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Heaven Craig’s compass was working just fine Saturday afternoon as she rode to Heath Springs on the L&C Railway’s Santa Express with friends Ty’Keahja McIlwain and Ari Adams.
She may have been riding southbound in the Hollywood Beach dome car, but Heaven knew she was headed to Heath Springs’ North Pole Adventure.
“That’s where Santa is,” the giggling 5-year-old said.
She was right, too, and had a chance to visit with the jolly old elf at the Heath Springs depot just as the sun was starting to set.
The depot was a busy place Saturday and Sunday as 570-plus passengers rode the rails between the L&C headquarters on Lancaster's South Main Street and Lancaster County’s smallest town.
And just like every other time, the Christmas-themed ride drew those who had never ridden the rails.
“It’s good riding in a train,” Ashleigh Hoke said. “I’ve never done it before.”
Now in its third year, the Santa Express continues to draw interest from first-time riders like Ashleigh and Linda Carter.
Saturday’s Santa Express was an early Christmas gift for Carter, who rode the 10.5-mile stretch in a bedroom compartment in the J.P Henderson car with her mother-in-law, two daughters-in-law and four grandchildren.
“It’s just wonderful,” Carter said.
“When I found out about the Santa Express, I asked my husband, David, to get us tickets,” she said. “I’ve never been on a train ride, either, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. We had a bed for the little monkeys to jump on, but they had more fun looking out the windows.”
This year, volunteers like Charlene McGriff added to the holiday cheer of the Santa Express, serving as hosts and hostesses on each rail car.
Dressed head to toe as an elf, when McGriff wasn’t leading carols, she was walking the aisle of the Hollywood Beach in her red, pointed shoes to get the Christmas wishes of each youngster.
“I’m tight with Santa Claus,” McGriff said. “I’ll make sure he finds out what you want.”
McGriff wasn’t the only one to dress the part – so did Carrie Miller, events coordinator for See Lancaster.
With her hair in braids and teased up around an over-sized cone, a bathrobe-wearing Miller greeted train riders as Cindy Lou Who from Dr. Seuss’ book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The Grinch was there with her, too.
Miller expects that photos of children with Cindy Lou, the Grinch and singing Christmas tree Lorrie Brewer are on refrigerator doors throughout the county now.
“I know I’ve had my photo taken a ton of times,” Miller said. “Everybody wants to have their picture made with the Grinch.”
The Santa Express continues to draw sellout crowds, said See Lancaster’s Sylvia Hudson.
Hudson was at the See Lancaster office in the Springs House for the annual Christmas Garden Tour of Homes Sunday afternoon.
“I was here for one thing, but you would’ve thought it was for the train ride. We had calls all day long from people looking for tickets,” Hudson said.
See Lancaster, whose mission is to encourage tourism, stimulate downtown tourism and preserve the county’s historic sites, co-sponsors Santa Express, along with the L&C, Lancaster County, city of Lancaster, town of Heath Springs, Comporium Communications, Duke Energy and Founder’s Federal Credit Union. The L&C employees donate their time to help, too.
“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” Miller said. “We appreciate all of them who help make it a success.”
– Contact features editor Greg Summers at 283-1156.