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Holiday Express train connects Zion to North Pole (sort of)

Christine Wertman community relations manager ZiPark District  is dressed as an elf aboard Holiday Express welcomes people ontrabound for

Christine Wertman, community relations manager of the Zion Park District, is dressed as an elf aboard the Holiday Express and welcomes people onto the train bound for the north pole (Kenosha). | TINA JOHANSSON~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: January 17, 2014 6:25AM

The Zion Metra train station has never been known to be crowded for the 5:59 p.m. northbound train in recent memory.

But it was different on Saturday.

Nearly 140 people, including 65 children accompanied by their parents, packed the platform in freezing temperatures waiting for the North Pole Holiday Express to arrive for a round trip to Kenosha — a family-fun event sponsored by the Zion Park District.

“Holiday train has been popular in other communities, so we decided to do it for our children,” said Sally Mintern, the park district’s leisure center director, who was handing out cups of hot chocolate to the waiting train riders in a specially-erected tent by the station.

Holiday spirit filled the air as Christmas music blared from the tent which was warmed with a propane heater.

There were plates of cookies for children and adults alike. Children were each given a golden ticket for the hour-long round trip.

Four generations came from the Fuesting family for the train ride. Ariel Fuesting brought with her two children, Mya, 2, and William, 5. Their grandmother, Kathy Fuesting, came along, too. So did their great-grandmother, MaryAnn Cossman.

“We thought it would be fun for us and start a family tradition by doing this every year,” said Ariel.

Florence Johnson was keeping an eye of her three grandchildren — Kyle, 9, Kayle, 7, and Skye, also 7 — in the crowded tent where cookies were munched and hot chocolate was sipped.

“We came for the excitement of the fun trip for the little ones,” said the grandmother.

Keeping warm in one corner of the tent were Robert Cade, his wife Kristen, and their son Ethan.

“This seems to be a perfect evening for a 4-year-old,” said the father, adding that the son “has mailed a letter to Santa wishing to get a train set for Christmas.”

“Have you been a good boy?” he asked Ethan, who nodded in response.

Soon, the platform became packed with holiday revelers waiting for the express to arrive. An announcement that the train had left Waukegan and was heading for Zion brought cheers from the crowd.

Rita Higgins of Winthrop Harbor, however, was tense because she had left her keys locked in her Buick parked near the platform. She had taken her son John for the train ride.

Her rescue came before the train arrived. Dave Bell of the Zion Police Department inserted a special device that looks like a metal coat hanger. He wiggled a few times with it and, pronto, the car door opened to the relief of the worried car owner who thanked the policeman profusely.

“I feel good about doing this,” said a modest Bell.

When the special holiday train chugged up to the station, the revelers found it was festively decorated with tinsel and garland. Greeting them was Christine Wertman, the park district’s community relations manager, who was dressed as an elf.

During the ride, the children were each given a bracelet of jingle bells and a holiday gift bag containing among other things candy canes. Christmas stories were read to them, and songs were sung in unison. A good time was had by all, of course. But most of all, the children got to meet Santa and tell him of their wishes.

Nolan Cheng, son of Maverick and Sara Cheng, wanted a Dragon Ball and her sister Nadia, a teddy bear. And Kyle Johnson wished for a computer and Ethan Cade, a train set.

Santa, of course, never turned down a child’s wish.

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