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Jingle of Polar Express keeps magic of Christmas alive

November 23, 2013
By Heather Goodwin Henline - Publisher and General Manager , The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS - Flowing through the air, like dancing musical notes on the wind, a soft jingling of a bell can be heard far and wide.

Close your eyes, listen carefully and see whether you are able to tune in to the magical symphony emanating from the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad's Polar Express holiday train. Running now through mid-December, the sold-out tour departs from the Depot in Elkins.

Its melody beckons like sirens singing in the night. There are no lyrics to this boarding call, though, just the faint tinkling of Santa's sleigh.

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photos by Heather Goodwin Henline
Santa accepts the embrace of Allen Marks of Elkins and wraps the child in his arms after hearing the youngster’s wish list during a recent Polar Express train excursion.

The sound, like that of the Pied Piper's flute, is enchanted. Not everyone can hear the carol of the bells. Only those who hold on to the spirit of Christmas are privy to the tones for true believers of Jolly Old Saint Nick.

Allen Marks of Elkins can hear it. He's among those lucky enough to experience the joy and exuberance that comes with childlike wonderment.

Recently, he traveled on the Polar Express with his family. Accompanied by his mother, Becky, and siblings Randal, Jada and Mozella, this first-time train rider in his elementary school years delighted in all the sights and sounds this special experience includes.

Rivaled only by the toot of the train's horn, the Christmas bell's ringing elicits cries of joy from young and old alike who embark on the make-believe adventure come to life. Almost as if directly from the pages of the beloved children's classic "The Polar Express" by Caldecott award-winning author Chris Van Allsburg, the train excursion by the same name also has become a holiday staple.

Those who ride the train include a mix of local residents and passengers from as far away as Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., said Bonnie Branciaroli, spokeswoman for the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad.

"Is everyone having a good time?" she recently asked above the sounds of excited chatter in a train car packed with passengers.

Cheers erupted along with clapping and a few thumbs-up directed toward Branciaroli in response to her question. Among the riders was one family who had waited since the adventure's inception to get tickets.

"It was definitely worth the wait," Steele City resident Kayla Jurica said, while surrounded by her children.

The train's schedule has grown to accommodate 14,000 passengers each holiday season.

This is more than double the 6,000 who were transported during its debut in 2011. Fast-forward three years, and the economic impact of this "Little-Engine-That-Could" project has grown exponentially as well.

Employing dozens, including actors from The Old Brick Playhouse, the train production is one of more than 30 officially licensed events by Warner Bros. during the holiday season. The storyline in the feature film by Warner Bros., in conjunction with Van Allsburg's book, set the stage for the journey of a lifetime: "A doubting young boy ... takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve."

Passengers of all ages relive this transformative experience. Many choose to wear pajamas, just like in the book and movie, and they are treated to a bevy of experiences that include dancing chefs serving hot chocolate and cookies, a conductor punching golden tickets, and Santa boarding the train for a meet and greet with wide-eyed little ones.

And, just as in the fictional tale, train riders are offered a gift - a silver sleigh bell - for those who truly believe.

"I can hear it. I believe!" Allen exclaimed, wrapping Santa in an appreciative hug after receiving his shiny, silver treasure.

His sister, Mozella, began her voyage with more trepidation. Afraid of the train, her brow furrowed as she looked out the windows. As the minutes ticked by, the tension in her face began to relax. The hands that tightly clenched her souvenir mug of hot chocolate slackened and a wry smile curled the corner of her lip.

As the warmth filled the air - figuratively and literally - moisture formed on the train's wide-stretching windows. Mozella's fears of trains melted, and the middle-schooler's belief in the magic of the holidays soared with that of her younger brother's.

"I'm having fun," she said, fully smiling for the first time since her evening journey began.

She lifted her mug in a celebratory cheer and toasted passengers nearby. Triumphant and confident, her face conveyed a new story: Joy, pure joy.

That is the gift so many who ride the Polar Express receive - if only they dare to hear the jingle of a bell ... if only they believe.



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