For 75 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 of Commerce). More than 5,000 gifts that include toys, food, and winter clothing 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. The train is packed in Jacksonville, FL by CSX volunteers in early November before it starts the journey north to Appalachia. 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 historic Clinchfield Locomotive will be included in the train on its historic 75th run. Other historic cars that are part of this train were part of the funeral train for Robert F. Kennedy and a specially built platform that accommodated Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wheelchair.
WATCH: Three Christmas Treats for Santa
If it weren’t for the generous donations to the Santa Train, many children wouldn’t have gifts to open on Christmas morning. One 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.
In 2014, six-time Grammy Winner, Amy Grant performed. This year 15-time Grammy Winner, Ricky Skaggs, will be on board to bring lots of Christmas cheer to the families of Appalachia.