Dick and Charlsia Schall were enjoying a Sunday drive with their three children when they stumbled upon Santa Train and decided to hop aboard. That was 1972, and they haven’t missed a year since.
As they waited to board, Dick remembers watching a flagpole. When a pennant matching the color of their tickets was raised, it was their time to ride. A steam locomotive pulled the train from Route 202 about 1/4 mile into a forest where Snoqualmie Parkway is today. The Schalls stepped off the train and gathered around a bonfire, where they were served hot cocoa and homemade cookies.
Santa Train has evolved over the course of 40 years. (It began in 1969.) But cocoa and cookies remain a constant. Today, guests file through the museum’s historic railway kitchen car to receive cookies baked inside coal-burning stoves. Hot chocolate is warmed in a huge pot on top of the stove.
Why did the Schalls keep coming back? “It was good entertainment for the kids,” says Dick. “They liked to ride on the train.” OK, be honest now. Dick adds, “I have always been fond of the railroad and trains.”
That excitement over the train ride is another constant. “The kids all remain the same,” says Charlsia. “It’s still the same kind of family involvement.”
Dick, Charlsia, Tim, Peter and Andrick have attended Santa Train in sunshine, snow, sleet, rain, even floods. One year, Dick and Charlsia thought their children had outgrown the event. But when they announced they wouldn’t be going, one son would hear none of it. It was tradition. And now the tradition includes Dick and Charlsia’s granddaughters, Teagan and Shaleigh, as well.
The story doesn’t end there. In 1999, Dick and Charlsia began volunteering for Santa Train. In the years since, they’ve baked cookies, decorated the Snoqualmie Depot, assisted Santa, and led singing on the train. A young boy dubbed Dick “Mr. Bells,” because Dick wears bells on his cap to amuse toddlers. Their son Peter has also volunteered for Santa Train. And now, Dick and Charlsia volunteer at the Northwest Railway Museum year round once a week, helping with collection care, archiving, preparing mailings, and other vital projects.
So this year, ride Santa Train if you dare! You never know where it may lead.