Photo by J. H. Osborne
KINGSPORT — Santa dropped in at Food City on Eastman Road for a few groceries (we think we saw some extra large bags of reindeer chow in the lower part of his buggy) Wednesday evening.
Outside the store scores of “elves” worked assembly lines mixing together the goodies Santa and his helpers will distribute Saturday as the 71st annual Santa Train makes its way from Kentucky to Kingsport.
It was the traditional “packing party” for the Santa Train. The event brings together volunteers from throughout the region each year. For some it has become almost as much of a tradition as going to see the train itself.
The history-steeped Santa Train each year heralds the Christmas season’s arrival along its 110-mile rail route through Southeastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.
The estimated 17 tons of food, toys, and other gifts packed up Wednesday night will be distributed along that route on Saturday.
Co-sponsored by CSX Transportation, the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, Food City and Dignity U Wear, the Santa Train began as a way for Kingsport’s merchants to say thanks to all the folks along the train’s route for shopping in the Model City.
Joining Santa on the train this year is Kree Harrision, rising country music star and runner-up of “American Idol” season 12.
This will be Harrison’s second time on the Santa Train, first riding it in 2001 when she was 11 years old.
“The first time I rode the Santa Train was such an amazing experience,” Harrison said. “But I was so young, and I’m eager to return and relive the experience again at a different stage in my life. I’m excited to help bring joy to so many families this holiday season.”
Harrison is working on her debut album and recently made an appearance on the “CMT Music Awards,” in addition to her Grand Ole Opry debut in June of this year. She announced earlier this month that she will give an acoustic performance with fellow “American Idol” alumna Janelle Arthur outside the old rail depot building, now Cumberland Marketing, before gifts are distributed in Kingsport.
This year’s scheduled Santa Train stops and arrival and departure times are:
• Shelby — 6:30 a.m. departure
• Marrowbone — 6:45 a.m. arrival, 7 a.m. departure
• Elkhorn City — 7:25 a.m. arrival, 7:45 a.m. departure
• Toms Bottom — 8:05 a.m. arrival, 8:15 a.m. departure
• Haysi — 8:27 a.m. arrival, 8:42 a.m. departure
• Clinchco — 9 a.m. arrival, 9:15 a.m. departure
• Fremont — 9:28 a.m. arrival, 9:53 a.m. departure
• Dante — 10:28 a.m. arrival, 10:48 a.m. departure
• St. Paul — 11:08 a.m. arrival, 11:28 a.m. departure
• Dungannon — 12:13 p.m. arrival, 12:33 p.m. departure
• Fort Blackmore — 12:53 p.m. arrival, 1:08 p.m. departure
• Kermit — 1:48 p.m. arrival, 2:18 p.m. departure
• Waycross — 2:30 p.m. arrival, 2:45 p.m. departure
• Arrive in Kingsport, 3:08 p.m.