By Patrick Svitek of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
NEW HAVEN â€“ Momentarily sitting alone inside a vintage train Saturday morning, Santa Claus found himself in a rare position: fighting for children’s attention.
â€œThey’re more concerned about the train than Santa,â€ he said as some parents pried their children away from the lookout compartment so they could quickly share their wish lists. â€œSanta’s just the icing on the cake. It’s really something.â€
Although both attractions have been part of the name of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s Santa Train, this year’s run highlighted a renewed focus on Santa.
Because of the event’s growing popularity, the society added another caboose to the annual Christmas-themed train ride, said Tom Nitza, railroad historical society training manager.
More than 1,600 riders boarded the diesel, electric, switch-engine train through the end of Saturday â€“ the third and last date for this year’s Santa Train program, according to a preliminary tally by Kelly Lynch, the society’s communications manager. That final count is nearly double the event’s three-day attendance when it first started about 13 years ago, Nitza added.
By noon Saturday, a line of nearly 50 ticket holders waiting for the next train stretched toward the back of the society’s restoration facility in New Haven, almost bumping into a closed-off work area.
Fort Wayne resident Henry Rivera had no qualms about the increasing wait after stepping off the Santa Train with his wife and children.
â€œFirst of all, (we did it) because he loves trains,â€ Rivera said, motioning toward his 3-year-old son. â€œAnd that’s the first thing we know that has trains close to home.â€
Saturday marked the first Santa Train rides for Fort Wayne resident Dan Farrimond and his 2-year-old grandson, who he described as â€œin love with the trains.â€
Farrimond said he was especially pleased with how affordable the entire experience was â€“ $4 per rider â€“ when compared with other city draws like the zoo or, during less chilly days, public swimming pools. He also hailed what he viewed as a dying breed of a Christmas attraction in the Midwest.
â€œEspecially when looking online, there aren’t that many,â€ Farrimond said. â€œIt’s a novelty. For them to have something like this in Fort Wayne, I’m very grateful.â€
â€œIt’s a lot different,â€ Santa said. â€œThe train is fascinating. It’s something none of these kids have ever done.â€