ST. LOUIS, Sask. — The 2023 schedule for the Wheatland Express Excursion Train has begun with the kick-off to the season being held recently with a Johnny Cash Tribute Excursion and Dinner show.
David James & Big River is one of the most authentic Johnny Cash Tribute shows touring today. From the way he holds the guitar, to the way he interacts with the audience, James’ portrayal of the man-in-black holds audiences spellbound from the time he steps to the microphone and introduces himself with “Hello, I’m almost Johnny Cash” to the final strum of his guitar. Unfortunately, if you missed it this time around you will have to wait until next year as this was the only Excursion/Dinner Show on Wheatland Express schedule for this year. Those who availed themselves of the opportunity enjoyed a locally inspired gourmet meal prepared by FarmGirlChef that was served in the Cudworth Community Hall. The meal included Mississippi meatloaf; smoked pulled pork; buttermilk, bacon, and chive smashed potatoes, and a ton of side options, desserts, and drinks.
The schedule released on their website, wheatlandexpresstrain.ca, back in February shows nine opportunities to take in the ‘Train Heist’ experience, six ‘Murder Mystery’ opportunities, and four chances to see ‘Adeline’s Wedding’. Partnering with Buttered Ghost Theatre for a third season, the characters passengers meet on board are experienced and dedicated to making their interactions with guests fun, unique, and memorable. Buttered Ghost Theatre (formally known as NeverEnding Highway Productions) is a Saskatoon-based theatre company founded in 2011, whose members are excited to be back bringing the residents of Little Big Town to life this summer. And speaking of Little Big Town, they have some big news they will be sharing more details on in the upcoming weeks. Wakaw residents may have noticed that the U-turn Permitted sign at the east end of 1st Street South has been removed. Wheatland Express is going to be bringing in a building to be located close to their “Little Big Town”. Town of Wakaw CAO, Melissa Dieno, in replying to a question posed by the Wakaw Recorder, shared this information and stated, “We are very excited about this and are preparing people with the elimination of the U-turn at that intersection.”
The Murder Mystery tour centres around the mysterious death of a resident of Little Big Town. The small frontier town is shocked by the discovery that a beloved cobbler, Grover Anderson, appears to have been murdered with his body being found by the saloon. The cause of his death is unknown, the murderer is unknown, and the motive is even more unknown. Sheriff Breakstone calls out to all amateur sleuths and detectives to come to Little Big Town and help him solve the murder. Think you can unravel the mystery? Passengers are invited to search the town for clues, talk to the townsfolk, and discover the truth as they ride the rails on the Wheatland Express.
Wedding bells ring out this summer as well in Little Big Town as it hosts the nuptials of Adeline St. Laurent and her latest beau. With 14 previous marriages, Ms. St. Laurent is no stranger to the marriage vows, but perhaps it is getting past the ceremony and into married life that is the problem. In any case, passengers are invited to come and join the friends and family of the blushing bride and the handsome groom as they tie the knot in the town square before embarking on the Wheatland Express for their reception.
The third excursion option could arguably be the favourite of ticket buyers. The Great Prairie Train Heist sees Lucky LaChance and his gang of outlaws bothering the good people on the Wheatland Express Excursion Train. Lucky really must not be too bad a character though, as he turns all the proceeds from the robberies over to local charities.
Last year, entertainment was added to Little Big Town with Larry Krause performing classic country and western music one afternoon. This fit so well with the themes presented in the excursion experience, that Larry is returning this year to perform nine preboarding concerts throughout the summer on the Little Big Town town-square stage. Since 2005, he has released five country western CDs, and his latest album “Warm Breeze” also includes the musical talents of Dean Bernier on fiddle and Jake Vaadaland on banjo. For those who enjoy traditional country western music and have not had the pleasure of hearing Larry in concert, it is something that should be part of a bucket list.
For train aficionados, the Wheatland Express will not leave you disappointed. The locomotives (FURX 5541 and FURX 5543), built in September 1971 for Norfolk Western Railway are EMD GP-38-2, 2000 HP diesel electrics. The train cars pulled down the tracks behind these locomotives include a GSR 2017 which is a 400- series lunch counter diner car that was delivered to Union Pacific in June 1955. The car was first used in the 2019 tour season and is available to all guests on their excursions. The GSR 2020 was built in 1948 by the Budd Company in St. Louis, Missouri, and arrived at Wheatland Rail’s facilities in Cudworth via truck on February 3rd, 2020. The former baggage car has been renovated to become an accessible car complete with a lift and accessible washroom and houses the onboard gift store. The “Buddliner Cars”, GSR 2021 and GSR 2022, were built by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, PA, in May 1955. These cars were called Rail Diesel Cars (RDC). Intended for commuter service or low-traffic density rural areas, they were self-propelled units that could be used singly or coupled together and controlled from the front unit’s cab. RDC cars were the first example of self-contained diesel multiple-unit trains that are now used worldwide. Of the five basic RDC design variants created by the Budd Company, the GSR 2021 and 2022 are 85’ passenger cars. Also part of the Great Sandhills Railway fleet is the GSR 2018. This car was built in January 1954 by American Car Foundry as a sleeper car. Between the car’s retirement in 1981 and its purchase by Great Sandhills Railway, the car sustained considerable water damage which required a complete remodel to become the “onboard railway safety classroom”. The car is utilized on Wheatland Express excursions.
The excursions definitely have something for everyone. So, whether guests prefer to sit comfortably embraced by the rhythm of the train as it rolls through the countryside, or explore the historic refurbished cars, the Wheatland Express has much to offer, even if it’s just a stop in the Diner Car for a quick snack and to wet one’s whistle.