Marty Stuart will be Santa’s special guest on the train, which is sponsored by CSX, Food City, Appalachian Power, Soles4Souls and the Kingsport Chamber.
Stuart will help Santa distribute an estimated 15 tons of toys, food, warm clothing and other gifts to thousands of people at stops along the rail route the Santa Train has followed each year since 1943. After the train arrives in Kingsport, Stuart and Santa will take the Santa’s Depot Stage for a special performance.
Items distributed by Santa and his helpers come from donations nationwide each year — from individuals, groups and businesses. Special highlights of the Santa Train this year include the return of the Clinchfield 100, a restored railcar which will return to service as Santa’s “sleigh” for Saturday’s run. It served as Santa’s car on the train from 1953 to 1983. Another special car is the Crescent Harbor, one of three remaining sleeper/lounge passenger cars built by Pullman for the Southern Railway’s Southern Crescent passenger service. This car is easy to spot because it is silver. It was delivered for service circa 1949-50 and plied the rails between New York City and New Orleans during the “golden days” of rail travel. Having been out of service since 1979, Crescent Harbor was recently returned to service through a major restoration project by Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum, the same group that restored the Clinchfield 100.
Each year, thousands of people — including families for whom a visit to the train is a multigenerational tradition — turn out at stops along the way, regardless of the weather. Forecasts for points along the route Saturday call for highs in the 50s with a 90 percent chance of rain.
Gifts are distributed only when the train is stopped. Nothing is thrown from the train while it is in motion. The only things tossed from the rear of the train are small, soft plush toys. Everything else is handed out by “ground crew” volunteers who get off the train and spread throughout the crowds at each stop.
Santa is scheduled to greet the first crowd at 5:45 a.m. at the train’s starting point, Shelby, Kentucky.
Additional stops and times are: Marrowbone, 6:20 a.m.; Elkhorn City, 7:05 a.m.; Toms Bottom, 7:45 a.m.; Haysi, 8:07 a.m.; Clinchco, 8:40 a.m.; Fremont, 9:08 a.m.; Dante, 10:08 a.m.; St. Paul, 10:53 a.m.; Dungannon, 12:03 p.m.; Fort Blackmore, 12:48 p.m.; Kermit, 1:48 p.m.; and Waycross, 2:20 p.m.
The train is scheduled to arrive in downtown Kingsport at 2:58 p.m. Gifts are not distributed from the train in Kingsport, the only stop where Santa gets off the train, as the center of action is Santa’s Depot at Centennial Park from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Santa and Stuart will take to the Santa’s Depot stage for a special performance at about 3:30 p.m.
Children will receive an official Santa’s Depot activity passport when they arrive at the event. Sponsored booths and activities include free hot chocolate, Christmas cookies, Santa hats, airbrush holiday tattoos and coloring books. Other activities include a chance to see live reindeer, sit in Santa’s sleigh, and take family selfies with Centennial Park’s Santa sculpture.
Food trucks will be onsite with special offerings available for purchase.
Santa’s Depot serves as the official site to create and mail letters to Santa. Children are invited to write their letters onsite and place them in the large red mailbox, where they will be retrieved by Santa when he arrives.
All activities are free to children. But based on attendance in past years, organizers point out it might not be possible for everyone to do everything.
“Due to expected crowd size, we cannot guarantee that each child will get to participate in every activity, but we can promise a magical day!” said Robin Cleary, coordinator for Santa’s Depot.
Santa issued a reminder to all attendees: He’ll be watching to see who stays on his “nice list,” so keep these tips from him in mind:
• Only one activity passport per child.
• Activities and treats are for children only.
• Be kind.
• Be patient.
• Follow the rules and enjoy the event