By Konstantine Fekos
Santa Claus’ appearance in Meadville rekindled more than the Christmas spirit for some 50 or more children and adults gathered in Pomona Park to await his arrival Sunday night — he rekindled an old tradition bringing the city back to its roots.
Assisted by representatives of the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad, Santa traded his lane for a train and rode the rails into town to pass out candy and greet local residents.
The event, like many other Claus-occupied train rides around the country, is a revival of an older tradition, the knowledge of which is passed down by word of mouth from former railroad workers now in their golden years, according to Dennis Mead, vice president for the French Creek Valley Railroad Historical Society.
“The old-timers said it was an Erie-Lackawanna Railroad tradition,” he said, estimating most Meadville Santa train runs took place in the early 1960s. “The station was still (in the city) at that time. They’d put Santa on a switcher and caboose and bring him up to the platform to greet the kids.”
Meadville’s status as a major railroad city at that time served as a definite motivation for Santa/train combination entertaining children and spreading publicity for the railroads, Mead said.
“So many people in Meadville worked for the railroad in years past,” he said. “The idea was to make the kids think Santa was a railroader.”
The former Santa trains of the area ran solely on Meadville tracks, the most recent of which was a brief 2008 revival by the FCVRHS, using a WNY&P train to bring Santa to the Downtown Mall.
This year’s train came into town all the way from Falconer, N.Y., making stops in Jamestown and Salamanca, according to Tom Collard, retired vice president of the WNY&P railroad.
Whether braving the snow for a look at the train or a free candy cane, faces of the kids and parents seemed to light up when Santa’s train, decorated with Christmas lights, came honking around the bend from Bessemer Street on Sunday evening.
“They’re having a blast,” Christina Reger said of her two daughters, who had the chance meet jolly old St. Nicholas himself. “This is awesome. I think they should do this every year, maybe even open the train for kids to look inside.”
WNY&P President Carl Belke agrees the event should be made an annual one.
He called the event a success based on the turnout and overall joyfulness of the evening.
“I think we’re off to a good start,” he said. “This is something we’ve been wanting to do for some time.”
The inspiration for a train-related Christmas event came from wanting to show appreciation, not only to WNY&P employees, but the city of Meadville as well, Belke said.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.