It’s perhaps a little-known fact, but Stettler has a unique piece of Canadian history in its midst, and it’s of the steel-wheeled variety.
Engine 6060, also dubbed “Bullet-Nose Betty,” was the last steam train used by the Canadian National Railway. It ran in eastern Canada until it was first retired from regular service in 1960. Today, it’s the only remaining 6060 still operating.
The 6060 is one of two steam engines used by Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions to pull the tourist train from Stettler to Big Valley, but there’s much more history connected to the famed 6060.
It was built in Montreal in 1944, during the Second World War, when the workforce was largely made up of women. Of Canadian design, it was built by the CNR to replace its aging fleet of engines with a much-improved model.
In 1951, the 6060 pulled the Royal coach that carried then Princess Elizabeth on her visit to Canada. The following year, she became Queen Elizabeth, after the passing of her father, King George VI.
Harry Home, now an engineer with Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, was instrumental in saving the historic 6060 back in the 1960s, when it was originally brought to Alberta.
In 1972, it was towed back to Montreal, rebuilt, and put back into service for another eight years in eastern Canada.
Home ran the 6060 back west to Alberta in 1980 by himself, a job that normally takes two people. Called the Jubilee Express, the train pulled by the 6060 was used to celebrate Alberta’s 75th birthday that year, making various trips throughout Alberta, including one to Hanna.
Owned by the Alberta government during that time, the 6060 also made the trek to Vancouver for Expo 86. The famed 6060 made its first visit to Stettler in 1989, when it was used by Central Western Railway for one summer. It came to Stettler permanently in 1998, to be used by Alberta Prairie.
“In 2001, in a special ceremony at Jasper, the 6060 was handed over to the Rocky Mountain Rail Society,” said Don Totten, vice-president of the society that owns the 6060 today.
The society, based out of Calgary, has volunteers from all across the country. The organization’s fundraising campaign is now being devoted to repairing the 6060.
“It needs some serious work on the boiler,” Totten said of the 6060, which is parked at Warden as it awaits its repairs.
The 6060 has special meaning to Totten, as his grandfather ran the engine when it was in service in Ontario.
“This is the first year the 6060 did not run on Canada Day,” said Home, who is impressed with the Alberta Prairie Train Excursions out of Stettler.
The 79-year-old Home’s railway career began in 1949; he has been an engineer since 1958. Home has lived in Jasper since 1953.
“The steam train excursions here have a terrific future,” Home said. “I have been all over the world and have seen many train-fan trips, but none can compare with this one.”
Home said he would eventually like to see a circular tour for the tourist trains that would connect Edmonton, Stettler, Drumheller and Calgary.
Meanwhile, the 6060 will undergo some fairly sophisticated testing to determine the extent of the damage to the boiler. With any luck, the magnificent engine will be back on track between Stettler and Big Valley soon.