Riding the rails with Santa and friends

NW Railway Museum chugs down the tracks

By Molly Gilmore on December 4, 2015

Santa spends most of his time at the North Pole, where he's not easily accessible to anyone who doesn't have magic reindeer.

Perhaps he's shy. After all, he visits in the dead of night, when everyone is asleep. And if you're awake at that time, he's probably not going to bring you any presents.

But for the next three weekends, the jolly old elf will be hanging out in Snoqualmie, and you can reach him by taking a short ride on a historic train.

That - in a stocking stuffer-sized package - is the Northwest Railway Museum's Santa Train.

"It's about letting families have a really cool experience meeting Santa Claus," said Cristy Lake, the museum's volunteer coordinator and curator of small objects. (At a railroad museum, anything weighing less than a ton is a small object.)

The Santa Train will choo-choo its way from the depot in North Bend, where the ride begins, to the historic Snoqualmie Depot at the Northwest Railroad Museum, just as it has every holiday season since 1969.

"This is our 46th year," said Peggy Barchi, the museum's marketing and events manager. "We hear from several of our longtime visitors that this is now the third or even the start of the fourth generation that has continued to come. Santa Train has been part of their family tradition since the beginning."

The train carries about 11,000 passengers each holiday season - and it typically sells out. It runs several times a day Saturday and Sunday plus Dec. 12, 13, 18 and 19.

At the end of the 20-minute ride to Snoqualmie, passengers will have the opportunity to meet Santa and take photos with him inside the decorated depot, built in 1890.

They can also look at the museum's collection of train cars and enjoy hot cocoa, coffee and cookies before boarding the train back to North Bend. Volunteers bake the cookies in the coal stoves of the museum's 1952 kitchen car, which sits outside the depot.

"It was built as an Army ambulance car during the Korean War," Lake said. "The Army had planned to use it to transport wounded soldiers across the country, and the plan was to have a kitchen car on the train to feed the wounded and the nurses and doctors."

But technology bypassed the train. The wounded were instead transported by air, and the kitchen car was sold to a mining company.

The train will be pulled by 1954 electric diesel engines, except on Dec. 18, when a 1909 steam locomotive will be put into service. And passengers will be riding in antique cars.

"They are not heated," Barchi said, adding that there's also a fair amount of outdoor time while visitors are in Snoqualmie. "We always caution everybody to dress for the weather."

If it's chilly, though, you can warm up in the kitchen car, kept toasty by the coal stoves that are also warming the cookies, or in the heated and decorated baggage car near the depot.

Santa Train, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Dec. 5, 6, 12, 13, 18 and 19, departing from the North Bend Depot, 205 E. McClellan St., North Bend, $22, 425.888.3030, trainmuseum.org