Dan Durachko is the acting president of the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society — but more importantly, he is a close, personal friend of Mr. Kris Kringle.
Lucky ticket holders for this year’s Santa Express just might have the opportunity make the acquaintance of the man in red during the holiday-themed journey from Centre County to the North Pole.
All of the seats have been spoken for, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year.
Below, Durachko talks more about Mr. Claus and company.
Q: How many years has the Santa Express been visiting Bellefonte?
A: Approximately 8 years.
Q: How many people are booked for this year’s ride?
A: More than 4,000 in Bellefonte alone, not including several weekends in surrounding areas hosted by other organizations.
Q: How many volunteers or staff are involved in making this a reality?
A: Approximately one dozen BHRS volunteers, another handful of volunteers from various Bellefonte groups, employees of North Shore and Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroads, the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority and the Penn Valley Railroad. We are always seeking new volunteers.
Q: Who can people expect to see other than Santa?
A: Rudolph, Frosty, elves, the Grinch, Gingerbread Man, Buddy the Elf, Mrs. Claus ... I think that covers it.
Q: Why do you think that this is continues to be so popular year after year?
A: The ride is seasonal, festive and fun for all ages — and it’s also affordable. We are fortunate to be typically scheduled for the weekend just before Dec. 25, so the excitement level is very high. All of the volunteers involved are dedicated and enthusiastic, so the overall mood is simply tremendous as well as infectious.
On a personal level, my 14-year-old son has participated in the rides since they were first introduced in Bellefonte — first as a young passenger, then an assistant car-host, Santa’s elf, and he now enjoys assisting as one of Santa’s character friends. It’s a special part of his holiday tradition and an incredible opportunity for to him work with other volunteers to benefit his community.
Q: What do you personally enjoy about being involved with Santa Express?
A: Seeing how much enjoyment everyone gets out of seeing the train fully decorated and being in a crowd of holiday loving people.
Q: Do you think that events like this help to promote interest in some of the Bellefonte Historical Railroad Society’s other programming throughout the year?
A: This event definitely puts and keeps us in the public eye.