Story by Ammie Bryant, Editor
Christmas came early this year for Stillwater when we received the news that the Eastern Flyer *Polar Express would be moving operations to the Stillwater Santa Fe Railroad depot located on the sole remaining stretch of brick road just east of Downtown Stillwater on Ninth avenue. Departing from Stillwater, Oklahoma, the magical story of “The Polar Express” comes to life with round trip service to the “North Pole” beginning November 18, 2016.
For the first time since 1953, the Stillwater Santa Fe Train Depot will see passengers boarding trains from the historic depot. The Stillwater Depot was built by the Santa Fe Railway Company between 1911 and 1917, although train service began in 1900. The Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
The oldest section of the building–a frame structure–was built soon after the rail line to Stillwater was completed. The building housed both a freight and a passenger depot with an open air passenger waiting area on the north side, which is now fully enclosed. Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma now own the building, which houses their national headquarters office, conference room, and storage. Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma are honorary college and university band service organizations.
Although Eastern Flyer has made arrangements with these organizations for office space in the depot, passengers will not have access to the interior of the building. Departures will take place from an outdoor area of the grounds.
The Polar Express train ride is not new to Oklahoma; it had previously been running out of Bristow, Oklahoma. We had a chance to visit with Neil Bagaus, Polar Express Train Conductor, when he visited Stillwater in August. Neil explained that the train runs on the Stillwater Central Railroad through Bristow, and due to the increased freight business, the railroad decided it could not spare the space on the Bristow tracks for the Polar Express train rides. However Neil explained that Stillwater “runs one train a week, so the Eastern Flyer chose to move the Polar Express to Stillwater.”
Approximately 60 trains will run between November 18 and December 23. Each train will include eight or nine cars, most of which were built during the 1950s and 1960s, including the famed dome Santa Fe railroad car. The Polar Express will offer 75 seasonal jobs for area job-seekers, including: cast members, ticketing agents, gift shop clerks, parking attendants, sound technicians, marketing, and bookkeeping.
“We could not be more thrilled to be the host city for the Eastern Flyer Polar Express,” stated Cristy Morrison, President & CEO of Visit Stillwater. “We so look forward to welcoming travelers from all over the state to experience this magical journey.”
Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, passengers will relive the magic of the story as they are whisked away on The Polar Express. Once onboard, hot chocolate and treats are served as passengers read along with the classic children’s book, “The Polar Express”, by Chris Van Allsburg. Santa and his helpers greet passengers at the North Pole and then board the train, where each child is given the first gift of Christmas – a silver sleigh bell. Chefs aboard each car lead passengers in singing Christmas carols on the ride back to Stillwater.
The journey begins November 18 and runs through December 23 on select dates. Ticket prices start at $32/adults and $22/children (ages 2-11), depending on date and class of service. Exact dates, fares and excursion times are available by calling 855-487-1430 or by visiting www.EasternFlyerPolarExpressRide.com. Seats are filling up fast, so get your golden ticket soon!
Families are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride!
The depot address is located at 401 E 9th Ave., Stillwater, OK 74074.
*THE POLAR EXPRESS and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Based on THE POLAR EXPRESS book and characters TM & © 1985 by Chris Van Allsburg. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.