Magic Time

Date November 7, 2009 at 11:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


TRAINS, LIKE CHRISTMAS, have an air of magic about them, especially when they are historic steam locomotives. Merge Christmas with these antique trains and you have the formula for a magical adventure. That is why the Santa Fe Southern Railway's holiday trains have become a Christmas tradition for many families. And those holiday trains are just one part of the winter train runs available in the Santa Fe area. At Santa Fe Southern Railyway, the most popular run is the Story Book Train, which revolves around a reading of Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. "If you know the storybook, it's a wonderful, evocative story at night," said owner Carol Raymond. "The kids ride to the North Pole in the middle of the night dressed in their jammies, so kids show up in their pajamas, and in fact, adults do, too. It's very fun. Everybody's very comfortable, because they've got their jammies on and their slippers and their robes. It's very magical."

Conductor Ron Lando Brown said, "Kids come with the idea of being an interactive part of what they saw in the movie. The story built a foundation for children's holiday dreams. They want to be a part of that holiday train."

Everyone gets hot chocolate and cookies and the adults can get something stronger at the cash bar. Santa gives each child the gift of a "magical" Christmas bell (only those who believe in Santa can hear it).

When asked what makes these trains special, Marilyn Adams, one of the presenters, said, "Because it's a train. And at Christmas time they're all decorated up, with ribbons and with fir boughs, and everyone is in a happy mood, and it's fun. Even though it's only the little kids that really are nuts about Santa, even the adults become children. And that is what I think is particularly delightful." Performing on these trains every year gets Adams in the Christmas spirit.

The railroad is introducing an abbreviated version of the Storybook Trains this year, called Winter Express Story Trains. These too feature a reading of The Polar Express, but are designed to accommodate the shorter attention spans of children 7 and under.

The daytime Santa trains also generate holiday cheer. Every child gets a present from Santa and can have their picture taken with him. Song sheets are handed out so passengers can sing along with the carolers onboard. "That's a lot of fun, too, because how often do we get to sing together anymore?" said Raymond. "We find that people absolutely love that chance to sing together. I think it speaks to people."

New this year is the Caboose Club Storytelling Series. Children can experience the excitement of being on a train without ever leaving the station. Every Saturday different local authors and storytellers will gather with children on the caboose to share stories.

The train rides continue into the New Year.

Those familiar with the New Year's Eve Party Train will find it a quieter affair this year. The train leaves at 10 p.m., stops at the Galisteo Overlook for a Champagne toast and fireworks, then returns to the station. There will be musicians onboard, hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.

The New Year's Day "Hair O'the Dog" Hotshot has specials on Bloody Marys and Mimosas. "That train tends to be very relaxing. Everybody's gotten the holidays out of the way and are just having a fun time with their families and friends. It's a way to cap off the holiday season," Raymond said.

Many of the winter runs don't have a holiday theme at all. The Santa Fe Southern runs two year-round excursions on their vintage trains. The Hotshots take a trip to a scenic overlook of the Galisteo Basin. The Scenic Day Trains follow the same route but travel on to the depot at Lamy.

Conductors entertain guests with information about the route, the history and geology of the area, along with a few tall tales about such things as jackalopes and three-toed rangoons. Snacks, hot and cold drinks and a cash bar are available on both trains.

Lunch is available in Lamy, catered by Chef Michael, owner of the Lamy Station Café (in quiet months lunch is served in the café). Passengers can stroll about the town and visit The Legal Tender, which is now the Lamy Railroad & History Museum. The museum is housed in Lamy's oldest structure, an 1881 general merchandise store on the National Register of Historic Places. Highlights include a hand-carved, cherrywood bar from the museum's incarnation as a restaurant/saloon and a model train that runs around a miniature replica of Lamy.

Another ride, the Golden Triangle, lets train enthusiasts ride the Santa Fe Southern Railway, Amtrak and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express all in one afternoon. Passengers depart from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque and return to their point of origin. The excursion proved to be so popular the railroad recently decided to continue offering it in the offseason.

Away from Santa Fe, there's a chance to ride a train into the high country.

The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad shuts down in the winter because of heavy snow on the route, but it, too, offers holiday excursions on the 1880s steam trains.

The Cinder Bear Christmas Express Train makes two trips from Chama on Dec. 5 and two more from Antonito on Dec. 12. Appearances by Santa Claus and Cinder Bear, along with carols, stories and treats are only part of the attraction. The route is usually snow-covered by December, and riding the train through the winter landscapes is one of the highlights of this trip.

All the holiday train excursions sell out, so it's a good idea to book early. Although they may not carry passengers to the North Pole, New Mexico's historic railroads do have a way of carrying passengers into the holiday spirit.

Take it home

Inspired by The Polar Express, Ron Lando Brown (whose pen name is Lando Brown) has just published a children's book called The Red Candy Caboose. He hopes the book (designed to be read on a train) provides a year-round interactive experience that connects families as they try to figure out if they are riding the Red Candy Caboose. Visit

Winter Train Schedules

Santa Fe Southern Railway
(All prices are coach class. Silver class, in the lounge cars, when available, has higher rates.), 989-8600

Year-round Hotshots
Tickets: Adults, $28; Seniors, $24, Children 3-13, $14
Schedule: Sundays, 2-4:30 p.m.

Year-round Scenic Day Trains
Tickets: Adults, $32; Seniors, $27, Children 3-13, $18
Schedule: Fridays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays, Noon-3:30 p.m.

Golden Triangle
(Reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance.)
Tickets: $55
Schedule: Every Saturday. Departure from Santa Fe at noon, return at 6:13 p.m.

Caboose Club Storytelling Trains
Tickets: $5 for Caboose Club members (contact SFSR for more information) and $10 for nonmembers.
Schedule: Saturdays at 9 a.m.

Thanksgiving Trains
Tickets: Adults, $28; Seniors, $24, Children 3-13, $14

Family Gathering Hotshot
Nov. 25, 1-3:30 p.m.

Post-Thanksgiving Hotshot
Nov. 27, 13:30 p.m.

Storybook Trains
(Contact SFSR for schedule and rates for the Winter Express Story Trains.)
Tickets: Adults, $36; Seniors, $22, Children 3 - 13, $20
Schedule: 5:30 - 7 p.m., Dec. 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

Special Lamy Trains
Tickets: Adults, $40; Seniors, $35, Children 3-13, $25
Schedule: 12-4 p.m.

Santa Lamy Train
Dec. 19

Holiday Lamy Train
Dec. 26, 28

Special Hotshots
Tickets: Adults, $35; Seniors, $30, Children 3-13, $20

Santa Hotshots
2:30-4:30 p.m., Dec. 20; 1-3:30 p.m., Dec. 24

Holiday Hotshots
2-4:30 p.m., Dec. 27 and 30

New Year's Eve Party Train
Tickets: Adults, $45; Seniors, $40, Children 3-13, $30
Schedule: 10 p.m. -12:30 a.m., Dec. 31

"Hair O'the Dog" Hotshot
Tickets: Adults, $40; Seniors, $35, Children 3-13, $25
Schedule: 1-3:30 p.m., Jan. 1

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, 1-888-CUMBRES

Cinder Bear Christmas Express Trains
Tickets: Adult, $30, Children, $20
From Chama Dec. 5, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
From Antonito Dec. 12, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.