BOONE, Iowa (AP) — Dressed in their bedtime best, families shuttled quickly from the ticket station to a heated train car at the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad station in Boone.
An air horn bellow cut through the cold air and the train decked out Christmas décor rumbled to life.
“We’re going to see Santa!” one child yelled as the train pulled out of the station and toward the North Pole.
The Santa Express, operated by the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad, began operation in 2004 and has been making the voyage to a re-created North Pole ever since, the Des Moines Register reported .
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“The first year we had 2,000 people,” said general manager Travis Stevenson, who has worked at the depot for over 12 years.
This year he said they have sold 11,000 tickets.
Standing on the platform dressed in adult size animal footie pajamas, Wes Sefrit of Granger said it means everything to see his two kids meet Santa on the train.
“That’s why you do all this stuff — it’s not for us, it’s for them and to see how happy they are,” Sefrit said.
Operating as a non-profit, Stevenson said that an army of volunteers along with events like the Santa Express and Day Out With Thomas keep the depot going.
More than 24 volunteers read holiday stories and sing Christmas carols on each vintage train car as kids and parents alike write on the frosted glass windows.
Even Santa volunteered his time to greet the riders and pass out bells to all the kids on board, who quickly filled the cars with ringing.
After all the bells had been passed out, the train horn blew and faces pressed up to the glass windows as Santa and Mrs. Claus waved goodbye to the train from in front of their North Pole home.
“It’s a good time to celebrate family,” said Lindsey Redlinger of Des Moines, who was riding the Santa Express with her husband, Ryan, and son, Miles.
“That’s what this is all about,” said Stevenson, “getting the kids excited and ready for Christmas.”
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com