It takes an army of volunteers - both youth and adults - to keep the Polar Express running from the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum to the North Pole (Newcomerstown) for two weekends every year in December.
Depot Executive Director Wendy Zucal estimates that 300 area residents are needed each day to work the trains and another 200 to work behind the scenes - from storytellers, to elves, to safety personnel, to the people who make hot chocolate for visitors to enjoy.
"We have so many people contributing to this event," she said Sunday. "The community is behind it."
Those volunteers found new tasks to fill as the popular excursion train under went some major changes in 2017. In the past, the train had been based on the Polar Express book. This year, it is based on the Warner Brothers motion picture and licensed by the movie company.
Characters from the movie — Hero Boy, Hero Girl, Know It All Kid and the Hobo — were on board, portrayed by 20 child volunteers. A soloist sang a song from the movie, "Christmas Comes to Town."
"The people are liking the characters," Zucal said. "It adds something new."
Each car on the train has at least five volunteers on board.
Leigh Ann McCray of Uhrichsville was the storyteller Sunday afternoon on Car 422, reading the Polar Express book to the children on board, leading the singing of holiday songs and getting the kids involved in a limbo contest. She has been a volunteer for 12 years.
She said she also puts all the children on her car on Santa’s "good" list and reads off what they want for Christmas.
Her niece, Zoe Blickensderfer, 11, of Gnadenhutten, was a first-time elf this year. She said she enjoyed seeing the little children. "When they see Santa, they’re like woo hoo! Christmas!"
She also enjoys helping with the limbo contest, in which she and the children are required to go underneath a pole in the aisle that gets progressively lower each time they do it. "I like doing the limbo until I can’t fit," she said.
Mela Abarca of Uhrichsville is a veteran volunteer. She started when she was in the fourth grade and is now a freshman in high school.
She got involved because of friends. "My friends said we can go on the Polar Express for free and be an elf," she said. "So it sounded like a good idea.
"I like doing it. I love children. They’re adorable and get excited to see the elves."
Ethan Fair, 9, of Dennison, became an elf this year because friends talked him into it.
"I enjoyed doing it," he said. "I didn’t know if I would like it at first, but I like it now. I want to do it again."
Vanessa Moreland, 12, of Dennison, has been a volunteer for three years. "It’s all fun," she said.
New this year is Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen, which is located in the Masonic building across the street from the depot.
"This is new because if you read the Polar Express book, there is no Mrs. Claus at all in it," said Kathy Spring, a member of the depot board. "So we can’t use her on the train any more. So we started Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen. She is making her cookies and then you come in and decorate them - one for Santa and one for yourself."
On Friday, children made 200 cookies in the kitchen.
She said the kids enjoy it. "They get to hug Mrs. Claus," Spring said. "She’s not busy. She can sit and take time, and she helps with the cookies. When they see Mrs. Claus, I think that’s the icing on the cookie."