Holiday Express returning to Heavener Dec. 6

Amanda Corbin
News Reporter

The Kansas City Southern Holiday Express will make its stop in Heavener again this year.

The train will be at the KCS yard along First Street in Heavener at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6. The 2015 Holiday Express is being held in memory of Willis F. Kilpatrick, the founder and head elf of the express from 2001-2012. Kilpatrick passed away in June. He retired as head elf in early 2013. 

"It was his leadership, inspiration and tremendous heart that made the train and the charitable initiative the wonderful experience that communities enjoy said," KCS Holiday Express said on their Facebook page. 

“The KCS Holiday Express is an important project for our company and a joyful way to give back to the communities through which we operate,” said KCS CEO David L. Starling. “This year, we pay tribute to a special member of the Holiday Express family, so we are especially grateful to our employees, vendors and friends who made a contribution to honor his memory.”

The theme of this year's event is Darby Bear. In recent years, one of the toys in the express free gift bags has been a small teddy bear in the colors of the KCS locomotive. This year's bear has been dubbed "Darby," a nickname given to Kilpatrick by his family. The bear is yellow, Kilpatrick's favorite color.

KCS said its 15th Annual Holiday Express will distribute $159,500 in gift cards to The Salvation Army at stops along the route this year. The gift cards are used to purchase warm clothing and other necessities for children in need. 

Led by KCS’ Southern Belle business train, the Holiday Express train includes a smiling tank car “Rudy”; a flatcar carrying Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and a miniature village; a gingerbread box car; an elves’ workshop; the reindeer stable; and a little red caboose. Each car is dressed in lights. At each stop, visitors can board the train, visit with Santa and his elves and tour the inside of three cars of the festive six-car train. Each event is free and open to the public.

The KCS Holiday Express was built on the tradition of the Santa Train, which ran on a rail line bought by KCS in 1997.  In 2000, a group of KCS employees noticed that the Santa Train was the only Christmas some kids had, and that some kids did not even have essential items like coats, hats and gloves, so they committed to elevating the project, a KCS press release said. In 2001, volunteers transformed a retired freight train to the experience that communities enjoy today. The train will stop in 20 communities in seven states on 24 dates. The complete schedule is available on the KCS website.

Sponsors include Bartlett Grain, David and Candace Starling Charitable Fund, Husch Blackwell LLP, The Kansas City Southern Charitable Fund, Michael and Marlys Haverty Family Foundation, Paragon Products, LLC, R.J. Corman Railroad Co., Steel Dynamics, Inc., Trinity Industries, Inc. and Watco Cos. Additional sponsors are listed on the KCS website.