The Caboose

by Forrest Whitman

Come Ride a Santa Train

A few older readers of Colorado Central may remember the Santa trains coming to Salida when they were kids. For many years the Rio Grande R. R. pulled a special caboose into the Salida yards covered in green fir boughs and candy canes (see this month’s cover). Santa waved from the back platform and then proceeded to give out lots of candy supplied by local service clubs. My own kids can remember something of the same sort happening at Union Station in Denver when the D & R.G.W. gave Santa a free ride into town. That Santa even had his own little house set up in the main waiting room. The D.&. R.G.W. has disappeared in railroad blues, but Santa is still very much alive. Kids of all ages can still ride some fine Colorado Santa trains to meet the jolly old elf in 2010. Adults like it too.

The Santa Express from Cañon City

The Royal Gorge Route sells out its Santa train almost every day so reservations are strongly advised. This train actually stops at a specially constructed “Santa Village.” Old Kris Kringle rides the train and patiently listens to each child’s wish list. Kids are encouraged to come dressed in their pajamas and the on-board staff reads stories to those interested. Dinner can be had as well and the bar car is stocked. This trip is designed to keep Mom and Dad happy as well as the kids. The train departs nightly at 6:00 P.M. on weekends Nov. 20 through Dec.19. Then from Dec. 20 through Dec. 30 (except for the 25th) the train departs every day. One family I know of does this every year and it’s as important as their family dinner to them. Check out more details at

Santa Trains for the Rail Fans out There

A few of our readers just like to ride a regular train around holiday time. Some families even think of this as a low cost alternative to the various special holiday trains. AMTRAK does do a few extra things for kids in the dining car during the holidays, like coloring books. There are holiday decorations in some Colrado stations too. On-board personnel add a few festive touches to their uniforms. For the ticket prices of the various Santa special trains, folks can ride a short hop from, for instance, Trinidad, Colorado, to Santa Fe, New Mexico or Albuquerque. That gives the kids a holiday treat even though Santa himself won’t appear till Christmas morning. These parents do the old fashioned thing and read the kids The Polar Express or The Night Before Christmas or watch it on a “hand held” brought with them. That kind of holiday alternative is only for the rail fans, but some kids seem to enjoy it. Maybe it’s just having that special time with the folks or grandparents, or maybe the novelty of riding an actual train.

Yes, Virginia, Santa does come to our Colorado Rail Hub

Like it or not, Union Station, Denver is still the center of our Colorado rails. Sooner or later folks in Colorado Central territory will once again be funneled on steel rails to that center. And, that’s still where some kids will meet Old St. Nick. This year that ritual will begin with the lighting of a giant holiday tree made completely of lights and plastic fantasy forms. The lighting will take place the night after Thanksgiving as part of Denver’s “grand illumination. ”

There are a few folks from Salida and Buena Vista who make an annual trek to Denver for the shopping and fun. They, no doubt, go to visit Santa in Union Station. I know one couple who climb on the The Mountaineer Bus and make an overnight of it in Lodo. Schedules look pretty firm this December at 7:55 a.m. from Salida and 8:20 a.m. from Buena Vista with stops in Leadville.

Ride the North Pole Express from Alamosa

This Santa train pulls out at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. each weekend in Alamosa. (719-587-0509 for daily information). You can show up with the kids starting Nov. 27 and ride it again and again until Dec. 19 when Santa has to get back up to the pole for his busy schedule. This train develops a magical feel almost at once. While it’s really cold at boarding time in Alamosa, the cars are toasty warm. The kids see only their reflections in the windows because it’s dark by train time and that adds to the cozy feeling. Then the elves arrive to tell stories and get everyone singing. “Magical” is the right adjective for this trip. There are snacks, of course, including cocoa and cookies. When Santa himself arrives the kids are ready to tell him their secret desires. Once the train is turned and headed back to Alamosa from the North Pole most of the kids are nodding off. That good old clickety-clack of steel wheel on steel rail does it every time.

The Santa Train with a Silver Bell

The kid in all of us would like to think Santa is thinking of just us. If you take the Santa Express from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon, Santa will do just that. I talked to a woman who plans to go that far with her two grandchildren just for this train. On board Santa listens to your story and then promises that sometime in your life the wish will come true. Maybe that won’t happen this holiday season, but sooner or later, out there in the land of magic, the wish will happen. To remind you of that, Santa gives you a little silver bell. Whenever times are tough in your life you can ring that bell just to remind yourself that magic still exists in the world. I’ll be she and her grand kids will have a trip they’ll never forget.

Train Trip Santa Nostalgia

If you want to get folks talking about great holiday memories at your next party, remind them of those train trips they took as kids. Nearly everyone has some story. My son in Germany still remembers the time we took the train from Denver to Chicago and got caught in a real plains blizzard. We stayed warm and cozy in our berths while the blue norther blew itself out and we waited for a plow train. He still talks about the zillion stories we read and about those free dinners in the dining car. I still remember some free drinks too. We arrived in Chicago about 10 hours late, but it was all fun.

Take a Santa train this season and you’ll have some good stories to tell for many a holiday season to come. HAPPY HOLIDAYS ON A SANTA TRAIN!

Forrest rides many a train at holiday time and sometimes bores people in the bar car with news from his Executive Committee of the rail authority.