Santa steams in for Vancouver visit

Record crowd braves chilly morning to see St. Nick, SP&S 700

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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They lined the railroad tracks in hopes of catching the first glimpse. Bundled in winter coats, hats and scarfs, children sat on their parents’ shoulders and peered around the corner, waiting.

Finally, the shouts began, at about 11:10 a.m. Saturday to be exact: “Here it comes!” Santa’s steam train rolled into Vancouver amid cheers from 2,100 onlookers.

Santa waved to families as the vintage SP&S 700 locomotive, decked out in decorations and lights, arrived at the Vancouver Amtrak station. It was followed by a large cloud of steam and the sounding of the horn.

Santa then exited the train, shaking children’s hands before being whisked into a nearby heated tent. There, he greeted the hundreds of children individually, who were waiting in line for pictures with Santa. They were also rewarded with free candy, cake and hot beverages.

On a morning when the thermometer barely passed freezing, the enthusiastic crowd came out in full force. With more than 2,000 in attendance, Saturday was a record day for the annual event sponsored by BNSF Railway, said railway spokesman Gus Melonas. The SP&S 700 hasn’t appeared in Vancouver for three years, though other locomotive stand-ins have been used for the holiday event.

Festivities were felt throughout Vancouver on Saturday. Elsewhere, at Pearson Air Museum, visitors were able to take photos with Santa and send letters through the North Pole mailbox. At Fort Vancouver, 1840s-era holiday traditions abounded, with caroling, games and handcrafts.

Attendees of the steam train event, including train buffs and BNSF employees with their families, came for a variety of reasons. Two-year-old George Powell showed up for one reason: to see the train.

“He’s not into Santa at all,” mom Sherry Powell said with a laugh. While other kids left the tarmac to meet Santa, George waited for his chance to tour the steam train.

“We come every week to see the trains,” said dad Mark Powell, noting his son’s early love for locomotives.

For other children, meeting Father Christmas and getting goodies was the perk. Some visitors came an hour early to stand in line for one-on-one visits with Santa. Others, chilled by the wait, left right after the locomotive’s arrival. Some took refuge in the tent and listened to live holiday music.

Mom Melissa Newberg came with her 2-year-old daughter, Khloe. It was the family’s first time at the BNSF event, which they heard about through a friend who works for the railway.

Newberg held Khloe as they watched the train arrive -- with the toddler saying “choo choo”— and then the two went inside the tent for cookies. A visit with Santa was their finale.

“I figured I would give her the cookies first and get it out of the way,” Newberg said with a smile.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.