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Stay busy, stay young

reprinted from Red Deer Advocate (Stacy O'Brien) November 15, 2010
Sylvan Lake senior builds model trains, planes, tractors

Fred Freschette - Fiedler photo Advocate

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


   A Man
  and His Train
Red Deer Advocate



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.

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."

       News article: Relic caboose gets new home (Red Deer Advocate May 2013)
       News article: Trains still roll for some
(Red Deer Advocate Nov.2012)
       News article: Back yard model railway track okayed
(Red Deer Advocate Aug.2012)
       News article: A work in two golden ages: Ernie Beskowiney (Red Deer Advocate July 2010)
       News article: New exhibits call Historical Village home (Innisfail Province May 2010)
       News article: 'Sleeper' village grand opening set
(Red Deer Advocate May 2010)

Canadian Northern Western Railway Brazeau sub (CNR) - Mirror to Red Deer and Nordegg


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