For a trip to the North Pole, there’s no finer way to travel than on board The Polar Express.
Railroads around the country offer seasonal trips to see Santa between Thanksgiving and Christmas, including the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. and Museum.
The festively decorated train offers passengers hot chocolate and cookies and a reading of “The Polar Express” during its one-mile journey along Casco Bay.
Chris Van Allsburg’s beloved story of one young boy’s magical winter journey won the Caldecott Medal in 1986. Santa’s Railroad Wonderland charms train fans.
The target audience for the Santa’s Railroad Wonderland might be a 6-year-old boy, according to Hugh Hemphill, manager of the Texas Transportation Museum. But that didn’t stop lots of adults and kids of all ages from boarding a historic train for a half-mile ride to the North Pole on a recent Sunday night.
Or kids and adults from sitting on the lap of Choo Choo Claus to drop some hints about their wish lists. Or an enthusiastic 12-year-old boy from asking lots of questions as he watched the HO model trains chug along more than 600 feet of track in the 100-foot Zucht Building on top of the hill, venturing through the hand-built landscape, tunnels and towns. He and the volunteer running the trains chat about the merits and price of “Big Boy” (a popular model of locomotive) and even peek under the curtain along the bottom of the exhibit to learn more about the controls.
Hemphill says families enjoy their kids having room to roam at this museum that has places for parents to sit while kids watch HO model trains inside or the garden trains outdoors. “It’s a combination of things. It’s a great place for families, he said. Almost everyone wants to ride the full-size train that goes out a half mile and back. This year laser lights that mimic red and green snow were added to the train. The Texas Transportation Museum is operated by volunteers and receives no public subsidies.
Visiting this 51-year-old museum that showcases trains, antique cars, a historic fire engine, a carriage and lots of transportation history is entertaining and educational during any of the 52 weekends it’s open year-round. But throw in some Pullman cars that are set up like a scene from the Polar Express, the elf handing out candy canes next to Choo Choo Claus and plenty of Christmas music and decorations, and this volunteer-run venue has plenty of holiday fun for mom, dad and the kiddos — complete with photo opportunities.
You can tell by the crowd of kids climbing on the antique fire engine, and the adults watching nearby at tables while they drink hot chocolate and eat cookies and popcorn. Or the people listening to traditional holiday tunes played on a piano. And the kids and parents gathered around the big table where three HO model trains, including a steam engine puffing little white clouds of steam, wander in and out of Christmas villages. Little girls reach out to try to touch the steam coming out of a passing locomotive while dads hoist little ones on their shoulders for a closer look at the trains.
Down the hill, on the other side of the real train tracks, a garden scale (bigger) train operates on an elevated track outdoors where Thomas the Tank Engine (the famous steam locomotive from the book series) has his own track and village nearby. Many of the kids can call Thomas by his name. His smile for the kids is a permanent one.
The Santa’s Railroad Wonderland has entertained families for 17 years. This year some 6,000 people are expected to visit the Christmas-themed exhibit on Saturday and Sunday nights in this month. Plenty of 6-year-old boys will likely be among them, but so will sisters, brothers, moms and dads, even grandparents who remember the heyday of rail transportation, wanting to mix in some history about the world of transportation with their holiday fun.