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Friday, July 29, 2016

Volunteers enjoy Santa Train almost as much as children

Saturday, December 1, 2012

(By Sabrina Westfall) Wearing his Spiderman gear, Caden Vineyard, 2, met his favorite super hero at the Santa Train in Bloomfield. Vineyard's 'Nana,' his grandmother Sarah Helms, said the toddler was Spiderman for Halloween this year. [Order this photo]
While thousands of children and their families awaited the arrival of Santa via the Indiana Railroad over the weekend, the volunteers were awaiting the smiling faces of the children.

General Manager of Transportation Pete Jesperson said the Indiana Railroad Santa Train had record attendance at each location along the route, with nearly 900 waiting in line at the Bloomfield stop on South Seminary St.

Jesperson was dressed as the Toy Soldier, and marched his way down the line of patiently waiting children for the first time.

(By Sabrina Westfall) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hugged Trent Bower and his 2-year-old daughter Adeilynn at the Santa Train stop in Bloomfield. Rudolph made sure to hug every person standing in line.
He said he began working for the railroad in May, and decided to volunteer for two of the three days of travel across the state for the children to visit Santa and all the characters.

"I think next year I'll do all three days," Jesperson said with a smile on his face. "I didn't know what to expect. I could tell by the preparation it was going to be something pretty big."

Jesperson said his favorite part of volunteering was seeing the reaction of the children as the train rolled into town.

(By Sabrina Westfall) The Grinch kept up normal shenanigans at the Santa Train Stop in Bloomfield Saturday. He mussed up children's hair and scared parents as they waited in line. [Order this photo]
"I think the first time, when we came into Bargersville, the experience of coming into town and seeing the children (was the best). The very first stop was overwhelming," Jesperson said.

He added while the experience is incredible, it is exhausting marching up and down the hour-and-a-half long lines.

"Those that do all three days straight are troopers. It's a lot of hard work, but the experience outweighs the hard work," Jesperson stressed.

Dan Bailey said friend Larry Atwell, who does some contracting work for the railroad, convinced him to help with the Santa Train three years ago, and has since made it an annual event.

"I am a homicide investigator in Indianapolis during the week, so this is therapy for me," Bailey said as he awaited the train.

Bailey serves as security for the train, ensuring the children get on and off without issue.

"It reminds me what the holidays are all about," Bailey said, noting this year's train fell in line perfectly to prepare him mentally for an intense trial the following week.

"Santa doesn't really need a lot of security, so it's just a lot of fun. We keep these kids in line," Bailey added jokingly. "I don't know any of these kids personally, but it doesn't take long to bond with them."

One experience in particular moved Bailey nearly to the point of tears, when wheelchair-bound 5-year-old Ayden Wagler needed special help to get on the train.

Her mother, Angie, said the fact her daughter only had one leg and had yet to master her crutches made her worried the little girl wouldn't get to tell Santa she wanted Monster High dolls for Christmas at the stop in Linton.

"They let me carry her in the back door. She got to have a special meeting with Santa. She was the first one," Bailey said with a smile on his face. "If that doesn't melt your heart I don't know what will."

Shelby Babcock, 19, started volunteering on the train as a teenager as a form of father-daughter time. She's now a college student.

Her father, Bob Babcock, is an employee of Indiana Railroad.

Babcock's specialty is dancing down the line of children and their families to provide entertainment as they wait in line to see Santa Claus.

This year, Babcock was dressed as the Gingerbread man, which consisted of an oversized head to make her look like the cookie.

"I did the dancing with great difficulty. The first year all I did was dance until I couldn't do it anymore," Babcock said.

She said she was concerned an applied sciences project would get in the way of the volunteering tradition, but said she worked fast so she could take part in the Santa Train again.

She added this year was harder for her because she was covered from head to toe in her costume and the warm weather made her tire easier.

Babcock is a self-admitted frequent talker, and added the fact characters with heads are not allowed to talk made the experience a little harder.

Father-daughter time for the Babcock's has now turned into a family affair when they were joined by her mother, Tara, and brother, Jake, this year.

"Sometimes it can be rough, but when the kids give you a hug and right before they turn to look at their parents for a photo, the look on their face is priceless," Babcock noted.

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