The trains don’t clickety-clack into Big Valley anymore.
The chirping of the frogs is occasionally interrupted by the roar of Harleys, though … Harleys driven by touring bikers looking to wet their dusty dry whistles at the old saloon.
Big Valley went through every boon of the 20th century — ranching, rail, coal and oil.
And some families have stuck through every transition, never giving up on their little town just south of Stettler. Not like others in Scollard or Retlaw who packed up and left for new, more promising lives.
They’ve worked hard to preserve their heritage, turning the old rail station into a tourist stop — a destination for the Alberta Prairie Railway, which frequently carries 300 or so folks in from Stettler to learn about Big Valley and tour its railway heritage site, museum and church.
Take a tour around the old rail yard. The Big Valley Historical Society has set up signs to teach you about the hustle and bustle days, when the steam engine chugged into town.
There’s the baggage car, the ruins of the maintenance yard and that one enduring symbol of Prairie Alberta, the grain elevator.
Across the street, museum curator Lois Miller and her husband Mel tend to the shop.
The walls of the Big Valley museum are decked with memories of yesteryear … and an awesome collection for a writer/photographer/sportsperson!
There are shelves of typewriters, even a classic old Underwood, like legendary writer Leonard Koppett carted into Major Baseball League press boxes around the U.S.
There’s an old baseball glove, behind glass walls with other sports memorabilia.
Another glass case holds old cameras.
There’s a first-print edition of Tom Sawyer, by Samuel Clemens.
And … <gasp> … over in the corner … flapper dresses, donated by the gals who painted the town red 100 years ago.
Lois is a talker. She’s an encyclopedia of the village’s history and it’s delightful to listen to her regale the days of yore. She’s a retired science teacher, so she’s pretty darn good at sharing information.
Every little nook and cranny in Big Valley, it seems, has its own story. The clubhouse at the golf course, you see, started off as the Thomson school down the road in Scollard. Once folks moved out of that area and the school was no longer needed, the building was carted up to Big Valley where it became the missionary church.
“Now it’s the clubhouse,” says Lois, tossing a wink and a nod in my direction. “We don’t get rid of anything here in Big Valley.”
Turn the corner of the museum and you step into the old Ford service shop and you’re greeted by these little babies.
They’re all in running condition, you know.
Lois and Mel keep the museum open throughout the tourist season. If you find yourself along Highway 56 in the off-season, they’ll drop by and open it up by appointment. They’ll also open up the Blue Church (more on that later), the two rail cars and the grain elevator, if you like.
All you have to do is call first, 403-876-2242, or email Lois at firstname.lastname@example.org.