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Training to haunt

SAIT student uses skills and passion to scare up a good Halloween.

SAIT student Jay Pocza puts some finishing touches on the Train of Terror.

Ghoulish figures leap out, eliciting shrieks from people as strobe lights and fog intensify the spooky atmosphere.

It's another night on the Train of Terror, southeast of Calgary, and hearts are pounding at the macabre sights and sounds as people wander through the moving train and its tangle of chilling displays.

The experience, now in its second year of operation, is the brainchild of SAIT student Jay Pocza, who has reveled in being able to marry his passion for mechanical and electrical engineering with a talent for terrifying people.

"It involves design, hydraulics, pneumatic props, sensors, programming and wiring relays. I'm taking everything I've learned and put it into one project," he says. "Plus, it's fun to scare people!"

Passion and proficiency

The train, almost sold out this year, is the perfect platform for Pocza to use what he has learned at SAIT.

The Electrical Engineering Technology graduate, now in his second year of Mechanical Engineering Technology, says the school and instructors have been instrumental in giving him the hands-on knowledge and skills to transform his ideas and passion into reality.

"I wouldn't be where I'm at if I hadn't been to SAIT," he says. "It's been the best thing that's happened to me. I've been shown things I wouldn't be able to use in work if I hadn't come here."

The programs have been a natural fit for Pocza who, as a child, was forever taking apart electronics and household items — to the occasional chagrin of his patient and supportive parents.

At school, he is also a founding member of the SAIT Mechanical Society, which was created to bring together students from different years and cohorts and connect them with industry professionals. Through a series of lunch and learns, members get insight into the workforce and have an opportunity to mingle with speakers after. Some 214 students have signed up so far.

If you build it, they will come

The story goes that ever since he was a kid and saw his babysitter's son putting up Halloween decorations, the holiday has fuelled Pocza's creativity. At 10, he created his first ghoulish display, setting up a makeshift dummy in the front yard and squirting ketchup on it to masquerade as blood.

From there, the displays evolved into full-scale haunted mazes on his parent's southeast Calgary property, using the money he earned to buy the materials. By 2015, the maze was so large, the family was told they would need to take out event insurance — some $1,500 — as they weren't covered for such a large construction.

That year, with a sponsor covering the extra insurance, some 2,500 people walked through Pocza's creation.

While his parents were supportive over the years, Pocza recognized the maze had got out of hand. It took two months to set up and consumed the property.

A chance conversation between a family friend and the owner of Aspen Crossing in Mossleigh, AB, led to the Train of Terror opportunity.

Transforming dilapidated and dirty train cars into a scary set was a challenge, Pocza says, but he was up to the task.

"Going to work and doing something you enjoy, you get better at it," he says.

Ideas are already percolating for next year. It's important to Pocza that each Halloween is a different experience, so people get a new thrill each time they come back.

"You know all this work has paid off and people enjoyed it. That feeling beats everything," he says.

Watch Pocza talking to Courtney Ketchen on CTV Morning Live about the Train of Terror and his SAIT experience.