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Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 2:46 pm
by Mark D
St. Paul Union Station (SPUD) is host this year to Santa's special train to let the little kiddies have a bit of fun before Christmas comes around.
Yes, folks, a train leaves the depot on time several times each day. Each day that it runs, that is.
It backs into the station and at departure time the little kids and doting parents are aboard the train. What a surprise to find that Santa is there too! (I think. I haven't actually ridden this train)

Anyway, when the train gets to the North Pole a few minutes (hours to the kids, I'm sure) they are treated to the spectacle of Santa's little village at the North Pole. Even Santa's house. I've heard that Mrs. Claus is there too!
And there are Santa's helpers working to get things ready for his trek to all the chimneys in the world over Christmas Eve.
One such helper is madly working on Santa's sleigh, which is in desperate need of repair. Sparks fly as the cold little elf works on undercarriage.

Again, from what I'm told, the kiddies are eventually evacuated from this frozen part of the planet back to the warmth of SPUD.
Santa gets a ride one way or the other on a 4 wheeler. Not sure exactly why or how that works. I haven't seen with my own eyes any part of this show. All I see is what remains at night.
Being on the engine over night the past several nights I had time for some photo's, and questions to one who was there during the daytime.

So, below are some poor quality photo's, the best I could do with the old 3.2 MP Samsung pocket digi-cam.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 2:56 pm
by Mark D
A few more that could have been put in better sequence... But that would have required thought and planning!

I must say that the area in the photo would be a super place for a railfan with a camera just about any time of year or day.
I've never been in this area before other than riding through on a train pulled by the Milwaukee Road 261.
It is a large wye with several tracks on various legs of said wye. One of these legs runs up what I think is called Short LIne HIll. Some trains make it up the hill with only a little effort. Those with heavier trains behind them have to work a bit. So it was way cool that while I was atop the tender one night the other night cutting coal forward so I could get at it inside the cab, one said heavy train tried to make it up the hill. He had to have his three units in 8. Those engines were just about jumping off the rails, they were pulling so hard. He got up, but the show was GREAT. There were flames blowing out the exhaust stacks of the #3 diesel, which added to the show.

I don't recall there being anything more than five minutes at a time when there were no moving trains in sight. Sometimes there were more than one, on different tracks. There were U.P., C.P., and BNSF, all running from and to different tracks.

Mark D.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 2:58 pm
by Mark D
I forgot to add Santa and Mrs. Claus' house in the pictures!

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 4:47 pm
by Fitz
Nice, Mark. Have you taken up temporary residence in St. Paul for the duration of the Santa Train operation? Are you hostling every night?

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 5:50 pm
by Mark D
No, I drive in and go home when the shift is over.
I have to be at work some of the time too, and for the time I'm on vs time off, I'd be wasting a lot of time sitting around awaiting another shift.
Mark D.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:37 pm
by Brent A
After Santa rides the train back to the depot, he needs to get back to the North Pole.
The ride is facilitated by the Polaris Ranger, the use of which is provided by a local dealer.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 11:54 pm
by SOO2719
Those are nice pictures despite the inevitable blurring from using a camera sans tripod at night.

FYI: Railfans going down to see the 261 are best advised to check out the show from the railfan park at the east end of the property. The 261 is very visible from there once she reaches the "North Pole." I say this because I and another fan strayed beyond permitted photo locales and got off with a short talking to from depot security. Apart from that, it was glorious to see 261 in the snow in person after seeing pics and videos of her doing so when out at Steamtown and on her 2013 shakedown run on the TC&W.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Tue Dec 16, 2014 1:04 am
by Mark D
So, here's a little story about my last night on the Santa train before it went back to the barn for the rest of the winter.

261 and its train spent all but one of its nights at the 'North Pole" a couple blocks east of SPUD.
This puts the engine within feet of the west leg of a wye, which is right at the bottom of a 1.X (not sure of the real number, but close to 2% grade) that climbs up out of the river bed.
Right next to the spur that 261 parked on (I like that work 'parked' in this context, it's SO not railroad!) are a couple of tracks that I believe are owned by U.P. I say this because I only saw U.P. engines and trains running there.
These tracks form the west leg of that wye.

So, here I am, sitting in the cab of 261 and I notice a U.P. train coming toward me from the west. Traveling pretty slowly, he's eventually going to go through the wye coming out of it on the north leg.
He was moving pretty slowly, probably because of the curvature of the track, the length of his train, and other factors I wouldn't have a clue about. I've seen other trains run through that same track at slightly higher speeds, so I'm sure he had a reason for running that slow, but it was about to hurt him a little.

He rounded the leg and slowly disappeared under the bridges that the grade that I believe they call Short LIne Hill, but I'm not sure on that. I do know that we've taken 261 through there with some fairly long ( for passenger) trains where we got caught by a red signal at the bottom of the hill, so that when we got the green we had to take it from a dead stop. Sometimes the engine has slipped some, but it always makes it up the grade. But it's cool to hear the old girl doing some seriously hard work for a few minutes.

Anyway, the train seemed to go slower and slower as it rolled along. His lead units were long out of sight by now, and cars just sort of walked past me. He wasn't going very fast at all, and I worried that he'd stall.
Then I began to hear the DPU unit in the rear coming. I heard it about five or ten minutes before I saw it. Had to have been giving 100% + at this point, and the train was slowing. I swear that it was moving slower than I can bring myself to walk. I mean, I'd never walk that slow!
That poor unit was just screaming. The engine roaring and the turbo's and cooling fans howling. It kept up that way for a good 15 minutes as it made its way slowly toward the north leg of the wye. It might have been just the perspective, but it seemed to be going even more slowly as it eventually disappeared under all the highway bridges that go over the track on the north leg.
But I could still hear that DPU back there, screaming its guts out, for a good fifteen minutes longer before it faded away.

So, he never stalled but he surely was right down on his hands and knees trying to get up that grade.

The guy who I relieved at midnight that night, Saturday night (actually last Sunday morning) told me that on Saturday a CP train did stall on the hill when he lost one of his units. They had to send some power up from BNSF to help shove him up the grade. It took long enough that it caused a pretty nasty traffic jam of trains all piled up from all directions.

I'm tellin' ya'll, there's a LOT of traffic running through there, 24/7.

What I really like is when someone has to start out from a dead stop. The sound of those diesels can only be out done by the sound of three or four steam locomotives pulling that train up that grade. Back in the day, they did just that.

Those sights and sounds made sitting on that engine all those nights just that much more worthwhile.
What a great thing it is, to be able to be the one to take care of that locomotive on nights like that.

Life is good.
Mark D.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Tue Dec 16, 2014 1:47 pm
by alco636
Good reading Mark! Thanks.

Al Seever
Minneapolis, MN

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Tue Dec 16, 2014 3:00 pm
by SOO2719
The hill on the east side of SPUD is located on the Division Street wye. Shortline Hill is west of SPUD, starting at Chestnut Street.
UP has a major presence in the area due to its former CGW bridge, the old Omaha line to Shakopee, and Belt Yard, UP's next door neighbor to CP's Pig's Eye Yard.
That area is indeed busy with trains. While at SPUD's railfan park last Saturday to see the 261 I bagged a UP freight as it descended the east leg of the Division Street wye bound for Belt Yard.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Tue Dec 16, 2014 7:43 pm
by Mark D
Thanks for the clarifications, Tony.
So I take it that Short Line Hill is on the U.P. track, which is the only one I see around there on my map.
Does that Short LIne Hill grade run up and away from the riverbank?

Is there a name, offical or unofficial (or both) for the one at the wye? I think at one time I had heard that grade mentioned in conjunction with the name Westminster, which I think is a road in the area.
Mark D.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Tue Dec 16, 2014 10:59 pm
by Brent A
The closest track on the right side of 261 is Union Pacific. It is used to get across the river at Robert street, to the Western ave yard, and to cross over Bridge 15 to get to Shakopee and then some.

Short Line Hill, starting about a mile behind our train(when parked at the North Pole), is on Canadian Pacific's Merriam Park sub which pretty much starts at Division Street, on the 2 tracks further to the right of where the 261 was sitting. (where there was almost always a train parked)

It follows Shepherd Road, going uphill from Chestnut Street to Fordson Junction, where it curves away from the river and continues on toward the old Amtrak station(Midway).

I think you were on the trip up the hill on July 4, 2004 on the last day of Grand Excursion. We stopped a little short of the Commercial at Merriam Park, then backed down the hill with the Amtrak unit on the rear.

Confused yet?


Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Wed Dec 17, 2014 12:36 pm
by Mark D
Not confused at all. It all makes perfect sense to me.
I do recall that the 261 and train sat for what seemed like an interminable time next to the post office annex that used to be SPUD (at that time) and I never really understood what the point was to just sit there, unless rail traffic was bogged down and we couldn't get home.

So, is there a name for that other grade that the 261 was sort of pointed at when standing at North Pole? I'm pretty sure that's the one 261 seems to head uphill on most of the time when we're in the area.

Mark D.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Wed Dec 17, 2014 4:39 pm
by Mark D
Here are a couple of links I just received via email. I think they're video's, or photos at least. I don't really know what's behind these links because I can't view them, but you people with higher speed probably can.
I mean, if I let it tie up the phone all day long, I might be able to view them too - except this computer doesn't have flash player, so I guess it wouldn't do anything anyway.

Link one - ... le-Express

Link two - ... 8150.shtml

Link three- ... ar-express

I can't guarantee that they'll even work.
Mark D.

Re: Christmas Train - Santa Train

Posted: Wed Dec 17, 2014 5:06 pm
by Fitz
Mark, I checked them out. The first one is a lady reporter "Lee" something who did quite a job covering the 261. She interviewed Steve, then was in the cab where he let her toss a couple of shovels full of coal into the firebox and blow the "horn." (Whistle). She interviewed the conductor, who looked a lot like Don Crimmin but I may be wrong, then interviewed Santa.
The second one was still photos.
The third one was "Steve Should See" which I guess is a regular feature on one of the Twin Cities TV channels. He talked to Steve for a bit, then rode the train and talked to some of the kids after Santa went through. That conductor was there again announcing the "5:30 departure, and it was dark. The reporter then coaxed two of the kids to sing a song from "Frozen."
All of them were good publicity for the North Pole Express.

And Brent, I remember that July 4th, 2004 romp up Short Line Hill. You and Mark entertained me in the tool car and then I drove up to a vantage point to video the run up and back down the hill. Glad I did, because 261 was working hard going up hill, and then the whistling on the downhill trip echoing off the hills was really great. I always suspected, from the whistling, that Robert Franzen was the hogger on that trip.