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Riding the rails in search of Christmas spirit

By From page A1 | December 05, 2012

Morgan (Kathy Murison, a UC Davis student) helps 2-year-old Sebastian Aue ride his magical steed down the aisle of the Sacramento RiverTrain. This is Murison's fourth year performing on the holiday express — three as an elf and this year as the star of the show, Morgan and the Christmas Train." Her family is spread out all over the United States, so this is her holiday tradition, Murison said. Julia Aue/Courtesy photo

Check it out

What: Sacramento RiverTrain’s “Morgan & the Magical Christmas Train”

When: Dec. 8-9, 11, 15-16, 18-23, 26-28, 29-30 at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Where: Board at 341 Industrial Way in Woodland. From Davis, take Highway 113 to the Main Street Woodland exit, turn left under the highway, then immediately right at the first light (Industrial Way) and right into a large parking lot with a huge white tent

Cost: Silver ticket, $30; gold ticket; $40. “Morgan and the Christmas Train” book $12 in advance or $15 at check-in

“He went that way!” my 4-year-old son David yelled gleefully, flinging his arm with pointed finger in the direction of the door through which the 5½-foot-tall teddy bear had just disappeared into the neighboring train car.

Seconds before, Morgan, the pig-tailed, pajama-clad heart of the “Morgan & the Magical Christmas Train” story under way on the Sacramento RiverTrain had run into our train car, exclaiming that she couldn’t find her teddy bear anywhere and had, as a result, lost her Christmas spirit.

My exuberant son and the several dozen other excited kids — with various grinning parents and grandparents in tow — who occupied the five-car train were determined to help Morgan in her quest to recover both her teddy bear and her Christmas spirit during our 90-minute ride on a 16-mile length of track between Woodland and West Sacramento along the Sacramento River.

The Sacramento RiverTrain will run its Christmas train each day this weekend, then virtually every day between Dec. 15 and 30.

The party — and it was a party — began in a big white tent alongside the humming train just off Main Street near Highway 113 in Woodland. For my son David, and my younger son, 3-year-old Benjamin, the excitement started as soon as they saw the train rimmed in lights, but things jumped into high gear when the characters of the “Morgan & the Magical Christmas Train” book took to the tent’s stage for the first scene that would launch the story of Morgan’s search.

Then we all boarded the train and made our way to our assigned tables. Ours was a booth for four, where hot cocoa, fresh-baked cookies and materials to write a letter to Santa Claus greeted us. Benjamin was beyond happy to find they hadn’t forgotten the tiny marshmallows in the hot cocoa.

There are two ticket options for the Christmas RiverTrain. Those with a silver ticket ($30 per person) are seated in either the Club Car, with movable tables and chairs, or in the Coach Car, with large Amtrak-style chairs, but no tables. Those with a gold ticket ($40 per person) are seated in a booth with a table, as we were, which was handy for containing very young and energetic ones like our boys.

All seating is indoors, but there is an outdoor “patio” — also handy for energetic kids.

As we chugged along the track toward Sacramento alongside families from as far north as Yuba City and as far south as Fresno, those of us from Davis and Woodland felt lucky to live just down the road from the magic of this Christmas experience.

As passengers, our job was to drink as much hot cocoa and eat as many cookies as possible, sing as many Christmas songs as possible, and have as much fun as possible, which Morgan assured us would return both her beloved teddy bear and her Christmas spirit.

Morgan, her huge teddy bear, a couple of elves, the conductor, guitarist Tim (with extra instruments in a bag on his belt for kids to play) and, of course, Santa Claus, made their way through the various cars acting out the story from the book during the train ride.

Just about the time there seemed to be a lull, an elf would show up with some Christmas activity, such as having the kids take turns riding a stick horse, umm, I mean reindeer, down the aisle to help him learn how to fly.

“With all the stuff going on, it is great for the kids. And I didn’t imagine we would have so much fun,” said Crystal Savir of Marysville, who came with husband David and their 23-month-old daughter Allura and another family, after finding the Sacramento Christmas RiverTrain online.

“The kids love the whole thing. That’s what counts,” said Connie Ogilvie, who was part of the same group.

By the time we rolled back into Woodland about 5 p.m., the coming of evening meant the lights of the Christmas train sparkled especially brightly against the darkness. But not as brightly as the faces of the nine little girls I spotted who were identically dressed in Christmas red-and-white polka dot-pajamas (everyone is encouraged to wear their pajamas) that had been made by the grandmother of one of the four pairs of 8-year-old and 6-year-old sisters (plus a littlest 4-year-old sis).

Friends for years, the families from Clovis had searched online to find a Christmas activity they could share, and the faces full of grins told me they had found the right one.

For more information, call 800-866-1690 or visit www.SacramentoRiverTrain.com.

A rail adventure for any season

The Sacramento RiverTrain offers rail adventures year-round. Along with the traditional excursion train, and brunch and sunset dinner trains, there are themes ranging from a murder mystery dinner train to the Great Train Robbery, where the train is held up by a bunch of bandits from the Old West.

Seasonal events include the Thanksgiving dinner train, the New Year’s Eve Express, the Valentine’s Day dinner train, the Easter Egg Express, which takes passengers to a park to meet up with the Easter Bunny and hunt for colorful eggs, and the Pumpkin Train, which carries passengers out to a Yolo County farm in search of the perfect pumpkin and fun, such as traversing the corn and hale bale mazes.

Heidi Bay

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