The Santa Train pulls into town

Posted by | November 14, 2017

In Appalachia Santa Claus comes the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Since 1943, the Santa Special, more commonly known as the Santa Train, has traveled 110 miles through the mountains of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and northeastern Tennessee to distribute loads of candy, toys and other goodies to eager bystanders, most of whom have made it a family tradition. The train typically passes through more than 30 towns delivering Christmas cheer.

"The Santa Train"---Commemorating the 50th Santa Train Special. Print sponsored by the Kingsport Chamber and CSX Transportation, available for purchase at

“The Santa Train”—print commemorating the 50th Santa Train Special. Sponsored by the Kingsport Chamber and CSX Transportation; available for purchase at


This year 14-time Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs is joining CSX as the special guest on the 2017 Santa Train. Celebrities who have ridden the train include Amy Grant, Thompson Square, Alison Krauss, Wynonna & Naomi Judd, Patty Loveless, Travis Tritt, Kree Harrison, and Kathy Mattea.

The 75th annual Santa Train will make 14 stops on November 18. Ricky Skaggs, Santa Claus and volunteers will deliver 15 tons of toys to thousands of Appalachian residents who live along the route. Train staffers throw candy, crackers, popcorn, bubble gum, cookies, stuffed animals, electronic games, hats, handmade gloves, mittens, toboggans, T-shirts, wrapping paper and other treats from the train’s caboose.

The Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce awards a Santa Train Scholarship each year to a graduating senior who attends a high school along the 110-mile Santa Train route between Kingsport, TN and Pikeville, KY. The recipient is chosen based on grade point average, extracurricular activities, financial need, work records and an advisor’s recommendation.

This year’s 2017 recipient is Hope Phillips from Union High School in Big Stone Gap, VA. The four-year scholarship is worth $5,000—$625 per semester. To date, the Kingsport Chamber has given 34 scholarships since the first scholarship was awarded in 1989, totaling $170,000.

The Santa Special was the brainchild of Kingsport, TN businessmen who wanted to show their appreciation to the people of the coalfields for their patronage throughout the year.

Santa Train Route
Santa Special officials have said that the first Santa Train pulled just one car and a meager load of gifts. It reached towns and cities that at the time had no other means of transportation. Some believe the train provided many children the only toys they received during World War II.

Joe Higgins played the role of Santa Claus in 1943-44 — the run’s first two years.


6 Responses

  • Marc Bentley says:

    Holy smokes! I remember going to this as a child; we lived near the Shelbiana train depot; we’d drive down and wait with everyone. Fun times, fun times….

  • Vickie Wenter says:

    I sure would love to participate as a volunteer on the santa train. I remember going on the one out of Richmond Va as a child.

  • Judy Norrby says:

    A number of years ago National Public Radio broadcast the story of the Appalachian Train. The narrator did such a splendid job I wonder if this is available to purchase.

  • Joshua Salmans says:

    One of the adventures that I believe I’ve missed out on is riding a train. I never have: what better train could you ask for than the Santa Train!

  • Jerry L. Van Hoose says:

    During my 20 yr. career as an engineer/engineer instructor for C&O, Chessie, and eventually CSX, I felt honored to have been chosen as engineer on the “Santa Special” on more than one occasion. Those were truly among some of my most memorable railroad experiences prior to retirement.

  • jane cook says:

    YOU are doing a wonderful thing. I remember as a child my grandmother talked about the Santa Train. She was a child benefited from the train. My grandmother was a child among 12 raised her mother and coal miner father, Her only Christmas was by way of the train. She often talked about Santa coming to town and nice people on the train.

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