Santa Comes Early to Appalachia
For 76 years, the Santa Train has been delivering gifts to the people of rural Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, and Tennessee. In 1943 this gesture of goodwill was begun by the Clinchfield Railroad (now known as CSX) and the Merchants Bureau of Kingsport, TN (Kingsport Chamber). More than 5,000 gifts that include such items as toys, hats, scarves, and gloves will be delivered along the 110 miles of track between Shelby, KY and Kingsport, TN.
The Santa Train runs each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving but the donations come in months ahead of time from across the United States. CSX and event partners Soles 4 Souls, Food City, Appalachian Power, and Kingsport Chamber of Commerce donate gifts and time to bring lots of smiles this holiday season. There are typically 100 or so volunteers on board the train to help distribute more than 15 tons of gifts each year. The Santa Train volunteers search the crowd at each stop with color-coded bags geared to girls and boys of various ages. Individual gifts are also handed out in the crowd and Santa tosses plush toys and stuffed animals from the back of the train.
Among the backdrop of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, many generations of families have gathered along the route waiting for Santa to arrive. The train gets an early start when it is scheduled to begin its journey in Shelby, KY, at 6 a.m. on Nov. 17th, before heading to Marrowbone and Elkhorn City. Then it's on to the first stop in Virginia, Toms Bottom, then heads to Haysi, Clinchco, Fremont, Dante, St. Paul, Dungannon, Ft. Blackmore, Kermit, and Waycross with the last stop in Kingsport, TN at 3 p.m. If you'd like to follow along with the Santa Train on social media, go to the #CSXSantaTrain18 hashtag on most platforms. This years' celebrity guests will be the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year nominees, Maddie & Tae.
WATCH: Three Christmas Treats for Santa
Kingsport native, Cindy Lemmons, has attended the running of the Santa Train for over 40 years. This is what she had to say about it… "I took my son and my father, who was wheelchair-bound at the time, to see Santa as the train came into Kingsport," Cindy said. "While Santa was making his way through the crowd, he recognized my father and yelled out to him ‘Hey, there! Merry Christmas, Bob Turner!' My son looked at my dad with huge wide eyes and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! You know Santa Claus?' I can't describe to you the look in my dad's eyes at that moment. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life."
If it weren't for the generous donations to the Santa Train, many children wouldn't have gifts to open on Christmas morning. Another such story is well-known by many of the volunteers… a woman from Virginia still comes to see the Santa Train every year. She remembers as a little girl waking up early and rushing to see the train. Her family had very little. Now she comes with her own bag of goodies to hand out to the kids. She enjoys being part of the event to help usher in the holiday season for families in her community.