In October of this year, the Virginia & Truckee (V&T) Railroad in Virginia City was hosting a Day Out with Thomas: Big Adventure Tour 2018. My son, who was then 13-months old, loved it. The sights and sounds of real-life trains were mesmerizing for him. It was during that Day Out with Thomas that we learned that the V&T would also be hosting the Candy Cane Express for Christmas. It was a holiday trip we knew were going to have to make, and that is exactly what we did on Saturday, December 9th.
The 30-minute drive from Reno to Virginia City up Geiger Grade (NV-341) was one I had taken many times before. This time, however, the Virginia Highlands were punctuated by snow, some wispy clouds and fog, and patches of rich blue sky— all of which made the landscape look anew. This was especially true once we rolled into Virginia City itself. The years of dust and weathering that sit atop that the old mining town is lost when a blanket of shimmering snow gives it a new, wintery dressing. Once at the F. Street train station, it was clear we were in a winter wonderland, and not just because of the snow. The station grounds were decorated with garland, lights, Christmas stockings, drumming toy soldiers, and candy canes. In the middle of the grounds was Santa’s sleigh (that also had a bucket full of suckers for the kids), and the jolly old man himself was there on the station’s boardwalk to meet and greet us.
We were scheduled to ride the 12:00 o’clock train, but as we did last time, we wanted to explore the station’s grounds and entertainment before embarking on the Candy Cane Express line. We swapped our tickets for the 2:00 o’clock departure and decided to spend the next hour and a half getting a quick lunch and some pictures with Santa. This was a decision that paid all sorts of photographic dividends. When we arrived at 12:15, the 12:00 train had just departed, so the station was relatively empty. This meant that the Story-Telling Caboose, where people could relax indoors and watch Christmas videos, as well as the Coloring Caboose, where people could color yuletide pages, were all to ourselves. More importantly, however, it also meant that we had Santa’s Caboose Car all to ourselves as well. We were able to get a number of photos with Santa on the train, in his sleigh, on the boardwalk, and all over the station grounds. Arriving an hour and a half before our train was to depart was the best way to get pictures with Santa any place in America might afford simply because there were no crowds, no lines, and this particular Santa was extra jolly and bright. What’s more, he was willing to take as many photos as was necessary to get one where my son, Jameson, wasn’t crying, squirming, or being a little snot-nosed Grinch. And due to Santa’s wonderful Christmas spirit, were able to get a few photos that were Christmas card worthy.
When the 2:00 o’clock train finally pulled into the station, we waited in line for a few moments while the kegs of cider and hot chocolate were loaded. Once aboard, the train cars were lined with lights, garland, and toys, and the atmosphere was warm due, in part, to the festive personalities of the conductor and elf crew. As we waited for everyone to board and my son squirmed in his seat, Mr. and Mrs. Claus walked up and down the train’s length, waiving to children and taking photos in the snow. It was the train’s initial lurch from the station, however, that got my son really interested in this ride. The sound of our departure and the sight of the snowy hillside slowly rolling past had him glued to our foggy window. Our 50-minute trip down this 140-year old route was happening once again.
Soon after departure, the elf crew started their in-car service. We had the option of either a hot cider or a hot cocoa, and each cup had a little white chocolate Hershey’s kiss adorning the top. This was the first time Jameson had actually tried hot chocolate or a Hershey’s kiss for that matter; he immediately unglued his face from the window and was now more interested in what mama and daddy were eating and drinking. To go with each hot beverage, the elves made a second round of service, passing out handfuls of napkins with cookies to fill them. It was clear at this point, my son was liking this train ride more and more with each passing minute.
Halfway through our journey, we went through the Candy Cane Tunnel that was lit up with Christmas lights both inside the train cars and the tunnel itself. For a few moments, it felt as if we were all watching a night-time Christmas light display. As we continued out of the tunnel, the festivities continued. The train’s conductor read Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 classic poem, “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” and shortly thereafter, the elf crew lead the entire train in singing a few classic Christmas carols: “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Frosty the Snowman.” It was clear to most parents on board that over the years we had forgotten the second and third verses of most of these songs. The train ride was a great refresher course in communal caroling.
Our trip’s final activity was a third round of service from the elves. They came around and passed out “Dear Santa” post cards for each child. It had a spot on the back for the child’s wish list with a little declaration that they had “been very good” that year. The card was also pre-addressed to “Santa Claus/ North Pole c/o the Candy Cane Express Train” in Virginia City. It was possible to actually place a stamp on the postcard and mail it or to simply place it in Santa’s mailbox there on the station’s grounds. Since my son can’t yet write, we simply wrote “Trucks” on his wish list and made sure that Santa got it.
As we pulled back into the station (while finishing the final unknown verse to “Frosty the Snowman”) children and parents alike were living on a little Christmas spirit and whole lot of sugar; everyone was, in truth, happy and bright. If your house is anything like mine, it values some of the classical Christmas traditions, the V&T’s Candy Cane Express was and is one of the most family friendly ways to usher in some of that tradition. We’ll certainly be doing it again next year for Christmas. Maybe then, Natalie and I will be a little better suited to sing some of those classic Christmas carols. Who know, by then, maybe even Jameson will be able to sing along.
The V&T’s Candy Cane Express runs for one more weekend: December 15th and 16th and reservations are recommended. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad is located at the 166 F. Street Depot in Virginia City, Nevada. Parking is located in the dirt lot directly in front of the Depot. This fills up fast, but there are other parking spots located at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at the corner of F St. & Taylor St. (a block from the Depot), as well as along the streets all around Virginia City. For more information and to get tickets, their phone number is (775) 847-0380 and their website is Virginiatruckee.com. For adults over 12 years old, tickets are $19, Children 2-12 are $10 and under two are FREE if they sit on parents lap.