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This article was published 10/5/2009 (4540 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WITH white clouds of steam billowing against a clear blue sky, North America's oldest operating steam train was back on track Sunday.
It was full steam ahead for the Prairie Dog Central Railway's Locomotive No. 3, which had been out of commission for seven years.
It made its first Sunday run of the season with a sell-out crowd of 300 passengers aboard for Mother's Day. The coal-burning steam engine, built in Scotland in 1882, underwent a $500,000 overhaul that included repairs and upgrades to make sure the locomotive meets current regulations.
"Fifty-thousand man hours went into it," said Doug Dillon, general manager of the non-profit, volunteer-run Vintage Locomotive Society Inc., which operates the railway that runs from Inkster Junction Station to Grosse Isle.
Twenty volunteers have been working on the locomotive year-round to get it back on track running visitors to Grosse Isle and back, Dillon said.
"We're exceptionally lucky," he said. "We've got very experienced, talented and dedicated volunteers," he said as he waited for the train's whistle.
Volunteer locomotive crew and costumed porters and station staff posed for photos with the locomotive for railway buffs.
One of the youngest was three-year-old Winnie Lange of Vegreville, Alta., who couldn't wait for the steam engine to pull into the station and to see it up close.
"They're useful," said the young admirer of trains and Thomas the Tank Engine in particular. She was going for a ride with her mom, grandmother and great-grandmother for Mother's Day in one of the turn-of-the-century coaches kept in original condition.
The Prairie Dog had lost some of its old-fashioned feel in previous years when Locomotive No. 3 was taken out of commission and they had to rely on a diesel engine to pull the train.
On Sunday, locomotive engineer Ralph Grant was in his glory, having the real-deal No. 3 steam engine back in business.
"It brings life to it," said Grant, 82, nimbly climbing down from the driver's seat in his coal-stained cap and overalls.
Grant spent his life working on trains, including steam engines. The sweating, heaving pulse of the locomotives was at the heart of the early railway and Western Canada's settlement. The steam engine was missed, said the Prairie Dog volunteer.
"It's so much more romantic -- the sound, the smell," Grant said.
With the return of old engine No. 3, the Prairie Dog is trying something new. "For the first time in 40 years of operating, it's not just a train ride," marketing manager Murray Brown said.
The railway, which relies on ticket sales, has magicians, fireworks and prizes planned for the season ahead, he said. "Every single time the train goes out, there's going to be something more," Brown said. For information, go to pdcrailway.com or call 832-5259.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.