If you want to find Santa in Northwest Connecticut, catch a train. On weekends, you can join Mr. and Mrs. Claus taking a break for a fun ride aboard the Santa Express, a restored 1920s train from the New England Railroad Museum in Thomaston. To see Santa at work, ride a train to visit the great man and his busy elves in the weekend Toyland he sets up in a vintage train car at the Danbury Railroad Museum. Santa works late this time of year, and the special Northern Lights tours from Thomaston let you make a stop to see him at Santa's Train Workshop. Wherever you find him, you can be sure that Santa has gifts ready for all young children.
Fans of miniature trains also will find irresistible holiday exhibits of whizzing, whirring miniature trains at many spots in this scenic part of the state.
Riding the Rails
The Santa Express leaves the 1881 station in Thomaston on Saturdays and Sundays for an hour and a quarter round-trip scenic ride beside the Naugatuck River in 1920s-vintage coaches. Mr. and Mrs. Claus make sure to visit with each child on board and often they bring elves along. Evening light displays inside and outside the train greet passengers after dark on the very special Northern Express journey to Santa's Train Workshop.
The gift shop inside the gaily decorated historic station has a host of ideas for train fans young and old, including railroad books, children's books, Thomas the Tank Engine™ merchandise and lots of train memorabilia. And there is an operating miniature Christmas train layout.
Santa Express trains, $14 adults, $12 children, leave at 2 p.m., Northern Express trains, $22 depart at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on 12/4-5, 12/11-12 and 18/19. Additional Northern Express trains are scheduled for 11/27-28 and 12/3.
Santa's Rail Yard
At the Danbury Railway Museum, which includes a classic 1903 station and a railroad yard with vintage train cars, visitors can ride a working vintage train through the yard to Santa's own train. They will find him in his workshop supervising his elves, who are busy making toys. Santa rides begin at noon and run every half hour until 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays, December 11 and 18, and Sundays December 5, 12 and 19 from 12:30-3:30 p.m. The $8 admission includes the ride, a gift from Santa, and exhibits and displays in the yard and indoors. A miniature layout is in action in the station, along with a coloring station.
Once again, there is a tempting Gift Shop, with over 600 different items, including Thomas the Tank™ and Little Engine That Could™ merchandise, books, clothing, puzzles, and other railroad items. The station is at 120 White Street in Danbury. Reserve tickets in advance at www.danbury.org/DRM or phone (203) 778-8337.
Miniature train displays are a traditional holiday favorite for many families. The Wilton Historical Society's annual Great Trains exhibit features a range of makes, models and gauges of model trains rolling around curves, passing scenic local landscapes and rushing through mountain passes. Each model landscape is intricately designed by the Society's "Trainmen" and the holiday exhibit includes a vast collection of toys, dolls and miniatures. Dates are December 4 through January 17. Admission is $5; Hours are Tuesdays - Fridays, 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sundays 1 – 4 p.m. The Society is located at 224 Danbury Road. Check online or phone for holiday closings: www.wiltonhistorical.org or 203-762-7257.
The 23rd Annual Hands On Train Display at New Milford's restored vintage train station December 18th through 31st offers four big operating train layouts. Each year the waiting room of the station is transformed into a Lilliputian landscape of hills, valleys and villages. The towns, populated by tiny figures dressed in winter finery, are crisscrossed by whizzing layouts of scale model Lionel trains. The setup includes almost 100 feet of track. Visitors can do more than admire the trains. They are invited to take the controls, starting and stopping the action and operating signals and lights. The trains operate daily from noon to 4 p.m. This yearly free event is sponsored by the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce. .
For more information about trains, directions to events and listings of all the holiday doings in the region, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, www.visitwesternct.com. They offer a free copy of UNWIND, a 112-page color guide to the Litchfield Hills and a free Fairfield County Getaway Guide.