Santa express

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:34 PM

The North Muskegon resident who serves as conductor of the Coopersville & Marne Railway Company’s Santa Train admitted he grows his year-round beard just a little bit longer to fit the uniform at this time of year.

Groups of families, many including three or four generations, boarded the two rail cars that originally served commuters in New Jersey, starting in the 1920s.

Excited children jumped into facing seats in preparation for the day’s rail journey from Coopersville to Marne and back.

“This is a Christmas train,” said 3 ½-year-old Gianni Casazza-Compton of Chicago. “See all the decorations on it,” he pointed to lighted garland draping the train.

John and Cathy Casazza of Norton Shores smiled at their two grandchildren, including 3 1/2–year-old Zoe Casazza.

Cathy said little Gianni took her aside on a trip to New Jersey earlier in the year.

“He said ‘Noni, let’s have a conversation,’” Cathy laughed. “Let’s talk about how steam engines work.’”

Cathy said it was the child’s interest in trains that brought them to Coopersville that day.

Tom and Lauri Swain of Grand Rapids brought their whole family on board.

“This is our new tradition,” Lauri said. “We did this last year.”

Lauri focused her new camera on her grandchildren, not wanting to miss a moment.

“It’s a fun day for them because the boys love trains,” she said of her grandsons, Max, 4 and Brandon, 2 Schmalfeldt of Edwardsburg, Ind.

The boys’ parents, Adam and Pam Schmalfeldt, were also on board, as were Robbie and Sophy Swain with their daughter, Caitlyn, 1½.

They laughed as the train horn blew and Brandon pumped his arm and pressed his face against the window.

Children listened spellbound as the Christmas princess, Miss Coopersville Hannah Meyers, read the story “The Polar Express.”

The highlight of the trip is when Santa appears.

“I just thought it was so much fun to see how excited the kids are when you tell them Santa’s on the train,” Meyers said.

Santa (Tim McGraw) said that’s what it’s all about. “There’s a lot of fun with it,” he said.

“I just have a good time and the kids are great,” McGraw said.

The Muskegon resident has been entertaining children on the Santa Train for seven years and has no plans to stop any time soon.

“It’s watching the joy in the kids faces,” he smiled before slipping away to check on his elves.

The Santa Train is just one of several theme trains run by The Coopersville & Marne Railway Company out of downtown Coopersville.

The holiday train will run at 1 and 3 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday through Christmas.

More information is available online at www.MItrain.net. Or call 616-997-7000.

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