In 1998, the town of Ogema decided to preserve the rail line that ran through the town, and started a 14-year journey, which began with a creative idea and ended with a new industry for a town struggling to stay afloat.
Southern Prairie Railway Board chairperson Carol Prentice was one of the engineers of the project. She says they were looking ahead to the annual community fair and wanted to do “something different.” Someone said “Well, we’ve got a rail line, let’s start a train. And that was it. How hard could that be?”
Turns out it was harder than Prentice and other board members anticipated. They needed equipment, volunteers, and money to get the project going.
The rail line was secured and the next step was getting an actual train station, as the original had been partly torn down and the freight shed shipped off to be used by a local farmer. They found a train station in the town of Simpson, which was an almost exact match for the original Ogema train station. In 2002 the station was moved from Simpson to Ogema. It needed a lot of work, but by 2005, it was repaired and ready to use. Prentice says, “It was quite amazing to see it here again at the end of Main Street.”
There was still work to be done, said Prentice, “We had our community-owned rail line, we had the train station, we needed a train.” So, the hunt for a train began and ended when they found an engine in North Conway, New Hampshire — a 1944 General Electric diesel locomotive — which Ogema purchased in 2010. They also purchased a passenger car in the same year, a 1922 Pullman 70 passenger coach from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Both the locomotive and the passenger car arrived in 2011. The passenger car arriving by flatbed rail car and the engine arriving by semi-truck. By 2012 the train station was operational.
The station relies mostly on volunteer participation for its operation. Prentice volunteered her time on the board, and in 2017 she became one of the commentators on the train and continued to be heavily involved with all aspects of running the train station.
Roger Farr was another volunteer and a board member, who was very much involved in the project, especially with the equipment, such as the locomotive and passenger cars. Farr says, “I do not have what you would call a position or a job. I just do everything.”
Farr says his favorite part of the job is seeing people smile, “It’s just doing something good for our Community.”
Farr says working on two V8 Cat Engines is “always dirty, but it’s always a pleasure and when you’re working with other people, we always have a lot of fun.”
The station still has challenges. Prentice says most are money related. Their biggest costs are fuel for the train, and wages for those who are working as actual employees, rather than just volunteers.
Today the Ogema Southern Prairie Railway is one of the star attractions of the town. It is the type of place that many people are interested in checking out. Farr says, “It’s a lot of fun when you’re helping people on and off the train, and they’re thanking you, and it’s the best day that they’ve ever had. It’s just a lot of fun.”