VULCAN, Canada (AFP) - A Klingon is an unexpected sight in Canada's vast western plains, among the lonely oil wells, cow pastures and wheat fields.
But hundreds of the ferocious warriors from Gene Roddenberry's fictional Star Trek universe gathered here this weekend for the town's annual Spock Days and Galaxyfest -- a three-day space festival and Star Trek convention.
"It's escapism," said Canada's head Klingon QelIv Satir, also known as Paul Carreau of Calgary, wearing a studded leather uniform and frightening makeup that takes up to two hours to put on.
"The original Star Trek series was full of promise and hope at a time of despair, civil unrest and the Vietnam War. Gene Roddenberry showed us a model for a better world," he said. "We're just living it here."
Every year, the agricultural town's population swells from 1,900 to 3,800 for the parties, parade and this year, a "Klingon Fear Factor" competition.
Local radio weatherman "Captain Kirk" on Friday predicted a mix of overcast skies and sun, as the only two hotels in town and area campgrounds began filling up with tourists from around the world.
They are welcomed by a five-ton (5,080-kilogram) Constitution Class starship at the entrance to town and plush Tribbles -- furry Star Trek creatures -- in every shop.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the town was not named after Mr. Spock's home world in the television series.
Rather, a surveyor with a keen interest in Roman mythology named the railway stop in 1910 after the god of fire, 56 years before the first episode of Star Trek aired on American television.
Over the years, players on the local hockey team have been ribbed about their "extra large and pointy ears," town councilors have donned Starfleet uniforms while conducting municipal business, and a meteorite unearthed in a farmer's field was heralded as a cosmic discovery in the community paper.
Locals, mostly aging farmers, admit they are not all fans of the television series, but some 40,000 Chinese-made Vulcan ears sold since the first Star Trek convention, Vulcan-1, was held here in 1993 have given the local economy a big boost. Tourism now brings in millions of dollars, said festival organizers.
"The townsfolk are not all Trekkies or Trekkers, but Star Trek is what sets us apart from every other small prairie town," said event spokeswoman Dayna Dickens.
"I've always been a space cadet, so I blend in," quipped local resident Don, who did not give his last name.
The branding of Vulcan has also attracted new businesses and residents. A new 300-lot housing subdivision is already one-third sold and dozens of job vacancies are waiting to be filled.
"Our town was dying and we had to come up with a way to revitalize it (after an oil sector crash in the 1980s). Tourism was one idea and it worked," Pat Wisener, a fan of the show and festival founder, told AFP. "Vulcan is now on the map."
Since then, couples have been married here in Star Trek-themed weddings and one man, who never lived here, chose to be buried in the local cemetery with a planetary "Federation" logo for a tombstone.
A guest book in the visitor center, which doubles as a space station, logged thousands of remarks from French, Japanese, Hungarian, Australian and US tourists: "Live long and prosper."
Klingon Dave James of Montreal, here for the first time, said: "At first, I went to Star Trek conventions to meet the actors and buy souvenirs. But now, I keep going to renew friendships," he said, commenting that "you can walk into the market here in full costume and the clerk doesn't even bat an eye."
The funeral limousine driver has been to more than 50 Star Trek conventions over the past decade, stitching his own costume and ridged latex forehead.
On almost any day, there is a Star Trek convention somewhere in the world attracting tens of thousands of devotees.
Outside the Vulcan tourist information booth, massive pick-up trucks dwarf the only space shuttle, which doubles as a shed.
Street signs with green aliens playing golf or swimming dot the main street, pointing to local attractions, and photographs of a dozen Star Trek actors and writers who have come here hang in the motel lobby.
Max Grodenchik and Aron Eisenberg, who played Ferengi Rom and Nog on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," both praised Vulcan for its more intimate ambience, rubbing shoulders with fans.
"At home (in Los Angeles), when I go into a store, they act like I'm going to steal something, but at Star Trek conventions, people know me. It's nice," said Grodenchik, lamenting that "there are fewer conventions than there used to be" since the show's demise due to poor ratings.
"I don't know why they are suspicious (of me in Los Angeles), maybe because I'm a Ferengi," he said, referring to one of the series' outlandish races.
For the first time in decades, after "Enterprise" ended in 2005, there isn't a Star Trek series playing on television, but an 11th movie by J.J. Abrams is reportedly in production, for release in December 2008.
And back-to-back reruns of the five television series are still broadcast worldwide.

Copyright 2007 Agence France Presse