Santas and trains were the attractions, and there were plenty of both on Tuesday when Kansas City Southern’s Holiday Express stopped in Joplin.
There was THE Santa, of course, along with train cars decorated for Christmas and filled with Santas, dolls and toys.
But a train car dominated by operating model trains moving through miniature towns and countrysides, along with a few other trains along the way, seemed to be the attraction for many of the young visitors who walked through the colorfully lighted train cars stopped in the Kansas City bottoms. Hundreds of youngsters, along with parents and grandparents, braved the cold to stand in line and make their way through the attraction.
Each of the young visitors received a gift bag with a coloring book, puzzles and candy. Then outside at the end of the tour, each got to visit with Santa.
Though he’s only 4 years old, this year marked the second visit at the train for Finley Larson, of Joplin, who was there with his parents and a sleeping younger sister.
“I love the trains; it’s the best part,” he said while waiting for his turn on Santa’s lap.
Hailee Berliew, 6, stopped for cocoa after visiting the train with her sister and brother, Stephanie and John Jones, of Joplin.
“I liked everything,” Hailee said.
Stephanie Jones said it was the family’s second year to visit the Holiday Express. “It’s really nice that they do this,” she said.
Grant Elliott, a Holiday Express spokesman who described himself as the “head elf,” said Joplin is one of 20 communities in six states where the train will make stops this Christmas season.
“This is our 13th year, and we’ve seen at least a million children in that time,” he said.
The train is staffed with 35 volunteer elves from throughout the U.S. Some are retired KCS employees, and many are members of the Kansas City Southern Historical Society who give their time to the project each year, Elliott said.
In addition to the train tours and visits with Santa, the Holiday Express supports communities it visits by donating gift cards to the local Salvation Army to be used for clothing and other needs of local children. Over the years, the project has raised almost $1.2 million for donations. Elliott said he did not have a total on the donation to be given to the Joplin Salvation Army this year.
Some workers with the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau also served as volunteers during the stop, according to Patrick Tuttle, CVB director, who was directing traffic. He said city crews helped clear the site for parking and so visitors did not have to wade through snow to reach the train.
KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN, based in Kansas City, is a transportation holding company that has railroad investments in the U.S., Mexico and Panama. Its primary U.S. holding is Kansas City Southern Railway Co.