It is Christmas Eve, your snuggled in your bed all nice and warm when you hear a whistle in the distance. You look out your window to see a magic train parked out front, the conductor asks “Well are you coming?” When you ask where he replies: “Why, to the North Pole, of course! This is the Polar Express!”
This is a scene from Grand Rapids native,Chris Van Allsburg book, “The Polar Express”. Children are picked up by the train and taken to the North Pole to meet Santa, and one will receive the first gift of Christmas. This past weekend my family lived out that experience by taking the Steam Railroading Institute’s “North Pole Express” train.
We arrived at the SRI in Owosso, Mi, on a cold December day. The Pere Marquette 1225, a locomotive made famous by Warner Brothers 2004 movie based on Van Allsburg’s book, was parked right out front of the entrance. My kids were in awe seeing this big, breathing machine, as she spewed steam and smoke.
Picking up our tickets and was smooth and boarding was quick and easy.As we bored the train we quickly met the car host. They called themselves Lucy and Ethel, and made the kids feel special right away. The announced the kids names to the crowed already in their seats and ran them down the aisle to be seated as every clapped for them. Shortly after we were seated the conducted announced “All Aboard” and we were off.
The conductor came and punched everyones ticket, and we even had a visit from the hobo!Just as in the book the host served hot coco to everyone on board on our way to the North Pole. My son who want to be a photographer just like his daddy, had his camera around his neck and documented the trip by shooting video of the passing country side.
About an hour later we arrived in Ashley, MI where the North Pole was located.The town was decorated very nice for the event and offered many things to do. After we disembarked we had a chance to ride on ponies, make crafts, watch a chainsaw artist, watch glass blowers, and of course visit with Santa. Since my kids have already sat on Santa’s lap five times this holiday season we elected to skip that and walk the town.
We purchased some gifts from some of the vendors, the kids built their own versions of the 1225 out of wood with help from some of the elves, and my daughter rode the ponies. The train was backed up so you could visit the 1225 right on main street and get your photos with it.About two hours later, the train blew its whistle, telling everyone it was almost time to leave.
Right before we board, Santa chose a child from the crowed and gave the first gift of Christmas, a shinny silver bell of course. The train pulled forward as the crowed cheered it on, and then we board to head home. Lucy and Ethel entertained the crowed with Christmas Carols and coloring for the kids on the way home. No one was bored while aboard the train.
Overall we had a great experience. There is nothing like riding behind a large mainline steam locomotive. There are many “Polar Express” trips offered around the country, but there is only one “real Polar Express”. If you have any interest in trains, riding behind the 1225 is an experience you must do. This is a very family friendly trip, and has made much more affordable in the past few years by including economy class tickets.