For those with “steam” in their blood, there’s no bigger event of the year than the Santa Claus Special. On Sat. and Sun., Dec. 10-11, and Sat. Dec. 17, Santa gives up his reindeer and sleigh and climbs aboard old steam locomotive No. 346, inviting his friends to join him on train rides at the Colorado Railroad Museum.
The museum has a scenic half mile circle of track that curls through a Western scene of high rocky buttes, just below Golden’s North Table Mountain. You climb aboard the century old cars, sit on red velvet seats, and are warmed from the winter air by cheery pot-bellied stoves. There’s a slight grade from the station that causes the engine to puff loudly and send billowing clouds of smoke into the sky. Then it’s off to the water tower, on past the roundtable, and with the steam whistle blowing and smoke hissing from the pistons, the locomotive chugs across a railroad crossing and heads back to the station. Photographers have the ability to cut across the grounds and shoot the train two or three times on each circle route, while kids love being in this full-scale “model” railroad.
The train leaves the station every 30 minutes and completes three loops, stopping every third trip to take on water at the water tank. With the whistle echoing off the high surrounding mountains, it is a rail fan’s dream – but it’s also a wonderful way to introduce children raised on Thomas the Tank Engine to real steam locomotives. You can ride the train as often as you like, but it’s just as much fun to watch it circle the grounds.
And there are plenty of other things to see and do. A gigantic, outdoor G-scale model railroad has three or four trains operating simultaneously, crossing trestles, entering tunnels, and pulling into stations. G-scale features model locomotives that are two and even three feet long and have full smoke and sound effects. A smaller, HO model railroad is located in the basement of the museum and has a complete city with hundreds of model buildings and a model circus.
Young kids can visit Santa and Mrs. Claus who hold court in the Museum Building, while older ones can climb on the dozens of cars, locomotives and diesel engines located on the grounds. There’s hot chocolate and snacks available in the newly restored 1900 vintage Kitchen Car used to feed hungry track crews back in the day. Stop by the Depot General Store for a wide selection of railroad memorabilia and Thomas the Tank Engine toys for holiday gifts.
Santa Claus Special will feature steam engines on December 10, 11, and 17. The Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the Santa Claus Special departing every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.