For the second year the Bluemoonistic Team went on the Santa Train Adventure! During our experience last year we went directly to Kingsport to take in the arrival of the Santa Train at the end of its journey. (See our Photo Blog from 2017) This year we wanted to experience it in the small towns along its route. The Santa Train makes 14 stops across Appalachia beginning in Shelby, KY at 6am and ending in Kingsport, TN at 3pm. Along the way it delivers over 15 tons of toys and goods. Their sponsors include CSX, Food City, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Appalachian Power and Soles 4 Souls. Amazing fact – this was the 76th year for the Santa Train!
This year we started in Dante, VA. This little town of 649 people is located about 50 miles northwest of Bristol VA, in the heart of Southwest Virginia. The day before we received a tour of Dante from Jason Gullett, Dante’s very own Local Entrepreneur Coal Town Tour Guide, and learned the history of their town. His enthusiasm and dedication are things we love to write about and document with photos. The coal towns in Appalachia have gone through many historical changes. The populations of many of these small towns fluctuated with the expansion and contraction of the coal companies, but the people who remain today are there because it’s home and they are working toward building on their past heritage to create a brighter future. Dante is working on restoring their railroad depot and we plan to follow their progress in 2019.
Dante is situated in a beautiful location that allowed us to capture the Santa Train coming around a curve as it entered town. It arrived to between 200 to 300 waiting people. It was obvious to us though that the “KIDS” were the main attraction. Dads, Moms and Grandparents all hoisted kids on their shoulders and tried to make sure that every child received his or her toy from Santa! Warm clothing is also thrown into the crowd and we saw many kids come away with new hats and mittens as well. But in the true spirit of Christmas getting a toy from the Santa was the goal for every child. I overheard one Mother tell her little girl that now that she had her toy from Santa she needed to move back so other kids could get one. In an age where greed seems to dominate, this was truly refreshing. The joy around the Santa Train was so real you could feel it! One could not but think “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus…”
Christmas carols are playing while Santa and his elves throw out their gifts, the kids are chanting “Santa”, and smiles abound. We’ve attended a lot of Santa events over the years but this has to be the one that will remain in our hearts as the most rewarding.
Next stop was St. Paul, VA, only about 8 miles from Dante. Thanks to a kind local who gave us directions, we were able to take a back road that got us to St. Paul just as the Santa Train arrived. We found a larger crowd in St. Paul but the same eager faces awaited Santa. Once again the crowd was joyful and loud but very polite. Santa and his elves are pros at throwing out gifts and making sure some of the larger packages are passed on with care.
We have been to St. Paul many times in our travels to SW Virginia in the last year. They boast a new boutique hotel called the Western Front Hotel. We have stayed here many times and love the place. We stayed at the Western Front on this trip also and enjoyed our time at the “Off the Rails” Bar (perfect for train buffs) and Milton’s Restaurant. St Paul also has a wonderful brewpub called Sugar Hill Brewery. With the Spearhead Trails and the Clinch River right on their doorstep this little town has a lot to offer. Members of this community are also working hard to create a bright future for their citizens. A visit to this area is a must for those who want a new adventure!
We traveled on to Kingsport, TN, where the Santa Train ended its journey. The city of Kingsport has created a very festive atmosphere with activities for families that add another dimension to the Christmas Spirit atmosphere. The town was filled with families – many in all variations of Christmas attire. Those who follow us know that is something we love!
Next year we will visit other little towns on the Santa Train route. This is a Christmas tradition that has “Bluemoonistic” written all over it and we plan to participate for many years to come. Of course, the idea of putting Santa on a train to deliver presents is appealing to us, but in our opinion this tradition focuses on what the holidays should be about – the children! Kudos to the Santa Train and CSX Railroad for bringing that kind of joy to the kids in Appalachia!