Santa Claus is coming to town on steam locomotive

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

After being sidetracked for two years, Santa’s Christmas locomotive is ready to let off some steam.

Santa Claus is scheduled to arrive in Vancouver at 11 a.m. Saturday aboard the vintage SP&S 700 steam locomotive.

If you go

• What: BNSF Railway annual Christmas steam train.

• When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Vancouver Amtrak station, 1301 W. 11th St.

• Cost: Free.

It will mark the seventh time Santa has hooked up with BNSF Railway on a Christmas event in Vancouver, although not all have featured the historic steam locomotive.

In 2009, the SP&S 700 had some problems, and Santa arrived on a more modern locomotive that could have been dubbed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Diesel.

In 2010, BNSF also used a stand-in locomotive to pull a limited-seating “holiday express” run.

The SP&S 700 hadn’t operated for two years before participating in a holiday-express event in Portland a few days ago, said Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman.

“This will be its longest main-line run in two years,” he said of Saturday’s visit.

Built in 1938, the Baldwin oil-fired steam locomotive ran a passenger route from Portland to Spokane via Vancouver and the Columbia Gorge until 1956, when it was retired in favor of diesel-electric power.

The SP&S 700 will be decked out in Christmas lights when it arrives at the Vancouver Amtrak station at 11 a.m. After disembarking from the train, Santa Claus will be available for one-on-one visits with children, who also will receive gift bags.

Refreshments will include cookies, cake, coffee and hot chocolate. For those whose tastes include railroad technology, a new 4,400-horsepower diesel-electric locomotive will be on display on a neighboring track.

While the event has become a popular destination for kids and train buffs alike, it wasn’t originally on the BNSF schedule.

“We would have an annual Christmas party at the yard office for our employees and their families,” Melonas said. “One year, they decided to bring the steam locomotive.”

And you don’t exactly sneak one of those things into town. People who noticed it headed for the Amtrak station to see what was going on.

“There were more people from the public who came to view the steam locomotive than there were employees,” Melonas said. “Because of the excitement, we decided to open the party to the public.”

“Each year, it has grown. Even without the steam locomotive in 2009, there were about 2,000 attendees,” he said.

The event is free, but people are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy to be donated to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign.

Parking will be available along 11th Street. Attendees should use extra caution in the freight yard and be sure to stay behind barriers and a safe distance from moving trains, Melonas said.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.