Last week one of our readers suggested we do a little research about the Santa Train. I had no knowledge of this train and the research was fun to get into. There are lots of Christmas trains and Santa Expresses all around the U.S. but there is only one true Santa Train. That train is the one that travels each year from Shelby, KY to Kingsport, TN on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
The “Santa Special” started in 1943 as a way for a group of Kingsport businessmen to show appreciation for the patronage of all the coal workers throughout the region. The train has made an annual journey every year since. In those early years during WWII the train was most likely the only sign of Christmas and source of gifts for those in the remote area. Over the years the size and scope of the train has continued to grow. Today the train follows a 110-mile route from Kentucky, through Virginia, and ending in Tennessee. The train passes through as many as 30 towns along the way and makes about 14 stops. The train hauls more than 15 tons of goodies and supplies valued at as much as $500,000. There are gifts, toys, stuffed animals, games, hats, gloves, mittens, and more clothes. Candy, crackers, cookies, popcorn, and gum also come aboard the train. At each stop volunteers hop off the train and hand out bags of items packed based on the age of the children. Soft items and candy are tossed by Santa and friends at the back of train. Crowds as large as 1,000 gather around the tracks in anticipation of the arrival of the train. These gifts might be the only Christmas a child in Appalachia will see. Read a great account of one family at the train on the MTSU student news site Sidelines.
The train takes donations from anyone at anytime. You can mail handmade items, monetary gifts, or other toys to the Train. Find all the details on the official website for Team Santa Train. Private donors supplement the corporate sponsorships from CSX railroad, Food City, Dignity U Wear, and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is the lead sponsor and source of all the details for the train and continues to make improvements to the whole experience. In recent years they have added celebrity volunteers to the train like Allison Krauss, The Judds, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, Kathy Mattea, and, in 2012, Thompson Square. A $5,000 scholarship is awarded in connection with the train to a high school senior from one of the schools along the train’s route. The volunteers gathered by the Chamber tell all that they are the true gift recipients through the joy and happiness of helping do more for others with less. That’s the true spirit of Christmas after all isn’t it? Watch this video showing some of their joy.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXxuCcmwfRc]