Rick Burchett recalls telling his mother, “Mom, watch the kids’ faces when we reach the North Pole,” on their first Polar Express train ride. Afterward, she told him, “Watch the faces of the parents and grandparents watching their kids’ faces at the North Pole!”
Burchett is a board member at the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad and Museum, and it was his idea to bring the Polar Express and Santa Steam Train rides to Lewis County. He encountered the concept at an annual convention of an organization now known as the HeritageRail Alliance. “I brought back the idea and we’ve been doing it ever since,” he explains. The Polar Express is a licensed and trademarked event through Warner Brothers.
“The first year we were just learning the ropes and getting a little experience,” Burchett says. “The funniest thing I remember is that I thought there would be a lot of little kids and their parents. But our very first trip there was a family of five – it included three teenagers all dressed in matching pajamas. That just makes it so fun.”
There are two holiday-themed train rides. The Santa Steam Train is a half-hour trip during the day, with Santa on the train, visiting with the children. This can be a good event for younger kids and families who prefer a shorter ride.
The Polar Express takes families for a one-hour ride at night. “Hot chocolate and cookies are delivered by chefs, just like in the movies,” smiles Burchett. Children sit enthralled as the Polar Express book is read and they try to anticipate what will happen next – both in the book and on their own Polar Express ride.
Once the train reaches “The North Pole,” Santa boards the train and visits with everyone. He even gives each kid a bell, just like in the movie.
Burchett laughs when asked if there’s anything they have to do or are forbidden to do, due to the licensing. “No, there’s nothing we are required to do and nothing we are prohibited from doing. But we don’t have a hobo on the roof with a campfire like in the movie. And we don’t go sliding across an icy lake like in the movie.”
Families can also shop in the gift shop before or after the ride and purchase fun items such as licensed Polar Express gifts, tree ornaments, blankets and more, to memorialize their trip.
The Polar Express and Santa Steam Train rides always sell out. Burchett says the group is looking for more equipment so they can add more cars onto the train. “We hate to turn people away,” he says.
The rides are so fun that many families go every year. “For a lot of families, this is a fun tradition,” explains Burchett. It’s also a lot of fun for the volunteers, many who come back year after year.
And they’re always looking for more help. “We’re reaching out to some organizations for volunteers,” Burchett says. “For instance, we mentioned to a person at our bank and she’s getting a bunch of friends to come and volunteer together. They’re all really looking forward to it. We hope to get more such groups.” They need approximately 12 volunteers for each train ride. If you would like to volunteer, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One more bonus to taking the Polar Express or Santa Steam Train ride through the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad and Museum? “We have free parking,” says Burchett. “Most of our competitors charge $7 per car just to park. We keep it free.”
So call 360-748-9593 or go online today to get your tickets. Add to the experience by dressing in costume or matching pajamas, just as those three fun-loving teenagers did for the very first run of the Polar Express. Don’t miss the magic of these holiday-themed rides. Climb aboard and make memories your family will cherish for generations to come.
Polar Express Schedule
November 23 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
November 24 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
November 25 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
November 30 – 7:00 p.m.
December 1 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
December 2 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
December 7 – 7:00 p.m.
December 8 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
December 9 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
December 14 – 7:00 p.m.
December 15 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
December 16 – 5:00 p.m.
December 21 – 7:00 p.m.
December 22 – 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.
Adults over 16: $38
Kids 3-15: $28
Children under two can ride for free if they can sit on an adult’s lap. However, if they need a seat, a ticket will need to be purchased for them.
Santa Steam Train Schedule
December 1 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
December 2 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
December 8 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
December 9 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
December 15 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
December 16 – 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
Everyone age three and up is $10.
Children under two are free, if they can ride on their parent’s lap.
Chehalis-Centralia Railroad and Museum
1101 Southwest Sylvenus Street