Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

November 10, 2013

Polar Express: The 'Magic Of Christmas'

• The delightful children's book comes to life on a Texas State Railroad jaunt!

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress


The North Pole. Santa Claus. Elves. Pajama people. The strong narrative voice of Ra's al Ghul himself — veteran actor Liam Neeson. It's like the inside of your sleeping child's dreaming brain come to very vivid life.

"The Polar Express" is a Texas State Railroad train ride based on Chris Van Allsburg’s eponymous award-winning 1985 children's book.

The ride offers both children and parents the opportunity to slide into their pajamas — the children in PJs nickname themselves "pajama people" — while they take a magical tour to the North Pole.

The final quote in Van Allsburg's book pretty much says it all:

"At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."

The book, set somewhat in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was written to be a relaxing yet epic Christmas story for young ones. Van Allsburg — a former professor at the Rhode Island School of Design — went out of his way to make the book as comfortable a read as possible, going so far as to incorporate his home town into the tale.

Ultimately, he received the Caldecott Medal for children's literature in 1986 for the book and saw it named "one of the Top 100 Picture Books of all time" in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.

“The Polar Express” became a Oscar-nominated, 2004 “motion-capture” film starring the one and only Tom Hanks. But the local ride does the classic story an incredible amount of justice.

Imagine the commanding voice of actor Liam Neeson (Batman Begins, Darkman, Schindler's List, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace) orating over the intercom as hot chocolate and cookies are served all around.

Neeson's classic voice almost hits the same, soothing notes as Danny Kaye in 1952 musical film Hans Christian Anderson. And remember, parents, becoming “the pajama people” is very important to the youngsters.

So adults and children both are encouraged to wear matching pajamas as they take the ride. A dome car will be part of Polar Express again this year. These double decker passenger rail cars offer a fantastic experience on the lower level.

Additionally, "special winter wonderland-themed decorations and larger windows are the highlights of the upper seating area, 16-feet above the rails.," according to a news release. By the way, the Texas State Railroad itself is considered a "Texas Treasure" in its own right — offering 25-mile steam train ride through East Texas piney woods and boarded at Victorian-style depots in Palestine and Rusk.

So the Polar Express is a very popular ride on a very popular railroad. The Texas State Railroad's Facebook following has literally doubled in the past year or so, according to reports. During the magical ride, passengers will ultimately arrive at the "North Pole," where Santa Claus and his dancing elves will be waiting. Boarding the train to distribute gifts, Santa and the Elves make their presence indicative of everything a child appreciates about Christmas.

To top the experience off, the train return home will be graced by magnificent Christmas caroling. This year's seventh annual ride runs Nov. 15 through Dec. 30. Tickets are currently on sale. Special school runs are scheduled for December 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

"It is a very special, memorable train ride for families to enjoy together," Railroad Spokeswoman Janet Gregg explained in the news release. “Last year we sold nearly 44,000 tickets during the six weeks of Polar Express, and had visitors from 35 states and three countries,”

Christmas decorations adorn the Palestine Depot. Lee Loveless Photography will offer commemorative photos. Mementos can be purchased in the Polar Express gift shop. Food vendors will also be on hand. Guests can choose from three classes of service — Diamond Class, which is upper dome car seating, Lone Star Class and Standard Class. So, remember … this experience is there for the taking.

For those who truly believe.


The Polar Express™ Train Ride Departing the Palestine Depot: 3:45 p.m., 5:15 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. Dates: November 15-17, 22-24, 29-30 | December 1, 4-8, 11-23, 26-29 https://www.texasstaterr.com/polar-express/