Southern Prairie Railway seeks to satisfy adventure seekers

ASSINIBOIA – A community owned short line in Ogema created a vision that became reality when industrious individuals formed a group to create a unique tourist attraction.

Carol Peterson told the Assiniboia Times, “There was a suggestion during one of the monthly Ogema Agricultural Society meetings that we should start a tour train as an addition to the Ogema Fair Day, and as an added attraction to bring more people to the fair.   In 1999, the Transportation Division of the Deep South Pioneer Museum was formed and a small group looked for a train station, the same as the one Ogema used to have, until it was torn down in the 1960’s.”

“After finding a train station and moving it to Ogema and restoring it, we started looking for an engine and passenger car.  We found a yard engine that was no longer being used in North Conway, New Hampshire and a passenger car in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.”

“We moved them, and restored them in 2011 and had a grand opening during the 100th Anniversary of the Town of Ogema and Ogema’s Home Coming.”

Bringing a yard engine and passenger car to Ogema was no easy task and required tremendous planning and execution to have everything arrive safely.

“We moved the 1922 Pullman passenger car by rail and the 1945 – 44 tonne GE Electric diesel engine by semi truck.  We unloaded the two with a 90 tonne and 70 tonne cranes in Assiniboia, as the train needed maintenance from the spring rain in 2011.  The volunteers drove from Ogema to Assiniboia to start the restoration and finished it when they came to Ogema in November after the track was repaired.  The volunteers removed the old paint and repainted the inside and outside with the engine being black with red and white trim and the passenger car painted CPR red,” stated Peterson.

To refurbish the two pieces, it required more than 6,000 volunteer hours.  Since then, the group has added a 1952 baggage care from CPS Moose Jaw, as well as a caboose, which has recently been repainted back to its CPR color, yellow.

The Southern Prairie Railway began tours in 2012, and except for the pandemic year of 2020, the attraction has grown year after year, becoming more successful each year.  In fact, in 2023, Peterson affirms there were over 4,300 riders.

Peterson added, “We have tried many different train tours and keep the most popular ones.  This year we have our Heritage Tour which goes out to Horizon, where we tour a 1922 Grain Elevator; the Pangman Open Air Market; the Kids Fun Train; the Craft Beer Train; the Wine and Spirits train; the Fathers Day Train; the Museum Day Train; the Grandparents Day train and the Enchanted 9 3/4 train.”

The train excursion has also featured Rory Allen as a guest singer on several trips, along with a supper.  Organizers also host a Texas style barbecue, a settler’s supper and a pitchfork fondue, which occur once a month.

A remarkable new venture this year has garnered much attention, hence selling out.  The Jeffrey Straker Prairie Sky Scraper Concert takes riders by train to the grain elevator in Horizon where Straker holds his concert in the elevator.  Peterson affirms that this unique train trip offers some very new and very different.

Interested riders shouldn’t wait long to book their trip on this blast from the past adventure as most of the special train tours are booking up quickly.

The Enchanted 9 &3/4 train trip, taking place on Sunday, August 18, is running two trains that day and there is still room to be booked.  The July 27 Wine and Spirits train has limited space remaining.

The popular train robbery reenactments ae booked solid, except for the morning of Sept. 21 that has some spots remaining available.

The Kids Fun Train is always popular and booked up until Aug. 4.

Limited spots remain on the Craft Beer train, August 17 excursion.  There ae still a few places left to fill for the three supper trains, the settler’s supper, the Texas style barbecue and the pitchfork fondue.

Purchasing a train ticket for the Southern Prairie Railway gets the rider admission into the Deep South Pioneer Museum in Ogema, and those tickets are good until Sept. 30.  This venue includes 35 buildings to go through and showcases how the settlers lived, worked and played in southern Saskatchewan.

There are multiple positive reviews online about this small-town tourist attraction including one visitor from North Battleford, who sums up the experience nicely on TripAdvisor: “Definitely something different to do for anyone of any age. Refreshments for sale on board including beer! So much love put into this attraction. The guide was friendly and informative. Transported to another era gently rolling through the prairie landscape. Seek it out!”

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