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Wherever you look in Canada, you will find a unique local history story. These stories can be funny, tragic or just strange.
One such story concerns a sheriff and upholding the law to the point that a train was chained to the track.
It was in 1907 when an early pioneer to Stony Plain, Alberta, Israel Umbach, was elected as overseer and sheriff of the community. Before we get into his legendary story, we should talk about the railway coming to the community first.
The first railway station was built when the railway came through Stony Plain in 1905, with R.B. Sparkman serving as the first station agent. Stony Plain served as the western terminus for the CNR, helping to make the community a focal point of activity during those early years.
Back to Umbach and his duties as the sheriff of the area. After being appointed on April 25, 1907 to the position of overseer and sheriff, he got down to work with his duties. One of those duties was collecting the taxes from both residents and businesses. This raised a problem with the Canadian National Railway, who decided they were not interested in paying their share of the taxes to the community. Umbach corresponded with the company extensively but to no avail.
Eventually, it reached a point where Umbach decided to take matters into his own hands. When the CNR train arrived one day, he decided to go down to the hardware store and get the heaviest and strongest logging chain that the store sold. With a huge padlock and the chain on his arm, he walked to the locomotive and wrapped the chain around the engine drivers and the track. He then secured the chain with a padlock and told the crew that the train had now been seized and would not move.
This helped to spur along the CNR once the CN agent informed the company of the seizure of the train. The CNR officials and Umbach exchanged some quick telegraphs and they agreed to pay the taxes. Umbach then unlocked the chain and the crew went on their way with their train.
Today, a statue stands in Stony Plain honouring Umbach and his train-chain story, as well as a replica of the driver with a chain wrapped around it.
No mention of Umbach would be complete without talking about the many ways he impacted Stony Plain beyond the train incident. He was a carpenter by trade, and would build the community’s first livery barn, school, bank, an addition on the Royal Hotel, the Glory Hills Reform Church, several homes and the town hall. Israel and his wife Louisa would have 13 children together, and he would pass away on June 6, 1948. Umbach Road is named for him.
Information for this piece comes from Along the Fifth: A History Of Stony Plain and District.