KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The Three Rivers Rambler Christmas Express is a holiday favorite for Knoxville families.
Made in Tennessee arrived at Volunteer Landing to catch a ride on a picture-perfect Friday morning. Most of the riders were kids, full of excitement and curiosity and decked out in their pajamas.
One car was full of first graders from Norris Elementary School. As they boarded, some wanted to know, "Are we going to the North Pole?" With a smile, the conductor told them yes.
In reality the Christmas Express, which runs weekends from Thanksgiving to near Christmas, is an 11-mile trip from downtown Knoxville to the quarry at Marbledale and back again.
The ride includes a car of special holiday treats, story time and a visit from Santa.
The story "The Christmas Lantern" is written by Knoxville author and Rambler manager Karen Bishop. She was onboard as one of the guest readers the day of our trip.
Bishop says writing the book and adding it to their holiday train trip was a perfect way to marry her love of writing and her family's passion for trains.
Another highlight of the ride was the steam engine. Our train was pulled by a piece of local history. Engine 154 was restored by Bishop's family.
"It ran in Knoxville for a number of years and was built in the 1890s. We really view her as a treasure," she said.
Bishop also says it's possible Engine 154 is one of the oldest running steam engines in the U.S.
Halfway through the trip, we watched as riders filled the outside train car to get a closer look at 154. When the train stopped the engine moved alongside it, changing locations to pull us back downtown.
At the same time on the other end of the train, Santa boarded, stopping and talking to each child.
Unlike some visits with Santa, kids on the Christmas Express have a chance to spend some quality time with him. Santa stays on board for the remainder of the trip, handing out small gifts, posing for pictures and helping make some great family memories.
This is the last weekend for the Christmas Express this season, and all the trips sold out by late this week.