Lyle Woodruff remembers watching the trains come through Rochester, Illinois when he was just six-years-old. And he’s been captivated with trains ever since.
“Some people like trucks, or race cars or hunting. I’m fascinated with trains,” said Woodruff, who is retired from Nestle Purina.
His love of trains brought him to the Kirkwood Amtrak Station three years ago, where he volunteers once a week. The 77-year-old loves to ride the trains, help customers figure out the schedules, and watch the trains go by.
Back in 1949 when Jerry Boshears was just 12-years-old he fell in love with trains.
“Back then (trains) were the fastest thing that was around,” said Jerry, 80. “I always liked trains. They were so powerful.”
He remembers seeing his first diesel train on the Missouri Pacific Line.
“It had a massive light on it. It floored me. It was so magnificent and so powerful,” said Jerry.
His love of trains grew as he started collecting model trains many years ago. When a hobby shop in Frenchtown closed its doors, Jerry was able score a great deal on boxes and boxes of trains. He was able to transform his small display into a collection that now encompasses most of his basement.
“We had to move the washer and dryer upstairs so he could have more space,” said Dorothy Boshears, his wife. “He gave me a little space for the deep freezer.”
Jerry currently has his display divided into four separate and unique settings including a farm scene, a 1950’s stretch of highway, old Victorian houses, and the Northern lights. However, part of the fun of collecting the trains is changing it up.
“He likes to change up the layouts from year to year,” said Dorothy.
Jerry, who volunteers at the Frenchtown Heritage Museum, also helps set up a train display at the museum. The Christmas train display has grown so large that it is now featured in the little red caboose in Frontier Park. The display will be open to the public until Christmas Eve.
Jerry said thousands of people usually come through to check out the train display each Christmas. And meeting the visitors and seeing the wonder as they watch the trains chug along the tracks is the best part.
“The people we meet, who are kids of all ages, is the most fascinating part,” said Jerry.
The fascination with trains seems to have no age range.
Jenny Haferkamp, 34, loved the book The Polar Express when growing up. The children’s book features a young boy who is taken on a magical train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve night. When Haferkamp learned about the Polar Express in Union Station, she knew it was an experience she wanted to share with her three little girls—Ella, 7, Sophie, 5, and Lexi, 2.
“I loved the book, The Polar Express and I wanted my children to experience the magic first hand on the train ride at Union Station,” said Haferkamp.
This is the third year that the Polar Express at St. Louis Union Station has taken families on an enchanting train ride to the North Pole.
“We saw an opportunity to bring a great community event to the St. Louis area and with the help of our partners with Rail Events and Warner Brothers were able to make that happen. Bringing the trains back to St. Louis Union Station has always been a goal for us,” said Cameron Schoeffel, Train Sales & Events Manager at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel.
The Polar Express uses a wide variety of Pullman rail cars to transport children and their parents to North Pole—with entertainment along the way.
“Families can expect a fully interactive holiday experience! With a full Polar Express cast, activities for all ages and lots of cookies and hot chocolate it’s an event they won’t want to miss,” said Schoeffel.
The Polar Express is geared toward children and adults of all ages.
“The Polar Express is one of the largest community Holiday events in the area, and we offer some great pricing that makes it affordable for everyone,” said Schoeffel. “At the Polar Express families will create magical memories that will last a lifetime, the joy of bringing this great story to life is something that we take a lot of pride in and it’s an opportunity for our community to come together.”
There is holiday magic throughout the entire experience and it’s something that the whole family can come out and enjoy, he said.
“Union Station was transformed into the North Pole. The children visited Mrs. Claus’ Bakery, and Elf School where they sat in desks and colored Christmas pictures with Santa’s elves. They danced and drank hot chocolate in the Elves Club,” said Haferkamp.
The train ride is 45 minutes long, while the overall experience before and after the ride is about two hours total.
“We loved the train ride to the North Pole,” said Haferkamp. “The staff was full of energy and provided great entertainment. They danced and sang songs with the children. The children loved seeing the lights at the North Pole and getting a visit from Santa himself on the train.”
The Polar Express also offers Magical Meal that takes place in Grand Hall at St. Louis Union Station.
“This event offers guests the opportunity to visit with the Polar Express conductor, his elf and enjoy a wonderful buffet dinner. We also add in our wonderful 3D light show for a really interactive experience,” said Schoeffel.
Haferkamp said all three of her girls loved every minute of the magical experience.
“They loved meeting Mrs. Claus and the elves in the Union Station North Pole. They loved taking the train ride with cookies and hot chocolate to the North Pole to meet Santa,” said Haferkamp, who has already bought her tickets for this year. “Children are only little for so long and I want them to experience all of the magic of Christmas.”
So, no matter your age, trains of all types are magical during Christmas time.
“It was the perfect experience to get in the Christmas spirit and experience some Christmas magic,” said Haferkamp.
For more information about the Polar Express at Union Station, visit www.stlpolarexpressride.com.