The trains will be rolling once again beginning December 13 in Look Park in Northampton, where Santa’s Trains and the jolly ol’ elf himself and Mrs. Claus have set up shop for another holiday season inside the cozy and festively decorated Garden House turned Victorian train station.
“Our seasonal celebration began many years ago with simply a visit to Santa’s Workshop. Then 10 years ago we expanded the event to include operating train layouts, and a hallway of decorated trees leading up to Santa and Mrs. Claus in their majestic seats waiting to greet all the good little boys and girls who come to see the trains and visit with them,” said Kristin Cole, director of Development for Look Park.
The annual event, which is open from 4-8 p.m. through Dec. 23, is made possible by presenting sponsors PeoplesBank and Bob and Marianne Foote, longtime friends and supporters of the park. In all, over 140 sponsors and many volunteers contribute to bringing Santa’s Trains to life each year.
But Santa’s Trains isn’t solely for the kids. It is for model train lovers of all ages. “There would be no trains if it wasn’t for the dedication of the Pioneer Valley Model Railroad Club. In fact, when Santa’s Trains is over for the season, you can usually find Steve Allen from the club returning as early as January to the Garden House to begin tinkering and adding new elements to one of the displays we store in the basement,” Cole said.
Allen noted that, once again, three model train layouts will be chugging along the tracks this year.
“Our main layout is very whimsical and began as a loose interpretation of the Polar Express, but has grown to include other things such as a Christmas parade. Another layout has a carnival atmosphere and gravitates toward the North Pole. And our final layout incorporates the theme of the village of Florence, home to Look Park,” he said.
“There is animation and blinking lights on all three layouts, which seems to mesmerize the kids. We also put in popular cartoon characters from Disney, as well as some ‘Star Wars’ figures. I constructed several of the building on the layouts, and George Reneris and Harry Ruddock from the club have done a lot of the electrical work and lighting,” he added.
Members from the model train club staff Santa’s Trains every night to answer any questions and to make sure the trains remain operational and that the tracks are clean.
“We also plan a scavenger hunt to get the kids more involved. They are given a paper printed with particular items to be found on the layouts, such as Yoda wearing a Santa’s hat,” Allen said.
While members of the Pioneer Valley Model Railroad Club get enjoyment out of running Santa’s Trains, it means much more to them.
“We do it for all to enjoy with the hope that they will fall in love with model railroading just as we have, and perhaps become interested in joining our club. Our members are growing older and we are looking for volunteers to help us during Santa’s Trains and to become members of our club,” Allen said.
He noted people can learn more about the Pioneer Valley Model Railroad Club on their Facebook page.
Each evening features a special guest conductor from the community – including sponsors, local businesses and organizations, and other special individuals such as children’s author Jarrett Krosoczka, who now resides in Florence. Krosoczka, whose latest book, “Hey, Kiddo,” was a finalist for the National Book Awards 2018 for Young People’s Literature, has been part of Santa’s Trains for many years.
“He has a larger than life personality which suits him perfectly as one of our guest conductors. Jarrett is especially great with greeting the kids and helping to put a magical smile on their faces as they enter Santa’s Trains” said Cole, noting it is the conductor’s important job to greet children as they enter the Garden House and punch the “Magic Ticket” given to them.
In addition to the trains, the Garden House is adorned with a forest of festively decorated trees to a changing theme each year. Last year’s theme was “An Enchanted Christmas,” which inspired many Harry Potter decorations, Cole noted.
“This year we have selected the theme ‘Creatures of Christmas.’ It’s a nod to the many animals found here in the park, but I’m sure there will be some surprise creatures as well,” Cole said.
“We have a dedicated team of volunteers, whom we endearingly refer to as our ‘crew of elves,’ who decide on the theme each year. They actually start planning early in the year to decide our next theme, then set out on a buying spree throughout the year looking for unique ornaments and decorations for the trees. They are always looking for items to meet our theme that can be placed on the 30 different trees when it is decorating time. And each tree is assigned a special name based on their adornments,” she added.
The “train station’s” Holiday Sweet Shoppe will also be open to offer a range of yummy treats for purchase, including cookies and hot chocolate for sipping by the fireplace.
Once leaving the Garden House, visitors can continue their holiday journey around the park to view its Winter Wonderland light display.
All of the more than 50 displays have been lovingly handcrafted by staff in the Look Park Maintenance Department, who each year continues to update them with brighter LED lights. Among the scenic sights spread throughout the park include a princess castle, carolers, train, snowman, menorah, nativity scene, Santa and his reindeer, poinsettia, and candy canes. Other displays are reflective of the wildlife you might see when visiting Look Park, such as a woodpecker in a tree, hummingbird, or a squirrel eating a nut.
The lights are on nightly now through Jan. 1 from 4-9 p.m.
Those who want to experience some of the holiday lights while riding in the open air can board the Look Park Holiday Express for a hayride around the park. Tickets are $5 and the train departs nightly every 20 minutes beginning at 4:20 p.m. The last departure is at 7:40 p.m.
Santa’s Trains and the Winter Wonderland lights are open to the public free of charge thanks to the Look Park Board of Trustees, who feel the public should not have to pay to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus, as well as the generosity of many businesses and community members who sponsor the event. Donations are welcome, however, at Santa’s Trains or at the booth when leaving the park.
For more information, visit lookpark.org or call 413-584-5457.
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