House, which is virtually buried behind the railway tracks and beyond the roundhouse. Unless you happen to see the signs, you are definitely going to miss it.

Oh yeah, assuming you haven’t already figured it out, Heritage Park has its own self-contained railway. It’s nothing particularly fancy — a big loop with a turntable and roundhouse, a siding for storing the “freight” train, and two stations. Two locomotives ply the rails on Railway Days (usually, it’s just one), both 0-6-0 switchers. They’re painted as CP 2023 and CP 2024.

It’s with some irony that in a CP town, Heritage Park ended up with two small steam locomotives originally from (of all places) the US Army. Both started off with the Army, moved to New Westminster in BC where they worked the docks until the mid-60s. They eventually found their way to Heritage Park where they were fixed up and put to use. (They were originally US Army #4012 and #4076.)

Heritage Park does have two actual CP steam locomotives: another 0-6-0, #6144, which now operates with a diesel engine; and CP 5931, one of two preserved Selkirks (see [[CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Canadian Railway Museum]]) — the largest locomotives used in Canada. (There is widespread belief 5931 could run again, but the politics behind doing so dwarf the massive engine by many times.)

Amidst people coming and going (and Don running around to help out with the presentations), I made a couple of opportunities to go take pictures. When you’ve got two steam locomotives double-heading (basically, running end-to-end), you make an effort. Especially if the weather’s good.

Early afternoon arrived, and we had so many people at the booth that I didn’t see a need for me to be there anymore. So making sure all was well, I ducked out to enjoy the rest of my afternoon.

Sunday, it rained. It was raining when I got up, it rained off and on until just before lunch, and then rained pretty much consistently for the rest of the day. Naturally, this staved off the numbers of people we’d seen the day before, but it wasn’t so bad. It gave us more time to watch the videos we show constantly.

I spent all Sunday at Heritage Park. It wasn’t the most rivetting way to spend the day, but at the same time I can certainly think of worse things to do.

Besides, I got to watch the trains.