As hundreds of people who had gathered in the freezing temperatures waited, the doors of a railroad car slid open.
Smoke rolled out as the sounds of rock music split the air, and Santa Claus sang “Have a Merry Christmas,” to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
“The Polar Express,” it isn’t, but the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train’s stops Friday in some of the railroad company’s newest communities brought donations of food to local food banks.
Canadian Pacific obtained the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern railroad in October and decided to add some of the towns in its expanded service area to its list of communities visited by the Holiday Train, said CP spokesman Jeff Johnson. The program is now in its 10th year, Johnson said.
The train, decked out in holiday lights and featuring a car that doubles as a stage for live music, made stops in Savanna, Ill., Clinton, Davenport and Muscatine on Friday and will head back up the river today.
Several hundred people, including moms and dads with children and pets, bundled up and braved the 24-degree temperature and a wind that made it seem much colder at the 8 p.m. stop near Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport.
They were greeted by Santa Claus and Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba, who said he was glad the train made it into town for such a good cause — feeding the hungry.
Anne Wachal, program manager for Churches United of the Quad-City Area, accepted a $4,500 check that will be used to stock the shelves of the organization’s food pantries. Those 26 pantries and three meal sites serve people in an area that ranges from Buffalo to Princeton, Iowa, and Rock Island to the East Moline-Coal Valley area in Illinois.
Steve Heskett, Davenport, held his family’s 13-week-old beagle named Lily in a blanket, while his wife, Michele, and daughters, Sydney, 8, and Madysen, 11, got a closer look at the train.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s nice to see stuff around here to get families together in the Christmas spirit.”
Dan and Lori Walljasper of Davenport brought their daughters, Amanda, 7, and Kimberly, 4, who got candy canes from Santa Claus.
“They thought I was crazy wanting to come down here in this cold,” Lori Walljasper said. “But they’re having a good time.”
Anania “A. J.” Williams, 8, of Davenport, watched the train with his dad, Gregory.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Gregory Williams said as he looked the length of the train. “This is great.”
At an earlier stop in Savanna, Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, thanked the large crowd that gathered in the cold to support the Savanna Food Pantry.
“You really showed that you have the guts and the courage to come out and support your neighbors,” Boland said.
Michael Wey, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Savanna and executive director of the Savanna Food Pantry, said the Holiday Train program was a good fit for Savanna, a railroad town.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to show what this season is all about,” he said.
Local dignitaries and the families of railroad employees rode the train from Davis Junction to Savanna on Friday afternoon. Shannon Heizenga of Mount Carroll, whose husband works for the railroad, rode the train with her mother, brother and 4-year-old daughter.
She said they had refreshments, sang Christmas carols and
had a visit from Santa along the way.
The company is keeping a blog about the Holiday Train’s travels at holidaytrain.org.
Where to see the Holiday Train today
11-11:30 a.m.: Bellevue, Iowa, Horizon Lanes & Hall, 970 North Riverview Drive
1-1:30 p.m.: Dubuque, Iowa, Hawthorne Street railroad crossing at Rohmberg Avenue.
3:15-3:45 p.m.: Guttenberg, Iowa, east side of Schiller Street railroad crossing
5:30-6 p.m.: Marquette, Iowa, Marina Parking Lot, north of Lady Luck Casino on Iowa 76.
7:30-8 p.m.: Lansing, Iowa, ballpark field on South Front Street.
(Reporter Thomas Geyer contributed to this story.)
Steven Martens can be contacted at (563) 659-2595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.