Santa Claus will return to the Model City this Saturday, along with two special guests — who will perform two songs upon their arrival in downtown Kingsport.
Santa Claus is scheduled to roll into Kingsport after spreading Christmas cheer from the back of his namesake train through towns and communities throughout Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. This year, Santa’s best-known travel buddies will be husband-and-wife Keifer and Shawna Thompson, who constitute country duo Thompson Square. The pair, who scored big this year with their breakout single “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” will perform two songs for the public after the train arrives.
Co-sponsored by CSX Transportation, the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, Food City and Kids Wish Network, the Santa Train is a history-steeped tradition that each year heralds the Christmas season’s arrival in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.
It began as a way for Kingsport’s merchants to say thanks to all the folks along its 110-mile route for shopping in the Model City. Santa rides the train from Kentucky through Virginia and into Tennessee, arriving in downtown Kingsport just in time to bring up the rear of the Kingsport Christmas Parade — leading to the train having been called the “longest Christmas parade in the world.”
Santa, Thompson Square and other “elves” will distribute an estimated 15 tons of donated gifts to children of all ages at 14 stops, including the end of the line in downtown Kingsport. Gifts are distributed only when the train is stopped. Nothing is thrown from the train while it is in motion.
Items distributed by Santa and his helpers come from donations from across the nation each year, from individuals, groups and businesses. This year, Kids Wish Network has contributed $500,000 worth of toys — the largest single donation in Santa Train h i s t o r y.
Each year, thousands of people — including families for whom a visit to the train is a multigenerational tradition — turn out at stops along the way, regardless of the weather.
Much of the train’s journey winds through the countryside not far from one road or another, offering motorists there a little look at what used to be a common sight in the region: a train that includes passenger cars. If you can’t make it elsewhere on the train’s route and just want a glimpse of history, a quintessential spot to view the train or snap a photo is where the Santa Train crosses the Copper Creek Viaduct, visible from U.S. Highway 23 about 15 miles north of Kingsport. If the train’s running on schedule Saturday — and it usually does — it will cross the viaduct sometime after 1:10 p.m. and before 1:50 p.m.
This year’s Santa Train is set to have one locomotive and nine railroad cars. The cars, in their expected running order, front to rear, are:
• The Kentucky (CSXT No. 363). A power car, the 363 was built about 1950 by Pullman-Standard as a dining car. A CSXT predecessor, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, acquired the car and rebuilt it as an electrical power car about 1980. Recently outfitted with new diesel generators and control equipment, the car contains four office car-quality staterooms and a small lounge.
• The Youngstown (CSXT No. 11). Built in 1954 by Pullman for the Erie Railroad as a five double bedroom/10 roomette sleeper, this crew car was named the “Spirit of Youngstown.” Its original assignment was along a route from Youngstown, Ohio, to Chicago and back. The Youngstown was conveyed to Conrail on April 1, 1976, numbered CR 11.
• The Ohio (CSXT No. 994500). Built by Budd in 1948 as a diner/theater car with seating for 52, the Ohio was the dining section of a twin-unit diner set that coupled with a lunch counter/kitchen/crew car for the (built, but never operated) “Chessie” daylight streamliner planned to operate between Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati. CSX purchased the car in 2008 and Waycross Coach Shop refurbished this diner, which CSX renamed and numbered.
• The Greenbrier (CSXT No. 319). The company built this car as a coach for the Illinois Central Railroad about 1915-1920. Around 1971, a private party acquired it and used it as a roadside cafe. CSXT predecessor Seaboard Coast Line acquired the car about 1985. The car was completely rebuilt at CSXT’s Waycross Shops and is now a dining car with table seating for 24 and lounge seating for 12.
• The New York (CSXT No. 10). Originally a 1925 Pullman-built parlor observation car with drawing room created for service on New York Central’s Empire State Express, this dining car was renamed the “Hudson River” and served the Empire State Express in the early 1930s. The large rear platform was constructed to accommodate President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wheelchair. It was renamed “Kalamazoo River” in 1942 and served the Twilight Limited, then renamed “Victoria Park” in 1947 and used in special service. In 1952, it was converted to track inspection car No. 30 and renumbered 76 by Penn Central in 1976. The car was part of the funeral train for slain presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. Changed to No. 10 by Conrail in 1977, the New York is now part of CSXT’s fleet.
• The Tennessee (CSXT No. 325). Built in 1957 by Pullman as a 52-seat coach and originally named “Southerner,” the car was used in excursion services prior to being acquired by CSX in March 2008. The interior was remodeled by Waycross Coach Shop and the West Jacksonville Shop to simulate a previously owned L&N car (No. 3001), and it now is used as a cafe/lounge/dining car.
• The Michigan (CSXT No. 12). Built as a parlor car for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1951 by Budd, it was transferred to Penn Central in 1968. In 1980, it was converted to a meeting room/boardroom car. It is now a dining car.
• The Illinois (CSXT No. 350). This former CSXT 350 was built by St. Louis Car in 1953. During its lifetime, it has served as an Operation Lifesaver car, Chessie Steam Special car, dormitory car for the West Virginia Railroad Maintenance Authority and as a U.S. Army Ambulance Unit Car.
• The West Virginia (CSXT No. 310). This is Santa’s car. Built as an Army hospital car in 1953 by the St. Louis Car Co., the 310 has a small lounge, two roomette-style sleeping rooms and a large, open room. For all but two days a year, the West Virginia serves as a conference/reception car. The weekend before Thanksgiving, the West Virginia is transformed into Santa’s “sleigh.”
This year’s scheduled stops and arrival and departure times are:
• Shelby — 6:30 a.m. departure
• Marrowbone — 6:45 a.m. arrival, 7 a.m. departure
• Elkhorn City — 7:25 a.m. arrival, 7:45 a.m. departure
• Toms Bottom — 8:05 a.m. arrival, 8:15 a.m. departure
• Haysi — 8:27 a.m. arrival, 8:42 a.m. departure
• Clinchco — 9 a.m. arrival, 9:15 a.m. departure
• Fremont — 9:28 a.m. arrival, 9:53 a.m. departure
• Dante — 10:28 a.m. arrival, 10:48 a.m. departure
• St. Paul — 11:08 a.m. arrival, 11:28 a.m. departure
• Dungannon — 12:13 p.m. arrival, 12:33 p.m. departure
• Fort Blackmore — 12:53 p.m. arrival, 1:08 p.m. departure
• Kermit — 1:48 p.m. arrival, 2:18 p.m. departure
• Wa y c r o s s — 2:30 p.m. arrival, 2:45 p.m. departure
• Kingsport — 3:08 p.m. arrival