Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Highly Recommended

Exactly six weeks ago today was my last day of teaching for the term.  Exactly seven weeks from today I begin teaching violin lessons again.  So about half my summer holiday is used up already, and not one of my summer projects has even begun.  Why?  Well, the weeks were used up pleasurably by my travels and by hosting visitors.  Now there are just two more loads of laundry to catch up on, well, say three loads because I really should wash the rugs by the front and back doors.

June was cold and rainy.  The rain was a great blessing because we started the summer with practically no ground moisture.  The last week and a half has been very hot (for our area)--well into the 80ºF range.  I know I have nothing to complain about as most of North America has suffered from terrifically hot weather.  Plus, we have the advantage of cool nights.  Most morning when we get up the temperature is around +12ºC or 52ºF, giving the house a chance to cool off before the day heats up again.  The corn in our garden is enjoying this hot, humid time!

So I have some catching up to do here--first I'll tell you about a great, fun thing to do for a holiday treat in Alberta: On Saturday the 8th of July I drove up to Stettler, Alberta to meet Dear Son #2, his wife, two daughters and his mom- and dad-in-law.  Stettler is a small Alberta town that has something great going for it: an old fashioned steam train!

The train left the station at 2:30 in the afternoon (one of those hot days), traveled leisurely along for about an hour and half to its destination, Big Valley.  There were eleven old railway cars, of various sorts.  We ended up in the least comfortable: the seats that faced each other were so close that we had to "interleave" our knees.  The forward facing passengers' knees touched the backward facing seats!  Because of that we were assigned just one passenger per seat.

Soon after we left a "cowboy" came into our car with a guitar and proceeded to entertain us with jokes and songs.  We were invited to sing along.  I knew two of the songs: I've been working on the railroad, and Old MacDonald's farm.  The other songs were from the 70's and 80's, and were unfamiliar to me.  He was an excellent entertainer, told good, funny jokes that amused us all and were family oriented.  He was also able to quip offhand and made lots of jokes about my summer hat--a doily I had lifted from my coffee table, according to him.  All good fun.

There was a bar car (which we visited just to have a look) and a snack car where we each bought an iced cappuccino.  Good and cold, but not up to Tim Horton's standard.

At one point near Big Valley the train slowed to a stop and the conductor warned us that we were being attacked by a gang of desperadoes from Australia.  Sure enough, we heard gunfire and saw
masked bandits riding alongside us.  They soon overpowered the trainmen and boarded, stomping through each car with a large bag extended to collect the loot.  We recognized our singing cowboy immediately.

Because the "loot" was going to support the Children's Hospital, most of us willingly threw in some folding money.

The trainmen had gathered up their weapons and mounted a counter attack.  One of the robbers was soon shot off his horse and lay motionless in the grass.  His horse took advantage of the break to dine on the lush grass beside the train.

I felt a lot of sympathy for the gang members, as they were dressed authentically in drovers' coats, and were turning red faced from the heat.

With the robbers chased away (after collecting what loot they could), the train resumed its journey, stopping at the station in Big Valley.

We all got off and walked up the hill to the town hall where we were served an excellent prime rib dinner.  Iced tea, blue lemonade, water and red or white wine accompanied the meal--with generous refills.  The woman sitting next to DDIL had several refills and became quite jolly.  She was relating stories of her several marriages, while her current husband sat quietly beside her.  She became so friendly that DDIL said, "When we left I though she was going to kiss me!"

A stage show followed the meal, with a loose plot of a conflict between two country music people and four rock and roll musicians.  Lots of music was included, with keyboard, guitar and drums.  It was all high quality and very entertaining, but unfortunately so loud that I couldn't make out the words of most of the songs.  One standout was a quiet duet between the fellow on keyboard (country lover) and one of the rock and roll women who was lonesome for her roots.  They sang Country Roads and Shenandoah.  That was beautiful!!!

We then had some free time to wander around the village (pop. 350).  This beautiful old church is at the edge of town, atop a hill.  If I'd had more time, I would have gone around it and taken several photos.  But this was the town where DDIL's father went to school.  So we walked over there for nostalgia's sake.  He showed us the spot on the sidewalk where he received the scars on his knees.

On the way back to the train we came across the "Creation Science Museum"--a collection in an old house.  I didn't have time to go in, but DS did.  If I'd know it was there, I'd have made time to see what they displayed.

On the return trip this old-timer, one of the cast of entertainers on the train told us a lot of interesting things about steam trains, and trains in general.  For instance, the pattern of whistles of a train approaching a crossing is mandated: long, long, short, long.  I had learned that by living here on an acreage that is bordered by a railroad which crosses the range road just south of our place.  But I never knew the reason for that particular pattern: it is the morse code for the letter "Q" and dates back, according to him anyway, to Queen Victoria and her travels on her yacht.  When her yacht reached the harbour, instead of lining up for its turn to berth, the captain blasted the "Q" signal, and all the other ships got out of the way so the Queen could berth immediately.

Another very interesting fact related to how trains manage to stay on the rails around curves, which is complicated by the fact the the axles must be a solid, heavy bar without a differential.  I won't give away the answer here, because, just maybe, after hearing about this great summer outing, you will want to take a trip on the Alberta Steam Train from Stettler!

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