At train stations from Rhode Island to Illinois to Oregon, children line up this month for one of the most important journeys of the year....on the Polar Express.
Illinois Public Radio's Sean Powers recently took the trip in the central Illinois town of Monticello, where he was greeted with hot chocolate, plenty of music and dancing, and of course a visit from old Saint Nick:
KOUZMANOFF: "Five tickets in car two, which is out the door and to the right. Your seats are assigned right there."
Derek Kouzmanoff hands out tickets to families waiting to board the Polar Express in Monticello. It's a round trip from the train station to the Monticello Railway Museum....Oh! I mean the North Pole.
LOUD SPEAKER: "Now boarding, track number one the Polar Express. All aboard."
Susie McClure of Taylorville is waiting to board with her two-year-old son, Braden.
MCCLURE: "What does a choo choo say?"
MCCLURE: "And what does that conductor say? All aboard"
BRADEN: "All Aboard."
Anyone who's seen the movie may remember the main character running into a hobo who claims to be the owner of the Polar Express. Instead of riding on top of the train, the hobos on this particular express camp near the tracks. They have a fire set up, they're cooking chicken and stick bread, but they have no ticket...something the conductor won't tolerate.
CRISP: "Looking for a train ride! The conductor tries to kick us off; we'll get on the train..."
SCIUTTO: "Hobo, you're not riding this train. We told you that before!"
CRISP: "I rode your train last year. I'll ride it again this year."
SCIUTTO: "You're not riding the Polar Express."
CRISP: "Ahh, see you at the North Pole!"
SCIUTTO: "No ticket, no ride. Tickets are nontransferable."
CRISP: "I don't need a ticket. I just ride up on the top. Touch the sky, look at the stars as they go by."
That was Hobo extraordinaire Bill Crisp and Polar Express Conductor John Sciutto. Sciutto says Monticello has hosted the Polar Express for the last six years, and there are more than 30 other licensed Polar Express rides across the country. This year's Polar Express in Monticello brought in around $100-thousand dollars, money that goes back to the Monticello Railway Museum. Sciutto says he spent a lot of time getting into character.
SCIUTTO (inside train station): "I've watched the movie probably a dozen times in the last two weeks just kind of brushing up and almost rehearsing and getting ready to roll play for the event."
(bring movie sound under his bite and bring it up)
TOM HANKS: "All aboard! You coming?" (nat of engine sound steam)
TOM HANKS: "Why, to the North Pole of course! This is the Polar Express!"
SCIUTTO (outside greeting children): "All aboard to Polar Express. Car four right here boarding. Well, you coming? You're on the believe list. I got you down. All three of you."
(nat of train noise)
(nat of music on train up and under")
On board, the train is full of parents and children in pajamas, who are clapping, smiling, and laughing. They're served hot chocolate. Students from a local dance studio perform in the middle of the aisle.
SCIUTTO: "North Pole. North Pole. Next stop, North Pole."
The train stops to pick up another passenger.
SANTA: "Merry Christmas! Woo! Boy, what a good group. My goodness. Who knows my name?"
SANTA: "Let's hear it louder!"
SANTA: "Santa Claus, that's right. Ho Ho Ho!"
Santa gives each child a small sleigh bell, a memento of this very special trip. The train heads back to rail depot. Organizers of Monticello's Polar Express hope to expand the ride next year and the magic of Christmas.
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