Monday, February 1, 2016

North Pole Express (Polar Express) - Fillmore & Western Railway - Fillmore, California

The Polar Express - Fillmore, California
Certainly you've seen the animated holiday film The Polar Express which features Tom Hanks voicing and modeling multiple characters. It's about a magical Christmas Eve train ride to the North Pole. It's based on a popular book by Chris Van Allsburg.

The Fillmore & Western Railway, an excursion train in Fillmore, California, brings the animated film to life every December. They run their own "Polar Express" to the "North Pole" so that young kids can see Santa.

The Fillmore & Western Railway calls this train The North Pole Express (instead of The Polar Express) and I assume that this is for legal reasons. The passenger cars are pulled by a diesel locomotive and not a steam locomotive like what's seen in the movie and book.
Train Watching - Fillmore, California
The journey begins at the Fillmore depot in downtown Fillmore, California. The place is decorated for the holidays with lots of lights and tinsel and wreaths. There is a carousel and various Christmas displays. If I were a kid this place would look magical to me!

My kids loved seeing the different locomotives and cars parked at the depot. We walked up and down the platform so that they could see them all. My two-year-old kept saying, "Choo-choo! Choo-choo!"

They give each rider a "golden ticket" similar to what's found in the movie. My kids loved this! I think it gave this an air of authenticity for them. They also encourage kids to dress in pajamas like in the story.
Polar Express Rider - Fillmore, California
We waited for the train to board. Seats are assigned so we didn't have to worry about being first in line. As the time approached for boarding the whole place became crowded. Soon enough we were climbing aboard our classic passenger car, where we had our own table. It all seemed well organized and thoughtfully set up.

The train departed shortly down the tracks. It moved slowly towards a fictional North Pole through the California countryside filled with orange groves. "Elves" passed out cookies and chocolate milk. The "Conductor" punched holes in the tickets. The Night Before Christmas was read as an elf walked up and down the isle with the classic book, showing the kids the illustrated pages

The train pulled into the North Pole halfway through the journey, roughly 30 minutes down the track from the Fillmore depot. This is in the middle of nowhere and decorated to look like Santa's workshop. Mr. and Mrs Claus waved at the train as it crawled by. Those seated on the south side of the train cars got a much better view than those seated on the north.
Down The Tracks - Fillmore, California
Santa jumped aboard and began making his way through the cars as the train started back towards Fillmore. He stops and briefly talks to each kid, so it takes awhile for him to get from one end of the train to the other. One of Santa's helpers gives each kid a reindeer bell.

The ride back includes the singing of classic Christmas songs, mostly ones that children would typically know. Thirty minutes later, just as the kids are ready to be done, the train pulled back into the Fillmore station.

If you live in southern California and have kids that love trains (what kids don't love trains?)--if you've every watched The Polar Express or read the book--Fillmore & Western Railway's North Pole Express is something that you must experience. It's not cheap and tickets run out quickly (they must be purchased in advance), but it is worth it, just to see the look on your child's face.
Christmas Train - Fillmore, California
I captured these photographs using a Sony RX100 II digital camera. It's small size makes it ideal for these type of photography situations (you know, where you are constantly chasing a two-year-old around). Besides, vision is more important than gear. I used Phase One Capture One Express and Alien Skin Exposure 7 to post-process the images.

One great feature of the RX100 II is that you can capture both video and stills simultaneously. The camera can capture 17-megapixel JPEGs while actively recording video, and a handful of the images in this post were captured this way. It's perfect for when you are commissioned to be the photographer and videographer (and it's a lot better than carrying around two cameras).

Even though the light disappeared quickly as day turned to night, the camera's 1" sensor did just fine capturing photographs, even recording JPEGs. A camera with a larger sensor would have done a little better, but the added size and weight would not have made up for the small increase in image quality. Not when you have different roles to play, including the role of daddy.
Train Tickets - Fillmore, California
Ticket To Ride - Fillmore, California
Combination Coach - Fillmore, California
Fillmore Reflection - Fillmore, California
Pullman Roof - Fillmore, California
The Conductor - Fillmore, California
Fillmore & Western Stripes - Fillmore, California
Reverse Instructions - Fillmore, California
Waiting To Board - Fillmore, California
Riding The Polar Express - Fillmore, California
The North Pole - Fillmore, California
Eating A Cookie - Fillmore, California
The Night Before Christmas - Fillmore, California
Christmas Songs - Fillmore, California
Singing Christmas Carols On The Polar Express - Fillmore, California

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