Santa’s train is coming to town

Jolly old elf will arrive by rail Saturday for the eighth year

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: Santa’s steam locomotive (free and open to public).

When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Where: BNSF Railway facility near the Amtrak station, 1301 W. 11th St.

photoSanta Claus, shown at last year's Christmas event, has scheduled another visit to Vancouver on the SP&S 700 steam locomotive.

(/The Columbian)

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Santa will not be pulled into town Saturday morning by eight flying reindeer. His Vancouver visit will be powered by 5,000 steaming horses.

Portland’s vintage SP&S 700 locomotive is scheduled to deliver Santa to the BNSF Railway facility, adjacent to the Vancouver Amtrak station, at 11 a.m.

It will be the eighth time the bearded philanthropist has partnered with BNSF Railway on a public event that blends Christmas cheer and railroad heritage.

The celebration seems to be building steam, you might say. It drew a record turnout of more than 2,000 last year, said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas.

And this year, “We’re getting more calls in advance,” Melonas said.

The two-hour event will include hot chocolate and cider, cake and cookies, and presents for kids. It’s free, but people are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy to be donated to the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots campaign.

The Santa train actually started as a corporate Christmas event, Melonas said. But at 111 feet long, you can’t really sneak the 440-ton, 5,000-horsepower, 16-wheeled steam whistle into town. Curious people headed for the station to see what was going on.

“More people from the public lined up than employees,” he said. “They were thrilled to see the locomotive, so we decided to make it a public event.”

The SP&S 700 (no, that does not stand for “Steam Power & Santa”) was built in 1938 for the old Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.

It’s no stranger to Clark County. During its working life, the oil-burning locomotive rolled through Vancouver before it was retired in 1956. It was saved at the last moment from the salvage yard and donated in 1958 to the city of Portland.

The SP&S 700 is now operated and maintained by the all-volunteer Pacific Railroad Preservation Association.

A new BNSF diesel-electric locomotive also will be on display Saturday.

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