It's the little engine that could - an economic engine: That's how we would describe The Polar Express, which is offered through the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad here in Elkins.
Its inaugural voyage began last holiday season, when few in the community knew what The Polar Express was or the extent of the journey on which they would embark. In fact, many were like the doubting young boy in the holiday feature film from Warner Bros. Pictures and the beloved children's book written by Chris Van Allsburg on which the local train excursion is based.
The concept of emulating an excursion to the North Pole on Christmas Eve was cute, but in terms of being a driving economic force, some questioned whether it was plausible or only the plot in children's fiction.
Like the theme of The Polar Express, area visionaries, such as Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad President John Smith, had the faith to BELIEVE. They believed there was economic as well as cultural value to The Polar Express. And they believed this stimulus not only would help to sustain tourism after the peak fall season, but it also would translate far beyond the rail yard and to the community as a whole.
Partnering with local talent supplied by The Old Brick Playhouse, the railroad company brought to life the resplendent children's story. Complete with dancing chefs, hot chocolate and none other than the Jolly Old Elf himself - Santa - the train ride is a bit of Christmas magic. It has cast its spell, enchanting locals and visitors both far and wide.
Now in its second year, The Polar Express continues to gain steam. It increased from 26 departures in 2011 to 40 this year, and all have sold out.
Further, area businesses have been able to get in on the spirit through Santa's Workshop. The weekly offering features themed events and live entertainment at downtown businesses in conjunction with the train schedule. Participating businesses display a numbered sign in their windows and this corresponds to a legend on a map that can be found in brochures throughout the community.
Whether a passenger on one of the excursions or a local resident who is looking for some fun, free festivities to enjoy the season, Santa's Workshop offers something for everyone.
So we say to the community, as the conductor asked the boy, "Well, are you coming?"
"Where," the boy responds.
"Why, to the North Pole, of course. This is The Polar Express!"
Yes, this is The Polar Express. It is helping to fill our area hotels, restaurants and shops. It embodies the "I-think-I-can" spirit and shows what is possible if only you believe.
But don't take our word for it. In the story, the magic of Christmas can be heard via the jingling bell from Santa's sleigh, a gift St. Nick gives the doubting boy. The gift of our real-life Polar Express can be heard not in the sound of a bell, but the toot of a steam engine as it roars into the station - and brings with it the hope for a prosperous holiday season for all.