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May 26, 2019, Stettler Independent (Mark Weber)
Halkirk features intricate indoor
model train display

The Halkirk Prairie Short Line Club is behind the project

Halkirk Prairie Short Line Club   If in the Halkirk area, check out an amazingly-crafted, intricate indoor model train display set up at 126 Alberta Ave.
   The Halkirk Prairie Short Line Club operates what they describe as the nation's largest 1:29 scale model, set up in amazing detail in a quonset at the site.
   The Club holds open houses of the display from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting, said Nicholas Teekman, the Club's secretary. The temperature in the quonset has to be at a particular point for the model to operate as it should.
   "It was originally built seven years ago for the Halkirk Centennial, so this is the community's Centennial Legacy Project," he said. "The Village of Halkirk council gave us permission to use the building, and we are very thankful and grateful for that."
   There are 11 members in the Halkirk Prairie Short Line Club, and Teekman describes it as being a community resource.
   Currently, more is being done with the train model's ongoing development with the addition of more tracks and more pieces to the display.
   The craftsmanship truly is striking, with elements of a community carefully constructed along with meticulous design of terrain including hills and mountains complete with tunnels the trains come barrelling through.
   "It's creative and it sort of shows the community that we are in right here with some of the displays," he said of his own observations of the project. He said kids in particular get a kick out of it as it's essentially 'eye-level' for the younger set.
   "Most people are impressed and really like it."
   For more information, call 587-899-1080.
Photo: The Halkirk Prairie Short Line Club operates what they describe as the nation's largest scale model, set up in detail in a quonset in the community. Photo by Mark Weber/Stettler Independent

Aug. 19, 2015, Stettler Independent (Moush Sara John)
Calgary Free-mo organizes the 12th Alberta set-up in Big Valley

Big Valley Free-mo   The Big Valley Agriplex was transformed into scaled-down villages and towns of Canada as members of different free-form modular railroading (free-mo) came together on the weekend, Aug. 15-16 to participate in the 12th annual Alberta set-up.
   There were 45 participants, mostly from Alberta but some had come from British Columbia and Idaho, United States.
   The exhibit had 400 feet of railroad track with a few dozen trains, as well as miniature bridges, tunnels, trees and buildings forming cities and villages with little model people doing various activities.
   In 2013, this group had a set-up which was 600 feet of track and that's the largest free-mo set-up that has been in North America.
   "We hold the record for the largest North American free-mo setup," said Doug Soeder, one of the members of the Calgary free-mo groups. "All the individual members own modules from as small as one foot long to 25 or 30 feet in several sections and they can take their modules and put them all in a set-up together."
   One of the members, Dave Chomyn had recreated the Othello Tunnels in the Coquihalla Canyon, which is located in a scenic area of the Cascade Mountains in British Columbia. This recreation area consists of a deep river canyon set in a coastal forest environment.
   Soeder said that members travel distances and converge here just so that they can play with their modules.
   "Just for us to play. We are going to run our trains on it. Nobody has a home layout this big, so this exhibit is for us, so we can run our longer trains."
Photo: A scenery set-up at the annual Alberta free-form modular railroading (free-mo).
  Stettler Independent photo.

Feb. 26, 2014,

Model train show and sale brings rail enthusiasts together in Olds
Watch YouTube Video
Railroad fans gathered at the FGH gymnasium on the Olds College campus to take in the Mountain View Model Railroad Club's annual show and sale. Rick Astle, a local member of the club filled us in on what was happening with the organization. Visitors were able to watch various types of model building in progress. The club invites visitors to their display at the Didsbury Museum and encourages anyone with an interest to check them out and consider becoming members. You can find more information about the club at their website

Nov. 26, 2012, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
Trains still roll for some
Local model hobbyists glad to be withstanding onslaught of video games

Red Deer Model Train and Hobby Show 2012   For model train lovers like Gord Sylvester it was encouraging to see so many youngsters gathered around the railway displays at this past weekend's Red Deer Model Train and Hobby Show.
   Thanks to the onslaught of video games, the number of youngsters who set up tracks and run trains in their basements is dwindling.
   Sylvester, show organizer and owner of Fun Times Hobby and Cycle in Red Deer, has been selling model trains since 1991.
   When he started in the business the average age of model railroaders was 43. It's now 64, and that's simply because there are too few newcomers to the hobby.
   The number of youngsters building plastic models is also dropping, and slot car race tracks, which were once part of almost every boy's toy collection, have virtually disappeared.
   Manufacturers have predicted that hobby shops will be gone within 20 years, he said.
   "We're happy to break that trend."
   The two-day show, in its third year, was begun to show the public, especially its younger members, what model railroading and plastic model building is all about.
   "Without the show, it's out of sight, out of mind. They don't see the potential. They don't see the fun in it," said Sylvester.
   Judging by the enthusiasm youngsters were showing for the elaborate model train display set up at the show at Westerner Park's Harvest Centre, there might have been a few converts by the end of the weekend.
   "It's always cool to see kids get into it and families get into it," he said.
   "Once you get started, it generally becomes a lifetime interest."
   Patrick McCauley was at the show with his four boys and they walked out with their first train set.
   "It's going to be fun to set up," said McCauley, who also has two daughters.
   His boys have always been thrilled by trains, which they get to see a lot of on the tracks near their Ryley home.
   "They're so excited. We've been preparing for this (show) all week. They even made a five-foot train out of Lego.
   Vitaliy Chernenko loved to build plastic and wood models as a boy but he didn't come to trains as a hobby until he moved to Canada from Ukraine in 2004. Once he had a basement, he started building his tracks.
   "Since I was a kid I was attracted to little details. I like to recreate things."
   With HO-scale trains he can create models that move, he said.
   Among the railway-related displays was a booth for the Forth Junction Heritage Society, which wants to create a transportation-themed tourist attraction in the Red Deer area.
   President Paul Pettypiece said the group is working on lining up grants and matching funding for a feasibility study.
   The show also featured a number of model builders, who were showcasing everything from Star Trek's USS Enterprise to Second World War tanks and fighter planes.
   Another booth featured die-cast metal cranes and other heavy equipment.
Photo: Tyne Fauth and her son Tucker. Advocate photo.

August 10, 2012, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
Lacombe County
Back yard model railway track okayed
   Ernie Beskowiney's dream of building a model steam engine railroad in his rural backyard near Eckville keeps chugging right along.
   Lacombe County's municipal planning commission has conditionally approved a development permit to allow Beskowiney to go ahead with his plan to build a one-eighth scale model railway track, complete with a working steam-powered miniature locomotive.
   Beskowiney has spent years making the engine, a replica of the 6060 series U1F Mountain Type 4-8-2 locomotive that is one of the engines used by Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions out of Stettler.
   The plan is to lay out 1,500 metres of track and to give the public rides on the miniature train similar to those found in amusement parks. Two big fundraising events are planned each year to benefit Alberta's two children's hospitals. Outside those events, the site will be open to the public on a drop-in basis and for educational purposes.
   Beskowiney estimates he is still at least two or three years away from having his miniature railway up and going.
   "There's a tremendous amount of work to be done," he said. "I have no cars yet. I'm still working on the engines."
   Beskowiney has invested thousands of hours over the last five or six years painstakingly creating the components for his diesel-powered steam engines and assembling them into amazingly accurate replicas of their giant inspirations.
   He already has the rails and the ties he will need. He will start working on the layout for the tracks when the crop comes off in the fall.
   When fully developed, the site will be landscaped and feature model buildings. There will also be barns for the rolling stock, a station and a covered area for guests.
   The province's children's hospitals have already expressed their enthusiasm for the idea of taking part in twice yearly two-day fundraising events.

Nov. 15, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Stacy O'Brien)
Stay busy, stay young
Sylvan Lake senior builds model trains, planes, tractors
Stepping into Fred Freschette's shop, at his home west of Sylvan Lake, is like walking into Santa's workshop.
   Real working models of diesel trains, steam tractors, Second World War planes and even a steamboat sit or hang from nearly every corner.
   He even has a full-size steam tractor, dating back to when the Prairies were initially being settled, in the machine and welding area in his garage.
   "I'm an old boy who likes his toys, just like little boys like their toys," jokes Freschette, who is 81, but has the jovial attitude and energy of someone 30 years younger.
   Freschette worked for years as the owner of Central Valve and also had a welding company and a pipeline ditching company.
   Although retired, Freschette seems busier with his projects than many working people. He said inactivity makes a person old.
Freschette model   He said he doesn't care what a person does, whether they choose to go for a run, take up bowling or something else, but they need to keep busy.
   "You take an old tractor, sit it in a corner and pretty soon it's rusted and won't run," Freschette said. "We're not a heck of a lot different ourselves."
   Before being employed in the oilpatch, Freschette first worked with the CNR before turning age 13, making 12-cents an hour.
   Large for his age, he would stand next to the train engineer, shoveling in the coal to heat the water to create the steam to run the train.
   Starting at 7 a.m. in the morning as a young man, Freschette worked so hard that by 9 a.m. he would often have eaten through his entire lunch. "I was a big kid, but it takes it out of you," he said.
   The engineer would tell him to go pick up a can of beans from the store for lunch. Freschette would set the can on the boiler to warm up the beans so they would be toasty for lunch time.
   Originally from Saskatchewan, Freschette worked on the trains for four years, but eventually moved to the oil industry in Alberta in 1948.
   His skills expanded from there. He has five trade tickets, which include welding, pressure welding, diesel mechanic, body shop and PSV valve technician. He uses all of those skills in building his models from scratch and restoring full-size steam traction engines and trains.
   One of his more recent projects involved laying a miniature train track on a field near his house. A model train -- about the size of a soap box derby car, but with the power to easily pull 125 adults -- runs around the track.
   Freschette originally built the train over a three-day period for Happy Valley theme park in Calgary in the 1970s. The diesel train is a model of a CPR train from the 1970s and with all its cars can stretch to around 25 metres in length.
   Freschette used a picture of the real train to ensure all of the detailing was correct and he even has air horns on the model. It ran at the theme park for years before the park closed.
   Freschette never knew what happened to the little train engine until a woman, who lived 30 miles north of Rocky Mountain House, approached him around five years during a show to ask if he wanted to buy a train from her.
   He looked at the picture of the model and told her he had built it. The woman sold him the train, track and a number of little buildings that went along with it.
   Freschette worked to restore the little engine to its original state and laid track for it over a week-long period. He hopes to expand the track in the future from its current 450-metre length to around one and a half kilometres.
   The process of building one of his model trains or steam tractors can easily take him 2,200 to 3,500 hours. He starts with scaling down intricate blueprints of full-size models.
   Freschette is particularly pleased with a model of a Case 65-horsepower steam tractor, which took around 2,200 hours to complete, with every detail of the larger 1924 version. He said what he enjoys the most is the challenge of building the engines from scratch.
   He built his first models with his sister at around age nine. He said the two built a model airplane together. He continued on from there.
   "My sister was really good at it," Freschette said. "It just gets in your blood."
Photo: Fred Freschette takes his miniature locomotive and train past the small village on the loop of track on
  his property west of Sylvan Lake Saturday. Photo by Randy Fiedler, Red Deer Advocate

July 3, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley)
At work in two golden ages
Ernie Beskowiney builds working models of classic steam engines,
using computer-driven tools -- and an obsession with accuracy

Beskowiney model building 2010   BENALTO - Growing up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, if Ernie Beskowiney wanted a toy he had to make it himself.
   "I'm from a very poor family," he says. "I never had a bought toy in my life."
   Fortunately, he discovered an early knack for modelling the kinds of machines that surrounded him, and that he could run by the time he was nine or 10 years old.
   "I'd look at a tractor and produce it in wood."
   A half-century later, Beskowiney is still creating through his company New West Live Steam. But to call his fully working model steam engines toys belies the level of craftsmanship that goes into his miniature idols to the romance of steam.
   These are no electrical or battery-powered wannabes.
   His engines run on real steam, just like their leviathan inspirations. The boilers are built in Ontario to the same specifications and standards as their larger counterparts and must go through a rigorous approval and manufacture process that takes years. Diesel fuel is burned to generate the heat.
   To get an idea of the kind of attention to detail that Beskowiney brings to his steam engine projects, consider the research he did just to restore a set of plans where critical measurements had faded with time.
   "I spent just shy of 500 hours resurrecting that," he said, pointing to the large photocopied engine plans covered in hundreds of numbered measurements.
   Each measurement was matched by the scale-down dimensions -- 1,593 inches to the foot -- necessary to build a steam engine suitable for a seven-and-half-inch wide track, the standard size for most North American large-scale models.
   "It was forensic detective work doing that," he adds. Since he knew the size of the wheel, he could turn to a more complete side elevation plan he had to measure out other dimensions and painstakingly fill in the blanks.
   After all, accuracy is not only everything in Beskowiney's workshop. It is the only thing.
   "To me, one-thousandth of an inch is a number I can throw a cat through," he says. "I'm measuring everything in one-ten thousandths."
   In his well-appointed workshop, he turns blocks, sheets and cylinders of stainless steel into driving wheels, axle pumps or valve motion rods using computer modelling and high-tech machining tools. The mechanical ingenuity that steam engines showcase so well are recreated and assembled in a perfect homage to rail's golden age.
   Beskowiney's journey back to the days of steam was a lengthy one.
   After leaving the farm, Beskowiney trained as a journeyman automotive mechanic and spent a number of years at car dealerships before going to university for a year to get his teaching training. For three years in the early 1970s, he was a shop teacher at a composite high school in Regina.
   He later joined management with Snap-On Tools and moved to Red Deer in 1984 to run a dealership for the next eight years. In 1989, he started up his own business, New West Integrated Technology Ltd., which created manufactured downhole precision measuring equipment for the oilpatch.
   Never one to be left without a project, he did antique car restorations in his spare time. One of his projects, a 1915 Model T, sold for a record $35,000 in 1989.
   By the 1990s, he was focusing on vehicle restorations full time. His 1931 Cadillac V-12 Sport Phaeton took top honours at a Detroit auto show in 2002 and was given an unheard-of perfect 100-point score by the Classic Car Club of America the following year. It's a feat, he says, that remains unmatched. A 1954 Cadillac Eldorado he restored picked up 99.8 points.
   After a dozen or so major car projects, he was restless to try something new. "Trains have always kind of been a passion of mine I guess," he says. "I wanted to build myself one."
   His first project he built for himself, a 2-8-2 Heavy Mikado, a type of locomotive that was used in many countries including Canada, where the Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. employed them as their main workhorse during steam's heyday. The 2-8-2 denotes the wheel arrangement: two small wheels at the front, followed by eight large drive wheels, and two more small wheels.
   He modelled his version after Number 5400 built at the Montreal Locomotive Works in 1931, and he used the original drawings as his guide. The locomotive alone is just over two metres long, and with a tender the model is almost 3.4 metres long and weighs 740 kg.
   Started in 2003, it took him three years to complete. A year later he delivered another version, 5404 for a client in Florida.
   Among the rail projects now taking shape in his shop are three versions of the 6060 series U1F Mountain type 4-8-2 locomotive that is operated by the Rocky Mountain Rail Society out of Stettler and is one of the engines used on the popular train trips offered through Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions.
   "It's been three years since I started doing this one," he says. "It will be four to five (years) by the time I'm done."
   Besides compiling dozens of plans, including a box full of work-worn original drawings, still stained with grease from a long-disappeared workshop, hundreds of photos have been taken of the running version at Stettler, and Beskowiney has become the resident expert on the workings of the massive railroad workhorse. When the engine's multiple throttle needed overhauling, Beskowiney was the man to call.
   "I'm one of the very, very few left that has the depth of knowledge, and that's due to research," he says.
   Sometimes the volunteers who keep 6060 running come by to look at the model version to get a better understanding of how it all fits together and how problems can be fixed.
   He is building one version for his wife Dorinda, one for a friend, and the other will go to a lucky buyer.
   Another big project is to build a 5900 series T1a Selkirk (Texas type) 2-10-4 locomotive. Originally built for the CPR by the Montreal Locomotive Works in 1929, the engine was designed to haul heavy trains across the Selkirk Mountains from Calgary to Revelstoke, B.C.
   The Selkirk was the biggest locomotive in the British Commonwealth in its day. A later model can be found at Calgary's Heritage Park, but it hasn't got the charm of the earlier versions, he says.
   "I like the older ones better because everything shows, all the piping and everything."
   That project will be done sometime in 2013-14.
   Beskowiney can even guess at the number of hours he puts into each model. "Thousands, just thousands and thousands."
   He routinely used to spend 15 to 16 hours a day in his shop, seven days a week on his hobby. He's cut that back to 12 to 14 hours now.
   Despite the massive amount of work that goes into each project, he is determined that it remains a hobby and that he does it on his own time at his own speed. He has no interest in setting up an assembly line and churning out engines.
   Anyone who commissions a model pays a large deposit up front on the understanding it will come when it's ready. "The moment they ask me when's my locomotive going to be done, I give them their deposit back," he says. He doesn't like to talk prices, but his models are for serious buyers only.
   Besides the mechanical challenge, part of the fun is designing and building pieces of Canadian railway history. "None of that has ever been done."
Photo: Ernie Beskowiney talks about the scale model 5400 2-8-2 Heavy Mikado locomotive he's currently
  working on in his shop near Benalto. Photo by Randy Fiedler, Red Deer Advocate

May 10, 2010, Innisfail Province (Michaela Ludwig) 
New exhibits call Historical Village home 
Two new exhibits at the Innisfail Historical Village tell more about Innisfail's founding years. As a 40-year anniversary project, the Innisfail and District Historical Society set about restoring the Village's Bowden CP Rail station. And through the doors of that old station, visitors will find several displays depicting Innisfail in its early years and what the railroad meant to central Alberta. Scaled-down model trains chug along the tracks (more)

May 10, 2010, Red Deer Advocate (Paul Cowley) 
'Sleeper' village grand opening set 
Innisfail Historical Village has been a bit of a sleeper among Central Alberta attractions. Curator Dean Jorden and other members of the Innisfail and District Historical Society plans to use their 40th anniversary celebrations to change that. To draw more people to the society's impressive collection of historic buildings, vehicles, equipment and other artifacts in the middle of Innisfail, a project to restore the 1904 Bowden CPR rail station has (more)

March 15, 2007, Central Alberta Life (Carl Hahn)
No average model builder
Welder, engineer, mechanic, body man,
Fred Freschette is a one-man shop full of expert tradesmen

   A lot of training goes into every one of Fred Freschette's trains -- and airplanes, boats and everything else he builds.
   The Sylvan Lake-area man needs to be a welder, steam engineer, mechanic and body man to complete his massive, meticulously detailed models.
   "I've got five trade tickets," says the 77-year-old. "That doesn't mean you know it all, it just means you've been around a long time."
   He also had experience working on a train. Freschette got his first job on the CNR when he was just about 13 years old, and worked for four years before he was legally allowed to.
   "I lied about my age, but I was big and they never even questioned me."
   His modelling goes back even further than that, however. He estimates he was nine when his sister and he built a model beachcraft together.
   "I've never ever quit."
   Since he retired, Freschette's finally had enough time to dedicate to his obsession. His shop is jam-packed with the results of his efforts.
   His pride-and-joy Canadian Pacific Railway 2400 streamlined steam locomotive from the 1930s took him 3,500 hours to build. The wheels and drive came as a kit of rough-cast parts, and he had to machine everything in his shop to precise standards.
   "They gotta be done pretty well, the models. There's not too much room for slack," he assures. "The smaller you get, the harder it is."
   The rest of the engine and car behind it were built from scratch. Freschette welded the boiler to exacting, high-pressure standards, since pressure welding was his forte before he retired. Buying one would cost $6,000 to $8,000, he estimates.
   But that isn't the hard part. The machining and welding take time, but that's where his strengths lie; it's the finishing work that tests him.
   "The hardest part is detailing them so that when you look at them they don't look like a model, they look like a big engine," he says.
   "I take pictures, and I come out with an engine that's as close to that picture as I can."
   When he had the 2400 at a show, an older fellow who used to run one practically ran across the hall to look it over, and complimented him on how exact the details were.
   "I was pretty happy about that."
   As comfortable as he is with the machining, it's not a job everyone can take on.
   His 1924 Case 65-horsepower steam tractor was built from a kit someone else had bought and given up on.
   "It's not that easy. You have to take rough castings and come out with a good-running motor," he says.
   "I bought it just as a pile of parts."
   He's added every detail and option he could come up with for the tractor, including lights.
   All he's missing is a light on the water glass.
   It should be good enough for the fussiest old-timer.
   "If you take one to a show there's always some guy that will pick it apart," Freschette says. "If anybody can pick this engine apart I want them to try."
   The engine runs well and, weighing in at about 300 kg, the tractor could "pull a one-ton truck all over the yard," he says.
   But he doesn't run any of his models very often.
   "The biggest thrill is building one and having it look right."
   A diesel engine he built in 1969 had run a lot, though. He built it for the Happy Valley theme park in Calgary, and it pulled a 30-metre train.
   After the park shut down he tracked the engine down and bought it back as a keepsake.
   "I'm going to put it back on the track and run it this summer," he says. "I got 10 ton of track."
   The diesel sits near a working model of the Sarah paddlewheeler. About two metres long, the Sarah comes complete with Christmas lights and stacks of split, miniature logs.
   "That's the biggest riverboat that was in the Yukon. Burned eight to 12 cords of wood in an hour," he says. "Can you imagine firing the boiler on that?"
   The list goes on.
   Freschette has old steam power plants he built in the 1970s, and airplanes, airplanes, airplanes. Several of them are flyers. Some are made from kits and others from scratch.
   He quickly points out a Lancaster, a PBY and a B-20 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
   "I collect everything. I don't seem to know when to quit."
   Indeed, the models are only a part of the collection that leaves only narrow walkways through the shop.
   His collection of antiques and memorabilia includes an 1894 pool table that he saved from the Delburne pool hall.
   He says people can come through a dozen times and spot something new each time.
   "You never can see it in one pass through because it's just too much."
   And he's been cutting back.
   At one time he had 45 full-sized tractors he says, but the only one he's hanging onto is a 1920 Case 40-horsepower steam tractor -- a rarity.
   "It was one of the last ones built in 1920. It's a beautiful running engine."
   Freschette used to run threshing demonstrations, but he gave that up with his tractors.
   He considered building a theme park for the public to enjoy, but the requirements for Red Deer County's approval got too pricey.
   Even the kids and grandkids don't take too much interest in his hobbies, he says.
   But as long as he can enjoy it, that's all that matters. Maybe someday it will make an amazing auction sale.
   "You can't worry about what's gonna happen to it, or else you die quicker than you're supposed to," he says with a hearty laugh.

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