Times-News file photo.
You better watch out. Better not pout. Santa Claus is coming to town.
The Santa Train is scheduled to roll into Kingsport on Saturday, Nov. 23 after spreading Christmas cheer through towns and communities along a 110-mile route that begins in eastern Kentucky, passes through Southwest Virginia and Tennessee before ending in the Model City.
This year, Santa’s best-known travel buddy will be “American Idol” Season 12 runner-up Kree Harrison, making her second trip on the train as it makes its 71st annual run.
“I’m incredibly honored and excited to be a part of the Santa Train again,” Harrison said in a news release. “The first time was such an amazing opportunity to help spread the joy of Christmas to the people of this region that I can’t wait to have an even greater appreciation for the experience the second time around.”
Harrison first rode the Santa Train in 2001 when she was 11 years old.
Co-sponsored by CSX Transportation, the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, Food City and Dignity U Wear, the Santa Train is a history-steeped tradition that each year heralds the Christmas season’s arrival across the region. It began as a way for Kingsport’s merchants to say thanks to all the folks along the train’s 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, Harrison, 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 both individuals, groups and businesses.
Each year, thousands of people — including families for whom a visit to the train is a multi-generational 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 10 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 next day. A similar sleeper car called the Pride of Youngstown was delivered at the same time. Names for the two sleepers were selected after a week-long contest held by the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce. The Youngstown was conveyed to Conrail on April 1, 1976, numbered CR 11.
• The Waycross. Built by Pullman in 1926 as a private car and owned by W.R. Kenan, president of Florida East Coast Railway, it was purchased by the C&O in 1943 and later included in the track geometry train for road inspections. After the creation of CSX, it was renamed Washington and used for events in Washington’s Union Terminal. In 2008, CSX refurbished the car to three one-bedroom suites and it was then named Waycross.
• 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 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 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 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 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.”
On Friday, the day before the Santa Train begins its journey, longtime engineer A.J. “Alf” Peoples and author Mark A. Stevens will sign copies of their book “The One & Only” from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
“The One & Only” is a pictorial history book that tells the story of the Clinchfield No. 1. The hardcover book features hundreds of color and black-and-white photographs, many never before published, from throughout the No. 1’s career on the rails through the mounts of Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina.
Peoples is a third-generation railroader who grew up to work the steam engines of the Clinchfield Railroad. He served as captain of the car marshals on the Clinchfield Railroad excursion trains. He has worked as a brakeman, conductor, fireman and engineer for CSX Transportation, and twice served as the engineer for the Santa Train.
Copies of “The One & Only” will be available at the Chamber of Comerce. The book retails for $29.95.
2013 Santa Train Schedule
• 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
• Waycross — 2:30 p.m. arrival, 2:45 p.m. departure
• Arrive in Kingsport, 3:08 p.m.