This story is a part of News Channel 11’s special coverage of the 80th anniversary of the Santa Train. These stories and many more can be watched on Thursday during our 1-hour documentary covering all aspects of the event. For more stories on the Santa Train’s return, visit the Santa Train: Celebrating 80 Years tab above.
(WJHL) – “The Santa Train Tradition” is a children’s hardcover book that tells the story of a fictional family that makes their way to the Santa Train during its stop near their home. While the tradition is a quintessential Appalachian experience, author Leigh Anne Hoover helped ensure the Santa Train story is now told worldwide.
Hoover had her first interaction with the Santa Train as a journalist, and all it took was one ride to understand that it was something special.
“I was involved with it from the start, I was going to write an article for US Airways Magazine,” Hoover said. “But as a journalist, I was allowed to get off the train. And then I learned about the Santa Train because I talked to the people.”
With her feet on the ground, Hoover met generations of Appalachian Americans that made the annual trip to the tracks.
“Grandparents, parents and children who all remembered coming to the Santa Train,” Hoover said. “And I thought there’s so much more to this than just the facts. And I heard so many things, and I thought this is so much more than an article.”
At the time, Hoover didn’t know exactly what it needed to be. The decision to write a children’s book, she said, was a suggestion from above.
“I think it was divine intervention,” Hoover said. “Because it came together in a fashion that I could not have done myself.”
Hoover’s book focuses on a family that makes their way one snowy morning to a little rail crossing before Santa Claus makes an appearance and gives away candy, toys and essential items for the coming Winter. Whether it’s a tiny coal community nestled into the hollers or larger city terminals, Hoover learned they all had something in common.
“What resonated was tradition,” Hoover said. “So there it was, ‘The Santa Train Tradition.'”
Illustrated by Marion, Virginia-native Carol Bates Murray, the book was subject to approval by CSX as the owner of the Santa Train’s rights. The only genuine concern Hoover had was over an illustration, and the story demonstrates the intense focus the rail company keeps on safety.
“CSX not only saw the text, they saw every single possible page,” Hoover said. “There’s actually a page in there that I was not real sure, I thought ‘Are these people too close to the tracks? Are they okay?'”
After final approval from CSX, Hoover partnered with Food City to sell the finished product. All revenues from her book’s sale went straight into the Santa Train Scholarship, a $5,000 award to a high-school senior along the route.
“It’s been so rewarding for me to hear people talk about the book,” Hoover said. “Because to them it’s something they remember, they grew up with. It’s hope. It resonates on so many levels. It’s love. It’s giving back.”
You can buy Hoover’s book online or purchase a copy from the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. A new second printing is available for $11.99, and a collector’s edition is $13.99.