|Locomotive arrives at the Prairie Valley Station to pick up passengers for the Summerland Christmas Express trip. (Mark Brett/Western News)|
Conductor Ron Belisle shouts those words into the darkening sky from the coach car steps as he issues forth this inaugural Summerland Christmas Express of the season.
The 90-minute trip through the picturesque rural Prairie Valley with the twinkling lights of the farms and houses reflecting off the dusting of snow from the night before is a journey back in time, a gentler time.
Inside the two vintage coach cars pulled by the Kettle Valley Steam Railway’s 3716 steam locomotive its lonesome whistle echoing across the valley at each crossing, are young and old.
It’s a journey that’s taken over a century to reach this destination.
Like the other seven trips, this holiday season all the seats are sold, inside and out the train is decorated with all the Christmas trimmings including a few new ones this year.
“This train is so much fun, we look forward to it every year and of course Santa and the Mrs. are the stars of the show,” said longtime volunteer Chriss Knudsen during a break in her duties attending to the couple as they visit each of the children on board. “I enjoy the camaraderie and the people, we meet people from all over the world and all the children, how excited they are, that’s what we enjoy the most.”
Felix Possak, who has provided the musical entertainment on board the train for the last 15 years, agreed.
“It’s sheer joy, it’s just so much fun, there are people from all over the world that come and ride the train, many people have already read up on the train, they know everything about it,” said Possak who sings singes in four different dialects to the joy of international travellers. “I think it was a simpler time, there were no electronics there was no radio so people made their own (entertainment) they played the banjos the accordions the fiddles.”
His job as the conductor is also a labour of love for Belisle who can’t wait to see the expressions on passenger’s faces throughout the year, but especially now.
“These trains sold out last year and they’re sold out this year,” he said. “This is very rare, not too often can you have a Christmas ride on a steam train.”
For Oliver’s Linda Nunweiler, who was on board with her grandson and daughter, it was her first time riding on the rails.
“The trip was excellent, the singing great and we had a wonderful time she,” said after the locomotive arrived back at Prairie Valley Station.
“Jennifer Jones probably travelled the furthest to take the train. Originally from Kelowna, she is now living in Fiji and coming back for the holidays thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate Christmas with the family.
“We thought the kids would enjoy it with Santa Claus and the lights and everything and all kids love a train,” said Jones. “We really love the music the and singing and visiting Santa was a highlight .”
By this time conductor, Belisle was back helping passengers on board for the second trip of the evening and once people were safely loaded he took his spot up on the coach stairs.