Jolly on the trolley
Santa takes train to spread joy in Duluth

DULUTH - Forget the sleigh and reindeer. At the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, Santa's preferred mode of transportation is the train.

On Saturday afternoon, Saint Nicholas rolled up to the platform, where dozens of children were eagerly awaiting his arrival.

"Look at all the great folks here," said Santa, who will return to the museum during its normal hours until Christmas. "This visit is my way of finding out if they've been naughty or nice."

Suwanee residents Suzanne and Trent Burt brought their children, Avery, 3, and Chandler, 22 months, to the museum to see Santa.

"He loves trains," Suzanne Burt said of Chandler, "so we thought it was the perfect combination. He got to tell Santa he wants cookies for Christmas."

The small crowd made it easy for the children to visit Santa, she said.

About 200 people attended Saturday's event. Museum Administrator Randy Pirkle said attendance wasn't bad, but it has been better in previous years.

"We had a lot of fun with it," Pirkle said. "That's what's important."

Santa, who is better known after the holidays as Norcross resident and museum volunteer Thom Logan, agreed.

"We have a lot of fun around here," he said. "We really do."

The event brought a lot of first-time visitors to the museum, which has been in its current location for 10 years.

Dacula resident Julie Rehberg said she came to the museum for the first time Saturday because her 2-year-old son, Dylan, has a new love for trains. She said she found the museum on the Internet and saw Santa's visit advertised on the Web site.

"We're loving every minute of it," Rehberg said.

Dylan's interest in trains was sparked while Rehberg was decorating for Christmas.

"He's really into cars," she said. "But now that we've got the train around the tree, everything's train, train, train."

Nyell and Lisa Gill brought their son, Nicholas, to the museum as an early birthday present. Nicholas, who turns 4 today, likes trains, his mother said.

The Loganville family said the museum was interesting.

"We're enjoying it so far," Lisa Gill said.

Those who would like to see Santa - along with a collection of historic Pullman cars and classic steam locomotives - can visit the museum Thursdays through Saturdays through the end of December. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving.

Santa will also be having breakfast on Saturday and Nov. 1, 8 and 15 with guests who make reservations. The cost is $3 per person in addition to museum admission fees and includes a light breakfast and priority seating on a train ride with Santa.

Museum volunteer Cheryl Hardt said the events are important because they help raise funds for the nonprofit organization. The Southeastern Railway Museum is supported by revenue raised from admissions, gift shop sales and donations, she said.

"This place was built by people who love trains," she said. "We want it to be here forever but to do that it needs funds."

For more information about the museum, visit the Web site at www.srmduluth.org or call the office at 770-476-2013.