‘Operation Sgt. Santa’: For 1st time in 40 years, Fort Eustis hosts free holiday train rides for military families

Living Local

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va(WAVY) – For the first time in more than 40 years, military families can enjoy a free and fun-filled holiday train ride around the Fort Eustis railroad.

Rides are free on a first-come, first-served basis on Saturday, Dec. 11 and Sunday, Dec. 12 from 2-6 p.m., leaving from the U.S. Army Transportation Museum.

The only requirement to ride is that the family must have one Department of Defense ID cardholder with them and wear masks on the train.

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Dubbed “Operation Sgt. Santa,” the excursions are a return to the past for the Army post, according to Staff Sgt. Brett Goertemoeller, with the 7-80th Transportation Battalion. He said “Santa trains” were a yearly tradition at the post until 1978.

“So about five or six years ago, a bunch of us here were trying to get together a group that could put a Santa train on for the soldiers and the families like we used to do back in the day,” Goertemoller, 42, said. “We had what we thought was a good enough plan to approach the base to say ‘Hey can we start planning for next year?'”

But turns out, leadership wanted it done this year.

So in less than a month Goertemoller along with the Military Railroad Society raised money, found railroad equipment, arranged for it to be brought to Newport News and decked the halls.

“I haven’t slept a lot the last four weeks,” Goeremoller laughed.

Two of the railcars came all the way from the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, in Cumberland, Maryland. Bill Hatrick and his wife own the 40-seat first-class “Pacific Trail” and 38-seat lounge car known as the “Overland Trail.”

“Brett gave me a call and said what about your railcars going over to Fort Eustis for a Santa train for military families and I said ‘I’m on board,'” Hatrick said decked out in his original Southern Pacific Railroad conductors uniform.

Built in 1949 the “Overland Trail,” features the last operating barbershop rail car in the entire United States.

The third car on the train isn’t owned by “Presidential 118 Navy Car,” one of the oldest operating luxury rail cars in the fleet, will also be open to passengers.

All passengers are encouraged to wear their holiday-themed attire, whether dressing as one of Santa’s elves or wearing their best ugly holiday sweater.

“I want to see happy children and families … just to give those families a little bit of joy. I’m happy for it,” Hatrick said. “I hope that the people who will enjoy the cars tomorrow will recognize the era if you will, the slower pace, the comfortable way to travel and so on.”

Officials at Joint Base Langley-Eustis are hoping the event turns into an annual tradition with enough local support.

WATCH BELOW: to see a tour of Bill Hatrick’s historic railcars.

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