Did you know that Santa Claus loves trains? For proof, visit Western Connecticut where the man in red can be found presiding over weekend workshops in his own private rail cars and riding the rails with Mrs. Claus on his time off. Train rides with Santa have long been a traditional part of the Christmas scene in the region’s Fairfield and Litchfield Counties, where the treats also include legendary lavish miniature train layouts. One of the most popular model train displays, in the historic New Milford railroad station, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Get on Board with Santa
You can find Santa and Mrs. Claus taking a break every weekend from November 30 through December 22 aboard the Santa Express, a restored 1920s vintage train from the New England Railroad Museum in Thomaston. Even when he is off duty, Santa doesn’t forget his young admirers. He brings along a bag of gifts for small passengers.
This is a special outing for train buffs, the only rail ride in North America that crosses the face of a dam and the view from Thomaston Dam is spectacular. The 80-minute ride from the historic 1881 Thomaston Station also hugs the edge of the Naugatuck River, and passes through lovely state forest lands.
In this busy season, Santa often has to work late, and special Northern Lights Limited tours from Thomaston let passengers make a stop at Santa’s Train Workshop, where he makes time to come aboard and greet everyone.
At the end of the ride, a model train layout is in action at the station, and a large selection of railroad theme gifts, books and memorabilia is available.
The Santa Express begins its runs on December 1, then every Saturday and Sunday through December 22 at 2 p.m.. The Northern Lights Limited departs on November 30 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., December 1 at 5 p.m. and at both 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from December 7 to 22. Tickets and information are available from the Railroad Museum of New England, online at www.rmne.org, or by phoning (860) 283-7245.
For further information and advance tickets, see www.rmne.com or phone 860-283-7245.
Riding the Rails in Danbury
Santa also has his own private rail car weekend workshop at the Danbury Railway Museum, a classic 1903 station with a railroad yard filled with vintage train cars. Visitors can board one of the working trains on a 20-minute ride through the yard to visit with Santa and receive a small gift.
Free hot chocolate, a miniature train layout and many fascinating railroad exhibits are waiting at the restored station, along with activities for kids including temporary tattoos and coloring stations. Once again there is a shop with gifts for railroad buffs of all ages.
Trains leave from the station every half hour from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, December 7, 14 and 21 and Sundays December 8 and 15 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. For tickets and information, www.Danbury.org or phone: (203) 778-8337. Because Santa often works late as Christmas nears, a special train will run to visit him on Saturday, December 21 at 4:30 p.m.
Mini-Worlds of Magic
The whiz and whistle of toy trains are among the happiest sounds of the season and some of the most magical layouts anywhere can be found in Fairfield County and Litchfield Hills.
One of the oldest traditions is the Hands On Train Display in New Milford, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The set-up here is unique because visitors are allowed to play engineer, taking a turn at the controls, starting and stopping the action and operating signals and lights. The layout transforms the waiting room of New Milford’s restored vintage train station into a Lilliputian landscape of hills, valleys and villages, with four big layouts of scale model Lionel trains crisscrossing miniature towns populated by tiny figures dressed in winter finery. The setup includes almost 100 feet of track. The trains operate daily from noon to 4 p.m. December 21 to 29. This yearly free event is sponsored by the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce, www.newmilford-chamber.org.
A winter wonderland of holiday scenery surrounds the tracks of the annual Holiday Express Train Show at the Fairfield Historical Society. The show opens following Fairfield’s Tree Lighting on Saturday, December 7 and continues through January 5. Hours are Monday to Friday 11a.m. -1 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon – 4 p.m. A selection of unique gifts will be on sale in the museum shop. Learn more at www.fairfieldhistory.org or phone (203) 259-1598.
The Wilton Historical Society’s annual Great Trains exhibit features many layouts and a wide range of makes and gauges of model trains traversing scenic local landscapes. The Society promises new decorations around the trains this year guaranteed to dazzle. Dates are Saturday, November 30 through Monday, January 20, Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Find out details at www.wiltonhistorical.org or phone 203-762-7257.
The Brookfield Museum and Historical Society’s annual Family Christmas Open House on Saturday, December 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. always includes fine model train layouts in a winter holiday setting. This year the free event will also feature antique music boxes along with live carolers, taking turns to fill the air with Christmas favorites. Santa will be on hand and there will be homemade cookies, hot chocolate and mulled cider for all. Learn more at www.brookfieldcthistory.org or phone 708-485-3420.
For more information about train events and other holiday fun in the region and a free copy of UNWIND, a full-color, 152-page booklet detailing what to do and see, and where to stay, shop and dine in Western Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills and Fairfield County, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, or visit their web site at www.visitwesternct.com