Santa arrives at Santa Paula Depot on vintage Fillmore & Western steam train
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: December 02, 2011
There were plenty of hats covering heads against the cold Saturday night, but so many of the toppers looked the same it soon became obvious what was up: the sea of red Santa hats was a reflection of a special guest about to arrive on a vintage steam train at the historic Depot.
And soon enough a whistle was heard in the distance, that telltale chugging sound filled the air and brightly colored lights came into view as the Fillmore & Western Railway steam train carrying Santa Claus arrived to greet the hundreds of people who had gathered.
Prior to his arrival it was hard to tell the kids from the adults in the swelling crowd. One man wearing a Santa hat was handing out peppermint canes specially decorated with a removable Santa candy.
“I’m really, really, really excited!” said 5-year-old Bruce Villegas of Santa Paula as he peered up the tracks cloaked in darkness. “I only want three things,” Bruce said he would ask of Santa, but his list soon grew to more than a dozen toys before he stopped and shut his eyes. “I have to think about it,” Bruce finally said. “I’m too excited!”
Adults were excited too: “I love Santa and I love the train... it’s a magical thing that happens in Santa Paula,” said Mary Ann Krause, the city’s former mayor who was waiting for St. Nick with her husband Karl Krause.
The circa-1913 steam train pulling just a few cars from the 1920s started in Ventura and was making numerous stops along the way before coming to Santa Paula and then home to Fillmore. It was easy to spot the holiday light bedecked train as it pulled into the Santa Paula Depot, Santa waving and shouting from the caboose that had even more extravagant lights and tinsel accents.
Santa had candy canes to give out and he posed for photos as his helpers passed out coloring books and crayons. Several people in the crowd had toys to give Santa for distribution by Fillmore-based public safety organizations for needy children.
Santa himself also got a present: Amber Wineman, 7, of Newbury Park somberly handed him a Santa crafted from candy, noting only “For you.”
Fillmore & Western owner Dave Wilkinson estimated that about 1,500 people had seen Santa along the various stops, and he was expecting about 250 more “waiting for us in Fillmore.”
As kids rushed to Santa, some handing him wish lists, all posing for photos - including many adults - and proclaiming their joy at seeing the man with all the toys, Wilkinson proclaimed himself a believer: “Do I believe in Santa? You bet! You have to believe in Santa when you see something like this.”
The Santa Train had run for more than a dozen years when it went on hiatus for several holiday seasons, perhaps due to the economic crisis that affected even the North Pole.
Although Santa and his helpers - including Ventura County Sheriff’s deputies - were the lone passengers on Saturday’s special steam train tour, Fillmore & Western offers several special trains for the holidays, including Christmas Tree trains, North Pole Express and the Santa Shopper Train. The nonprofit California Locomotive Preserve presented Saturday’s Santa Train.
For information about the Fillmore & Western Railway Co. holiday train schedule, go online to http://www.fwry.com or call 524-2546.