WAKAW, Sask. — A little antique train based in the heart of Saskatchewan wheat-growing country continues to turn heads and draw international attention.
The Wheatland Express Excursion Train, based at Wakaw, Sask., recently hosted a film crew from the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The crew was collecting footage for an upcoming a BBC documentary series entitled Great Canadian Train Excursions.
The series will be hosted by British journalist, broadcaster and parliamentarian Michael Portillo.
Portillo’s ongoing series of train documentaries features unique railway excursions in different countries around the world.
BBC crews visited the Wheatland Railway in mid-September and gathered information about the railway line’s history, its management and its latest business venture, the Wheatland Express Excursion Train.
“We haven’t had any movies shot on the train yet but we had BBC out just last week,” said Ashlyn Weninger, the excursion train’s director of marketing and operations.
“They are filming a new series … and they filmed an episode here in Wakaw that’s going to be released in early 2019.”
The Wheatland Express Excursion Train consists of two antique locomotives and three refurbished passenger cars.
The train carries tourists on themed excursions between Wakaw and Cudworth. Wakaw is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
One of the passenger cars, manufactured in the early 1900s, is rumoured to have carried former American president Harry S. Truman on his 1948 presidential campaign.
A highlight of Truman’s 1948 campaign was a 48,000 km whistle-stop tour that spanned the United States.
When the car arrived in Wakaw, it hadn’t been used in years and was covered in dirt and grime, Weninger said.
Now refurbished to its original condition, the car offers riders a glimpse of what it was like to ride in a luxury rail car during the golden era of American railway travel.
“Our cars came from all over North America — one from Sudbury, Ont., one from New Orleans and another one from Buffalo, New York,” Weninger said.
Managers have also acquired an antique dining car that is currently being refurbished and will be added to the excursion train in the future, she added.
The Wheatland Express has exceeded all expectations since it was launched earlier this year.
The initial tour schedule called for eight excursions during the 2018 season but strong rider response has prompted organizers to add 16 additional excursions.
The latest additions to the 2018 schedule include a Ghost Train Express excursion in late October and a pair of Magical Christmas Express excursions, scheduled for December.
Tickets for those events went on sale in late September and can be purchased online at www.wheatlandexpress.ca.
“Response has been amazing,” said Weninger.
“We were only supposed to do eight trips this year but now we’re up to 24. So far, every one has been sold out.”
With seating capacity on the train estimated at around 150 passengers, the Wheatland Express has already sold 2,300 excursion tickets in 2018 and is on pace to surpass 3,500 tickets before the end of the year.
The train was part of a recent Canadian citizenship ceremony that saw 30 new Canadian citizens sworn in at Wakaw.
After the ceremony, the new Canadians were whisked away through a prairie landscape.
“We got to ride the train, the first time, actually,” said Mirza Ali, a hotel maintenance worker from Saskatoon, who took his oath of citizenship.
“It was very nice. We love it.”
Wheatland Express event co-ordinator Patty Harrison, a Wakaw resident, said response to the train and the excursions has been much greater than what they expected.
The train has attracted riders from across Saskatchewan and has even had passengers from as far away as Germany and Australia.
“It’s attracting visitors from all over,” said Harrison.
“But surprisingly, lots of people right here in Wakaw still don’t even know about the train.
“It’s like our best kept secret.”