It’s a blazing summer morning at Inkster Junction as passengers gather by a trolley of dusty old-fashioned suitcases, preparing to board the Prairie Dog Central.
Visitors from Australia, Costa Rica and Northern Ireland, among other far-flung locales, have gathered at this antique train station on the northwest edge of Winnipeg to embark on a four-hour journey into another era.
They’ll ride in train cars as much as a century old that hark back to a time when the railway was Canada’s lifeblood.
The Prairie Dog Central is operated by a fleet of volunteers who are part of the Vintage Locomotive Society, which boasts about 300 members. The non-profit group of enthusiasts was founded in 1968 with an eye toward restoring and sharing engines and cars of the past.
Most of the porters and conductors sporting vintage uniforms who greet passengers are not retired railway workers. There is a commercial airline pilot, a retired bank manager, nurses, bus drivers, clerical workers, and even a retired computer guru, Bill Stannard.
“We’re old guys who love playing with trains,” says Stannard, 68. “I’ve been a train nut my whole life long.”
Mere enthusiasm is not enough, however. The members of the society undergo extensive training before they’re put to work. The train — made up of lovingly restored cars from the early 1900s — carries about 14,000 passengers each year on regular runs and about 6,000 on special charters.
The train chugs through panoramic fields of sunflowers, canola, oats and flax, stopping in a couple of towns along the way. It’s a unique view of Manitoba, Stannard says.
hop on the Prairie Dog ...
• The price for regular trips is $18 for adults and $12 for children. Prices vary for theme trips.
• Visit www.pdcrailway.com.