Months before the Santa Train made its annual stop in Bargersville, the planning begins.
Just hours before boarding the train, Indiana Railroad Co. employees were finishing up those final touches, hanging Christmas lights on the outside of Santa’s train, sorting and preparing costumes, stocking the car with food and drinks and hanging up more than 300 coats for families in need.
On Friday, the Indiana Rail Road Co. brought Santa Claus to Bargersville and 11 other cities and towns between Indiana and Illinois for the 26th consecutive year. The three-day trip began with a stop in Bargersville on Friday afternoon before stopping at seven more cities and towns in Indiana and three in Illinois.
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Planning begins in August by looking at the company’s freight schedule and making adjustments to leave the railroads as open as possible during the three-day tour. The railroad company rents vehicles and books hotel rooms for volunteers during the three-day trip. Employees contact the cities and towns that the tour will visit to finalize details, such as where the train will park, and then they’ll collect donations to help buy the food, rent vehicles and costumes needed for volunteers, and get coats, hats and gloves to be given to families in need, Indiana Railroad Co. Executive Assistant Shae LeDune said.
“It’s pretty crazy in the days and weeks leading up to this. Everybody is rushing around and trying on costumes or getting food stocked,” said Brian Farris, an Indiana Railroad Co. employee who volunteers. “Everyone gets pretty anxious. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.”
Farris is one of many employees who take off work the days before and of the Santa’s train event. Farris has dressed up as the Grinch every one of the 11 years he has volunteered.
The train stops at cities and towns that don’t have large malls where children can meet Santa Claus, company spokesman Eric Powell said.
The focus is Santa Claus, but the experience for the families, especially the children, is the highest priority for the event’s planners.
While families waited in line Friday, volunteers dressed as elves set up a small area where children could pet two reindeer. And the line that stretched down the street and around the corner from the railroad tracks was lively. Kids were handed candy canes, cookies and hot chocolate. Volunteers dressed as Sesame Street’s Big Bird, Disney characters, such as Buzz Lightyear and several princesses from popular movies, walked along the line and greeted kids, posing for photos.
Buster Roeder has worked at the Indiana Railroad Co. for 13 years and volunteered for the 10th time this year. Roeder dresses up as Dr. Suess’ “Cat in the hat.” The joy of the kids keep him coming back, Roeder said.
Some of the volunteers were friends or family of company employees who just wanted to be a part of the event. Amber Schaffer and Carrie Porter were encouraged to come along on the three-day event by Indiana Railroad Co. employees they know, they said.
Both took Friday off of work to volunteer.
Other volunteers worked behind the scenes, making sure every costume was accounted for, providing food and snacks for the staff. Security also was hired for each stop along the 12-city tour to help facilitate the crowd, form lines and help children on and off the train.
“I love this because every city we go to is different, every stop has a different vibe,” Schaffer said.
Channon Lockhart is a fourth-year volunteer, and enjoys the reaction of children and the many different faces they see during the tour, Lockhart said.
“This takes a lot of time behind the scenes getting costumes together, collecting coats — it takes a lot of work,” Lockhart said. “I love seeing the kids the most. It’s a real happy time and it’s always interesting to see how long the lines truly are, to see how many come out to see us.”
The tour can actually be just as demanding as being at work, Roeder said.
“This is probably the biggest organized mad house,” Roeder said. “Everyone is running around to get costumes and all of the coats and food on the train to be ready, then you are trying to rest in between the stops. But it’s unique. Malls don’t have the characters we do when kids go meet Santa, and kids also love trains.”
Greg and Abby Strehl live in Bargersville and brought their two children on Friday for the first time. The community coming together to celebrate the holiday was good to see, Greg Strehl said.
“This will be a family tradition,” Greg Strehl said. “We’re going to come every year.”
Karen Steward made the trip from Greenwood with her three grandsons. Between the hot chocolate, cookies and the interactive experience with characters for the children, Steward is also planning on making Santa’s train an annual event for she and her daughter and her three grandsons.
“This is much different than anything we have done at the mall with my grandsons,” Steward said. “The interaction with the characters, the amount of people who came out, this was impressive. This event exceeded my expectations. Coming to see Santa’s train will definitely become a tradition.”