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News Section: Community

Train to the North Pole takes folks to meet Santa

Published Wednesday, December 23, 2009 3:00 am

PARRISH -- It was a week before Christmas and all through the train, children looked out the windows to see St. Nick – and the North Pole.

 The train to the North Pole took folks to see Santa and friends and people could choose to sit in an outdoor train car or an inside air conditioned train car.

So as generations of families boarded the antique Christmas train at the Florida Railroad Museum and headed to the North Pole – some sitting in the open-air cars and others in air-conditioned cars – one little boy gazed out the window with a continuous, somewhat mischievous, smile.

“I want to tell Santa that I want a dirt bike,” Jake Johnson said, “because I can go out and do some tricks and make some money.”

He’s your typical but thoughtful 9-year-old, making sure to also keep Santa Claus’s best interest in mind.

“I’ll make him (Santa) some money, too,” Jake said, still smiling that little crooked smile.

He is on the train with siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and a grandmother who decided to give her entire family from Lakeland the gift of the North Pole.

Josh Johnson, 4, squeezes into the train seat with the rest of the Johnson family and makes sure everyone in his train car knew what he was asking Santa for Christmas.

“I want a ‘fur webber,’” he said.

Jake translates for his little brother: “He said he wants a four-wheeler.”

Josh’s face lit up and he shook his head with confidence, but he was terribly small for such a fast ride and decided to offer an alternative.

Jake Johnson, front, and Makaleigh Beyoe were thrilled to meet Santa and play

in the North Pole.

“I want a ‘fur webber’ with training wheels,” he said.

Their cousin Makaleigh Beyoe looked like a living doll, but she stared blankly into the group of children.

Beyoe was worried that she just didn’t know yet what she wanted for Christmas, and said she would figure out her Christmas list while en route to the North Pole.

But let’s all get aboard this Christmas train first and take in the sights on and off the train.

It's the fifth annual train to the North Pole, which sells out each year in October and takes about 400 people on a round-trip adventure to see Santa and friends.

People board at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish and travel about 35 minutes to a place called Willow, where the North Pole awaits children young and old.

There are five train cars that date from the 1920s to the 1970s. But an old train is an old train, which really added to the nostalgia of Christmas for the people riding in it.

The train cars were draped in colorful lights, presents and wreaths, while carolers made their way from one section to the next leading passengers in traditional holiday songs like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

A conductor made his way through the group, collecting the tickets to the North Pole, and children jumped out of their seats to hand their tickets in, while the train made its way through four cypress swamps and passed a few farms and maybe, just maybe, a Christmas castle all lit up for the holidays.

 Cynthia Miley and her daughter give out reindeer food for children to sprinkle in their yards on Christmas Eve.

This night there were 410 passengers on the trip to the North Pole, and as an announcement roared through the train saying the North Pole was in sight, everyone rushed to the windows to look out at a holiday land fitting for even the least imaginative.

Lights by the thousands weaved through the landscape, while little fires with haystacks welcomed those wanting to roast marshmallows for S’mores.

An antique train car displayed toy trains and Christmas trees, while Santa’s workshop waited under a tent for children to make toys and build their dreams.

Then, right next to the workshop, right past the little elf storyteller, was the big man waiting to have his photo taken with all the boys and girls – Santa Claus with his darling Mrs. Claus.

A line wound around and continued next to the train cars while kids waited to see him, and another line wound around to the far side of the caboose where families enjoyed a hot meal and popcorn.

Meanwhile, elves and train staff greeted the visitors and welcomed them to the North Pole, while holiday music filled the air and children’s laughter and excitement filled people’s souls.

Joyce Ellerby is the grandmother of Jake Johnson, Josh Johnson and Makaleigh Beyoe, and she's the one responsible for bringing out her entire extended family.

“I just found out about it through a friend,” she said, watching her crew line up to exit the train. “You have to make reservations way ahead – it’s very, very popular. As a grandparent you want to do something you can remember, and this is it.”

 Santa, left, meets Mason and Sammy Bauer

at the North Pole.

Off the train and down by the reindeer feed, Avery Rissler, 7, was collecting her reindeer food to use on Christmas Eve.


Cynthia Miley, 30, directed the children on how to prepare for Santa and his team of reindeer while scooping out oatmeal and glitter.

“On Christmas Eve you need to sprinkle it in your yard so the reindeer can eat it while Santa leaves the presents for all the kids,” she said.

The magic glitter is important to include in the feed to help Santa find the children’s homes and to help the reindeer fly.

Sammy Bauer, 5, and her little brother Mason Bauer, 3, were about to see Santa to make a wish and to have their picture taken.

Their parents had tried for three year to get tickets to the North Pole and finally got a break after learning about the popularity of the train over the summer and booking very early.

Both kids know exactly what they want, and they were practicing their chatter in line while waiting to tell Santa.

“Yes – I know what I want,” Sammy said, looking like a little girl ready to make her Christmas wish. “I’ve been really wanting a set of chairs and a table and a sink to style all sorts of hair.”

 Vaun Brown, left, and Bertt Wessel roast marshmallows at the North Pole after meeting with Santa and elves.

Some teenagers roasted their S’mores by the fire, while little ones danced around with glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Even the older kids waited to talk to Santa and they weren’t taking any chances on their wish list, whether they were naughty or nice.

Glen Avery, a volunteer train conductor, said the tickets to the North Pole went on sale Oct. 14 and were completely sold out in three weeks.


“They started this event five years ago,” he said. “Everything has been done by volunteers. We have sold for eight days to meet Santa in the North Pole, 3,200 tickets.”

He has been a member of the Florida Railroad Museum for 25 years, but has been a “trainee” all his life, and just loves tracks and trains.

And as the night winds down and little children rub their eyes and bigger ones yawn out loud, everyone gets back on the train and Santa waves goodbye with his elves and other train team helpers.


It's time for bed for the kids and the adults, as the lights dim inside the train and it starts to chug back down the tracks to Parrish.

But one little boy is just as awake as he was earlier in the evening. It's Jake and he is very wound up.

He received the best news from Santa that any child would hope for after asking for his dirt bike.

“He said if I get a helmet, I can get one.”



Erica Newport is a daily reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers art, culture and community. If you have a story that might interest Erica, please e-mail her using address.  She also takes your questions related to our weekly theme days and provides advice and opinions for our readers. Please use this e-mail address for Ask Erica:

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