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The Santa Claus Special is an operation steeped in tradition and holiday cheer, for children, adults, and railfans of all ages. ABOVE: Santa has launched a teddy bear into flight for some lucky child as his helpers toss all kinds of goodies to the crowd at Kermit, Va., on November 21, 2009. OPPOSITE: SD40-2 No. 8474 leads a long Santa Claus Special southbound at Boody, Va., on November 18, 2006.

minutes at a gift stop at Marrowbone Junction. At Elkhorn City, there’ll be a sizable

crowd waiting for Santa, congregated on the spot where the classic C&O de- pot once sat. The Elkhorn City Rail- road Museum is close by, and will usu- ally be open at this early hour for folks to pass some time before Santa ar- rives. The museum has two cabooses, both of C&O vintage, and a wide array of hardware and signage displayed outside. The town of Elkhorn City, like many other communities along the route, will be festooned with Christ- mas decorations, glittering lights and sparkling tinsel, even though it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Once the gift stop at Elkhorn City is complete, the train crosses Pool Point on the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy and plunges upgrade into the “Breaks,” the gorge known as the “Grand Canyon of the South.” The enterprising railfan photographer can make the precipitous hike down to Pool Point and back out, but even under the best weather condi- tions, the tunnel and bridge are not lit well. The rest of the Breaks canyon is all but inaccessible; a gift stop at the re- mote community of Tom’s Bottom, just


south of the Breaks, allows time for the train chaser to catch up. This northern end of the old Clinch-

field, particularly the section in Buchanan and Dickenson Counties, is rugged, rough country, with the rail- road twisting and turning through the hills and hollers, the backwaters and bottoms. There has been a perception— an incorrect one—that the Santa Train provides the only Christmas the folk in these areas receive. While there may be isolated cases of such, it is this writer’s opinion that is largely not the case in these modern times. It is, however, in these remote areas where the Santa Train seems most appreciated, not be- cause of need or destitution, but rather because of a true sense of tradition, family and history. Bursting forth from Russell Tunnel,

the Santa Train makes its gift stop at the town of Haysi near the junction with the old Haysi Railroad. There’s a spot of daylight between Russell and McClure Tunnels, and Santa’s observa- tion car (usually the West Virginia) will come to rest in this area. The road lead- ing down to the gift stop is steep and narrow, parking is at a premium, and getting in and out here can be trouble-

some. While many railfans prefer photogra-

phy only in the best light (read, full sunlight), the photographer will find it a challenge to find good photo angles in early part of the Santa Train’s run. The gift stop at Fremont serves Clintwood, the close-by county seat of Dickenson County. The old wooden Clinchfield depot is here, although no longer beside the tracks. There’s a once-a-year minor traffic jam here, as cars jockey for parking spaces along Route 63 and people clamber over the bridge to the tracks. There’s a positive change in sun angles at Fremont, as the tracks and the roughly parallel Route 63 turn towards the southeast. The town of St. Paul, Va., near where

the Clinchfield crosses over Norfolk Southern’s ex-N&W Clinch Valley Dis- trict, is the second-largest stop for the Santa Train. A concrete bridge over Route 63 still has the names of the Clinchfield and the Norfolk & Western cast into its face. The crowd will be so sizable here that Food City will have a truck parked nearby to distribute addi- tional gifts and goodies. Past the Clinch River loops, and south of Carfax, the track uncurls and

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