MT. PLEASANT — The North Pole Express, an annual fundraising event put on by locomotive enthusiasts’ group Midwest Central Railroad (MCRR), transforms the Old Threshers grounds into a Christmas wonderland for the holiday season.
Participants arrive on site at the North Depot where it all starts. Once aboard a cozy train coach, the experience begins with a telling of the Polar Express story en route to the “North Pole.” Upon arrival, riders are met with decorative snow, sparkling lights, rows of Christmas trees, and a team of Santa’s helpers.
“Where else can you ride a real train to the North Pole?” said Matt Crull, MCRR president.
Families can choose from activities like decorating plates to take home, checking out the model train displays, and taking family photos. Throughout the event families can also meet volunteers as characters like the ice princess and Santa’s elves — a point of pride for the group.
“No, we don’t hire any actors,” said Crouch. “Everybody that’ll be here today will be volunteers.”
And, of course, there’s a line to catch up with the big man himself.
“We’re here to see ‘HoHo,’” said Susan Brown visiting with her 17-month-old son Blaze. “That’s what he calls Santa.”
If you get hungry, you can warm up at the hot choco station next to the gift shop for a treat.
Altogether the event takes about two hours, but the preparation takes a bit longer.
A team of approximately 25 people spend nearly three weeks turning the football field sized warehouse into the North Pole, according to Crouch. But it’s a long held tradition she’s happy to take part in even well into her 60s.
“It’s kind of a big fundraiser for us,” said Crouch. “We’re running narrow gauge, actual locomotives so they require a lot of work.”
She and her husband Jerry Crouch, MCRR treasurer, have been helping out with the North Pole Express for nearly two decades, among other MCRR fundraising events. Even the news of a life-threatening condition hasn’t swayed her volunteering. Crouch who is currently battling stage four ovarian cancer, sees it as a reason to stay active and give back to the community.
“I guess I’ve been here longer than I thought,” said Crouch thinking through to her days volunteering.
Tickets for the event are $25 for general admission and can be purchased online at the MCRR website. The North Pole Express runs Nov. 30, Dec. 1, Dec. 7 — 8, and Dec. 14 — 15. Visit the group’s site online at mcrr.org.