Hundreds of people - many in pajamas - celebrated in downtown Elkins Thursday as the annual Polar Express holiday train made its first voyages of the year.
The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad's extremely popular Christmas excursion began its third season at the Elkins Train Depot, and the extravaganza included a Pajama Parade in the Town Square, with participants sporting their nightclothes to ride the train, just as in the "Polar Express" book and movie.
Some passengers traveled great distances to ride the Polar Express Thursday. Stephany Dove brought a group with her from the Good Life Corporation, a residential program in New Market, Va.
The Inter-Mountain photos by Tim MacVean
A pajama-clad crowd waits as the Polar Express pulls into the Elkins Train Depot Thursday to drop off the early trip’s passengers and board the second group of voyagers for their journey to the ‘North Pole.’
Lars Byrne, who plays the Polar Express conductor, walks along the Depot supplying passengers with tickets required to board the train.
Claire Cooper, age 6, of Morgantown shows off her winning artwork for the Inter-Mountain coloring contest. She received tickets to ride the Polar Express as her prize.
"This is our first time on the train and it sounded like a really cool thing to do to get in the holiday spirit," Dove said.
Carrie Darby traveled from Daniels with her family, including 4-year-old son Colten and 2-year-old daughter Charli, to ride the Polar Express for the first time.
"We have friends that have been on the train and had a wonderful time so we thought it would be a good way to get into the Christmas spirit," Darby said.
The Inter-Mountain coloring contest winner, Claire Cooper, 6, of Morgantown, attended the event with her mother, Melinda Cooper. Claire won the contest with her festive holiday art which included a snowman, a candy cane and other Christmas icons.
"I used a snowman stencil from my art kit," she said, "He was wearing a skirt so it was a snow-woman."
Claire heard about the contest from her grandparents, Greg and Brenda Cooper of Harman. She was very excited to ride the train and said her favorite part was "when they punch 'believe' into the tickets behind their backs."
The Polar Express is a themed train based on the book written by Chris Van Allsburg. The ride is set to the soundtrack from the movie version, which starred Tom Hanks.
Children will find all the characters from both the book and movie aboard the train, including the conductor, the dancing chefs and the mischievous hobo.
Thursday featured the first two of 50 Polar Express runs this year, running through Dec. 15. Each trip carries 274 passengers, with a total of 14,000 scheduled to take the trip this season. The train travels 32 miles to the "North Pole" and lasts about 75 minutes round trip.
John Smith, president of the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad, said, "We pick up Santa on the trip, and have energetic entertainment from dancing chefs, who pour hot chocolate to a hobo that we try to get off the train because he is constantly saying there is no Christmas.
"There are magic tricks along with every child receiving a bell and a visit from Santa Claus," Smith said.
All passengers will also receive a souvenir mug specially designed just for the Polar Express train, Smith said.
As the Polar Express has grown, so has community enthusiasm and involvement. The Old Brick Playhouse orchestrates the entertainment on the train and in the Elkins Depot Caboose Room. Santa's Workshop spread from the Caboose Room last year into downtown Elkins. Merchants participated in planned activities for children visiting Elkins to ride the train. Elkins ON TRAC and the railroad aided in marketing the events.
This year, Elkins ON TRAC is spearheading the downtown Santa's Workshop program, which will feature activities on Fridays and Saturdays. The RailYard Restaurant is also again offering their Holiday Package, a holiday meal with live Christmas music prior to the Polar departures, and new to the agenda this year is the showing of "The Polar Express" movie every day the train runs at Elkins Cinema 8 at the Tygart Valley Mall. Movie time is 1 p.m. daily.
Beginning Nov. 29, American Mountain Theater and Gandy Dancer Theatre open their annual Christmas shows. Matinees are scheduled as well. The American Mountain Theater has scheduled shows every day The Polar Express pulls out of the Depot.
For more information about the Polar Express, go to www.mountainrailwv.com.