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Christmas choo-choo chugs into Crossroads

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 27, 2011 at 5:27 a.m.

The six-car Kansas City Southern Holiday Express pulls into Victoria at Business  Highway 59 and Burroughsville  Road on Sunday afternoon. Three of the cars can be toured and in the caboose, visitors  can visit with Santa Claus.  The KCS Charitable Fund will  make a contribution of gift  cards to the local Salvation  Army to provide warm clothing  and other necessities for children in need.

On any other day in Victoria, the railroad tracks at the corner of Burroughsville Road and Business Highway 59 are largely quiet.

But Sunday, it was Christmas Central.

"I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," "I Saw Santa Kissing Santa Claus," and "Jingle Bell Rock," were a few of the Christmastime tunes clamoring from the six-car Kansas City Southern Holiday Express, which rolled into Victoria on Sunday afternoon.

Hundreds of children and adults navigated rows of long-stemmed wild grass and gravel terrain to line up alongside the tracks and catch a glimpse of the holiday-adorned train.

"I love the lights. I love everything. I love Christmas," said Goliad resident Caitlin Cope, 12.

Moments later, after walking through three cars of white and blue lights, Santa dolls and toy trains, Caitlin said, "The line looks very long, but once you get to the front, it's worth it."

Caitlin walked through the Holiday Express with Morgan Jeanneret, 14, also of Goliad.

"It's all holidayish. Everyone's like 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Holidays,'" Morgan said, describing the train's team of volunteer staff donning green and red elf costumes.

Inside the train, the girls said they stopped and visited with Santa Claus to vocalize their gift wishes for Christmas morning.

"I told him I wanted iTunes gift cards," Caitlin said.

"I said I wanted a new phone," Morgan added.

Santa Claus, also known as KCS employee Brian Duckworth, said the strangest gift request he'd heard so far on the trip was from a woman requesting a husband.

"That one was pretty funny," Santa chuckled.

Since 2001, Kansas City Southern's Holiday Express has traveled to numerous cities along the rail line's route spreading Christmas cheer and doling out gifts and charitable donations to families in need.

"I've heard many people tell me, 'Some of my kids wouldn't have had Christmas at all if you didn't stop through town,'" said Willis Kilpatrick, KCS Director of Heritage Operations, also known Sunday as "Head Elf."

Before exiting the train, Holiday Express elves give the children goodie bags filled with toys, candy and coloring books.

Kilpatrick, who donned a green elf wardrobe, red hat, and silver, jingling bells on his shoes, has worked for KCS for 16 years and helped launch the Holiday Express 11 years ago.

"It's one of the ways Kansas City Southern gives back to the community," the Head Elf said, mentioning the rail line's donation to the Victoria Salvation Army.

More than 35 Holiday Express volunteers give up about a month of their time to live on the train and spread the magic of Christmas to thousands of children.

Last year, more than 55,000 patrons walked through the Christmas rail cars, Kilpatrick said.

This season, the holiday train will visit 27 cities in seven states. It departed the station in Kendleton on Friday and will end in Blue Springs, Mo., on Dec. 21.

"I haven't spent Thanksgiving with my family in years, but it's worth it to be a part of this," Kilpatrick said.



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