The 2011 Santa Train made its journey from the Shelby, Ky., rail yard to Kingsport, Tenn., on Saturday, Nov. 19. The train made 14 stops along the 110-mile route, to hand out toys to the thousands and thousands of children waiting at each scheduled stop.
Thompson Square were this year’s celebrity ‘elves’. They waved to everyone from their spot on the back of the train, where they stood by Santa Claus tossing gifts to the hands of everyone waiting. The presents thrown from the train included all kids of stuffed animals, basketballs, footballs, and other small toys. And they tossed a lot of food, too. Treats they knew the children would enjoy.
But that’s not all the Santa train delivers to the kids. At each stop, many workers get off the train carrying colored bags filled with toys. There is a different colored bag for each age child – colors for boys and colors for girls. The workers take armloads of these bags, and seek out children of the right age to hand them to. Shawna and Kiefer didn’t stay on the train. They got off at many stops to deliver the toys to the children standing next to the tracks. They shook hands, gave hugs, and were wonderful ambassadors on this year’s train.
There are so many people who take an active part in making this such a successful event each year. The Santa Train couldn’t happen without the people from CSX Railroad. This is the 69th year the train has made this trip. The Kingsport Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in getting the event started, and continues to organize the event each year. Food City, one of our major grocery store chains in this area, is a major sponsor of the event. A newer sponsor, Kids Wish Network, joined in about three years ago, and this year gave more than $500,000 worth of toys. They are hoping to make that one million dollars next year. This year, in addition to the toys Kids Wish donated, they also had many strollers which they gave to parents. (Karen, pictured above, is with Kids Wish Network)
More than 15 tons of toys were handed out as the train made it’s way through the mountains of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Shawna and Keifer had done a show Friday night in Georgia, then headed to Kentucky, where they boarded the train at 6 a.m. in the Shelby, Ky., train yard. Following the 9 hour trip by rail, to Kingsport, Tenn., Thompson Square then joined chamber members and Train workers on a large stage, piled high with toys and food, sang three songs for us, and stayed to help throw the food and toys out into the crowd.
While I was on the train with Thompson Square, I spent a little time talking to them, and one thing the media wanted to know is how they got involved with the train. Keifer explained that they had been asked to participate, and said they “really didn’t know anything about The Santa Train, but when they told us about what it was, we jumped on it”. One of the reporters asked if they had ever done anything like this before, and they not only said this was the first event they’ve ever done like this – but it was the first time they’ve ever been on a train. Shawna was excited about seeing the smiles on the faces of the children when they handed them their toys.
Regarding their current schedule, they said they are touring right now, and next year they would be out on tour with Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker. They came up from Georgia Friday night, and arrived in Pikeville, Ky., at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning! From the amount of energy and eagerness they put into this trip, you never would have known they were running on so little sleep.
Shawna said they will be off for four weeks in December, and are looking forward to spending that time at their home in Smyrna, Tenn., Of course the interview included a bit of their upcoming tv appearances – a GAC Christmas Special that’s coming up soon; the ACA Awards in December where they will be performing, and are nominated for some awards. They are also going to be working a new album, and hope to be in the studio continuing to work on that in February.
I did have a chance to ask Keifer if I could look at the tattoo on his wrist. I had gotten a glimpse of it at one of their performances last summer, but I just had to have a better look. It was definitely a mouth! He said “I got a tattoo of Shawna’s lips on my arm for our anniversary last year.” He said the tattoo had nothing to do with “Do You Want to Kiss Me or Not”. Although it certainly is a fitting tattoo for him.
During the last part of the event, when Thompson Square were on stage in Kingsport tossing gifts to the kids, I asked Keifer if he had any comment about his day, and he said, “This is the most fun we’ve had in a long time.” Thanks, Keifer and Shawna, it was fun for us, too!
Here are a few more pictures for Saturday’s trip on The Santa Train.
I’ll talk to you all soon!