By Keith Yarter, The Lights of Christmas Director
It was December, 2006, and the little Polar Express train was chugging its heart out during The Lights of Christmas. It struggled to make each turn around the Nativity Circle with families and friends laughing all the way.
When that season ended, so did the heart of the Polar Express engine, Lil Toot. After a number of years of faithful service, it was now time to find a new engine to pull the train. The Lights of Christmas team began looking for ways to replace the engine. A call went out to raise money, and many friends heard the call and gave.
In early 2007, I was called upon to head up the train replacement project. I had to admit I was at a loss to know what to do. So I prayed and asked the Lord to lead in this project because this was uncharted territory for me.
Then one day, I remembered that the Camp had a relationship with Brim Tractor, a dealership in Mount Vernon. So, I called and asked them about purchasing a new tractor. Now normally, I would have looked for a used or slightly used model because, well you know, that is the way we normally do things at Camp.
But I was determined to not ask for anything used, but to go for the best and most powerful tractor possible, hoping that we had enough funds to pay for it. I was persuaded that buying new would prove cheaper in the long run and last for many years. The folks at Brim heard me out, and in late summer, they brought a beautiful, new, medium-sized, diesel-powered, automatic, easy-to-drive New Holland tractor for us to check out and see if it would meet our needs. It did!
Now for the rest of the story:
After using the tractor for a few months, we called the dealership and said this was the one for us. Brim said, “Great!” We had the tractor that would evolve into our train engine.
Now a few weeks went by, and we wondered where the bill of sale was. After a month went by, I got a call from Brim Tractor asking questions about the funds raised for the new engine and how the money would be used for the project. A few weeks later, the bill arrived for the tractor marked, “Paid in Full.” Brim Tractor Company had gifted the tractor to the Camp! Praise the Lord! I did the “happy dance” all day, and the Camp praised the Lord for the generosity of the Brim Family.
In late 2007, another blessing was received when the Bowman Manufacturing Company in Arlington, a sheet metal fabrication company, took on the project to build the train shell. Their team took our drawings and ideas and placed them on computer. After taking lots of measurements, asking lots of questions, and making some important modifications, they produced an amazing metal “cowling” that turned that New Holland tractor into our new train engine. Mr. Matt Thul and team, along with some friends, completed the project on their personal time and considered it a labor of love. We thank the Bowman Company, who deeply discounted the cost of manufacturing the cowling, and their staff for a wonderful job!
Back at the Camp, others put their finishing touches on the Polar Express II. Garry Spesock painstakingly painted it with classic colors. Patrick Taylor engineered the electrical design and got it outfitted. The custom detail design was done by Dean Forbes of Camano Island, and a train sound system was put together by Dan Dodge of Camano Island.
So many friends of Warm Beach Camp donated funds, time, skills, and materials when it became obvious that our first little train just couldn’t go anymore. They saw the need for the “Polar Express II” and did something about it. Thank you to all.
What’s in the future for the train? Well, we are making plans to build a third passenger car for special needs guests that would carry a couple of wheelchairs for rides around the Camp. This will require more contributions to outfit this special car. We want all of our guests to have the opportunity to ride the Polar Express at The Lights of Christmas, and throughout the year.
What about the original Polar Express train engine? It is still a part of The Lights. You can see it near the Depot Tent where it is available for photos and memories, still working hard to bring laughter to families at The Lights of Christmas.