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Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad’s visitor traffic spikes as result of hot reality TV show

The Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad has seen a spike in visitors, many from out of town, following its appearance on a recent episode of popular reality TV show The Amazing Race Canada.

“We have been incredibly busy after the show,” said Poul Pedersen, who runs the popular Osoyoos tourist attraction with his wife Ulla. “It’s been fantastic.”

The episode aired on Sept. 9, but it was actually shot in late May.

Contestants had to find a tiny figurine of the show’s host Jon Montgomery for their next clue – not an easy task amid the sprawling miniature landscapes, villages, cities and railways with about 18,000 other figurines.

Connie Bjorkman, of Sundre, Alta., recently visited with her family for the first time, inspired after seeing the show.

“I wanted to see how little everything is,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely amazing. And I got to shake the hand of the man that was on TV,” she added, referring to Pederson.

Pedersen’s role during the show was to confirm whether the contestants had correctly located one of the Jon Montgomery figurines.

Don Gibson, of Saskatoon, was also visiting for the first time after seeing the show. He works on and off around Keremeos, but was inspired to visit the attraction after catching the TV episode.

“I thought it was the coolest thing I’d seen in a long time,” he said. “And I just had to come.”

Gibson thinks someone could come back three or four times and always see something new.

“So I’ll definitely be back,” he said.

Ulla Pedersen has painted all 18,000 figurines in the display by hand, something she is able to do despite her rheumatoid arthritis.

She painted 25 figurines of Montgomery for the television episode – 20 were used.

The figures had to be slim, not wearing a hat and holding one arm out so that a sign with the next clue could be placed in it. That sign told contestants to go to Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre.

Ulla had to paint each one with red hair to match the show’s host.

“It’s quite intricate because I have to do one colour at a time,” she said. “I had to do the flesh colour first and then put the clothing on and then the hair. So it took me maybe a couple of weeks to paint them.”

The show is edited tightly, but she said it took contestants between 45 minutes and an hour on average to find a figurine.

Poul said visitors to the attraction who mention seeing The Amazing Race have come from all over B.C., the Prairies and even Toronto.

“They’re all coming here just because of the show,” he said.

While he’s eager to talk about it now, until the show aired, it was cloaked in deep secrecy and the Pedersens had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

There were a few news stories despite the secrecy. One of the drivers involved with the May shoot apparently tipped off a Penticton newspaper, but the Pedersens were unable to comment when the Osoyoos Times did a story ahead of the show’s airing.

When the Pedersens were first contacted last February by a Kamloops-based location scout, they weren’t even told the name of the show.

“It took two or three months before we actually got the name of the show,” Poul said. “They just used a fake name in the beginning because if it didn’t work out, we wouldn’t know who it was and we couldn’t talk about it.”

Only closer to the shooting date some personnel from the show came out and the Pedersens learned it would be The Amazing Race Canada.

The film shoot took place on a Sunday in late May when the Model Railroad was closed to the public. Some of the display had to be altered. A train with a Shell logo had to be removed, for example, because one of the show’s sponsors was PetroCanada.

When the show was recorded, Poul had to lift off the display glass after a figure was correctly identified and give the contestants the figure.

They then had to examine the sign under a magnifying glass in order to read the tiny type of the clue.

“It was a very interesting thing to go through,” he said. “It’s something you maybe only do once in a lifetime, to have a chance to be on a show like that.”

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