Today is the first day of Santa Train, the Museum’s grand holiday tradition that first ran in 1969 right here in Snoqualmie. 40 years of Santa Train has brought many changes, not the least of which has expanded the audience to nearly 11,000 patrons. Harvey Girl and I will be writing several posts about Santa Train and today I am going to talk about the evolution of this event. In future posts, we will be talking about why we run Santa Train, what goes into transforming the depot for Santa Train, and talking about some of the people who attend Santa Train.
The Northwest Railway Museum began its first regularly-scheduled public programs in 1967 with a short rail excursion along the reconstructed Niblock Spur. (This line served the Snoqualmie Coal and Coke Company beginning in 1889, and later was used as a log reload spur. It was removed circa 1954.) In that era, Snoqualmie was a rural community far removed from Seattle and Bellevue and patrons had to be more deliberate about visiting. Volunteers wanted to find a way to thank the people who had supported the program so the Museum decided to host a Santa Train. For a modest fare, patrons could ride ½ mile into the woods, visit with Santa and enjoy a hot cocoa and cookie baked in a railway kitchen. Popularity was instant. Line ups to buy tickets stretched as far as the eye could see and by the following year the “thank you event” had become an annual program.
Santa Train in the woods continued to be popular but in 1976 an opportunity to improve the event arrived: the Burlington Northern Railroad donated the Snoqualmie Depot and a portion of the Snoqualmie Branch to the Museum. While the Depot needed substantial restoration, it was a big improvement over a camp in the woods (particularly when it was raining) and became the host location where people boarded the train, got their refreshments and visited with Santa. Popularity remained high and by midday often hundreds of people were in line to buy tickets.
By the late eighties, popularity – Santa Train now served several thousand patrons – was hampering the enjoyment of the event for many people. In response, the Museum introduced advance ticket sales where people could order tickets by telephone. In an era before the Internet was popularized and when credit cards were less common, there was some trepidation. However after the first season, this approach had proved itself and patrons began to expect the presale of tickets.
More change came in 1987 with the dedication of the North Bend Depot. Museum planners saw the opportunity to have people board in North Bend, travel by train to Snoqualmie, get off the train to visit with Santa and enjoy refreshments, and then board the train for their return to North Bend. This destination model was adopted a few years later and continues to this day.
Other improvements have been added in recent years too. Santa has been giving a small gift to children for over 10 years. Web-based ticketing was introduced in 2002 and now nearly 90% of all tickets are sold there. A fifth and sixth day were added in 1996; a seventh day in 2007. And for the future? This year’s event sold out on November 1st but tickets for Santa Train 2009 will go on sale to members in August 2009. Why not find out for yourself?