“The Polar Express”: A Baldwin City holiday experience


Lily Stephens

The train conductor walks up and down the aisle of the train while a narration of “The Polar Express” story book is played over a speaker.

Story by Lily Stephens, Managing Editor

If you have been enjoying your Friday evening at El Patron with your family and then looked over to spot a gaggle of pajama-clad children, you may be experiencing something called the “Polar Express effect.” After much anticipation, the train has finally pulled into the station, and people inside and outside the Baldwin City community could not be more excited and filled with Christmas cheer.

This winter, Baldwin City and Midland Railway welcomes the Polar Express to town. The train takes visitors on a ride to the North Pole where Santa boards the train. However, the ride is much more than that. Each car has a pair of “Chelfs” (actors that act as a chef, elf and a steward) that cater to guests and entertain them on the ride. The conductor also makes appearances on the train and helps the Chelfs sing and dance to songs from the movie soundtrack.

Midland is one of the 48 railways with a Polar Express train ride experience located all over the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Rail Events Incorporated brings the show to each station and employs local actors to perform onboard the train.

Some of the people hired to work on the train and as other staff members include Baker students. Junior Jack Mills works at the front taking tickets and in the gift shop. A fellow Baker student reached out to Mills about helping build the set for the North Pole, which passengers view and drive past.

“I have enjoyed working at the Polar Express, I’ve really liked [seeing] the impact it is going to have on Baldwin City,” Mills said.

Sophomore Jessie Brintnall, who is a “Chelf” on the train, also spoke about the impact the show has on the community. She said that the event has the potential to bring 900 people to Baldwin City each weekend. People are coming from all over to enjoy the ride, and some have never even heard of Baldwin City before. Brintnall is one of the only actors who is not a professional. She said the job has been time-consuming and crazy, but super fun. Last summer, her mom told her that the train was coming to Baldwin. When she saw the flyer for the open call, she went and gave it a shot.

After getting the job, Brintnall had to rehearse for six hours a day. When she is performing, she is at Midland every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, also for six hours a day. While she has had to put her life on hold, she said the shows make it worth it.

“People get to come here and they get to make those memories and they know that it happened in Baldwin,” Brintnall said.

School buses transport passengers to the railway depot from a route around town with stops at The Lodge, the fire department, city hall and the Baldwin City train depot. Once you arrive, a big white tent holds a world of color, music and Christmas spirit. The show starts in the tent with a short dialogue from two characters, and then you’re off on the train.

I don’t want to ruin too many surprises, because that’s all part of the fun, but I will give you the insight that really matters — words from the kids. The kids I spoke with said their favorite parts of the ride were seeing Santa and getting hot chocolate. Some Christmas wishes included robots, race car tracks, Apple watches and Patrick Mahomes jerseys.

If you are looking for something fun and festive to do with your family this holiday season that will draw them to Baldwin City, the Polar Express train ride might be exactly what you are looking for. You can find tickets on www.midlandrailway.org or call (913) 721-1211. Dec. 30 will be the train’s last journey to the North Pole.