|Get on Board: Hopkins County family’s free ‘Christmas Train’ just keeps growing|
|Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor|
Dec. 2, 2005 -- If you were to ask almost any 6-year-old in the world about Christmas, he'd tell you about Santa Claus, the North Pole, snowmen, toys, candy and tons of lights.
However, one thing most local kids will mention that others don't is the North Pole of Texas, a festival holiday delight located on the Screws family dairy in Pine Forest. The free, sparkling adventure found deep in the heart of dairy land incorporates both sacred and secular scenes for a unique Texas Christmas to behold.
The North Pole of Texas comes complete with all of those things, plus a train ride past festive cow cutouts, over a county road on the "Happy Birthday Jesus" bridge to Bethlehem, and even includes a peek into Santa's workshop and Kim's Hot Chocolate Factory. Children will have the option of visiting with Santa, who will be handing out candy, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each Friday and Saturday night, Dec. 1-17, and Dec. 19-23.
Alan and Kim Screws and their children started the project in 1997 offering hayrides in a Santa sleigh for friends, as well as reindeer with lights and a train which circled the front yard. Since then the project has flourished, with more than 5,000 people taking the train ride last year.
Beginning each summer, the family spends their spare time checking the more than 30,000 Christmas lights, maintenance on the displays and constructing the new addition. The community pitches in, too.
In September of 2000, the Screws family started work on the 40-foot bridge, which proclaims "Happy Birthday Jesus" in red Christmas lights on both sides and crosses County Road 3310 to the other side of the Screws' property, where the Nativity scene and another lighted display were set up, before crossing back over the bridge.
The next year, the Screws dairyland Christmas extravaganza included a 24-foot by 32-foot shed which houses Santa's Workshop, complete with animated working elves which the train passes through.
In 2002, the Screws added a second train, the North Pole Express, which provided space for 25 additional adults or 30 children to be seated in three larger passenger cars.
In 2003, the original train, the Christmas Cannonball, was retired in order to make way for a second, larger locomotive. The train features three passenger cars and will provide space for 25 additional adults or 30 children. Another attraction added was the Elf Pond behind Santa's Workshop to provide relaxing paddle boat rides for Santa's elves to enjoy during breaks from toy-making at the workshop. It also marked the first year the Screws family received any outside help aside from friends and neighbors; eight businesses helped sponsor the event. This year, sponsors include Lone Star Milk Producers, City National Bank, Alexander's Tractor Parts, Lone Star Milk Producers, ABC Auto Plex, Hopkins County Vet Clinic, Winnsboro Vet Clinic, East Texas Line-X, Farm Country Inc. and Purina Mills LLC.
Last year, the free train ride concluded at Kim's Hot Chocolate Factory, where riders enjoyed a cup of cocoa along with the piece of candy handed by Santa to children at the workshop.
This year, the tour will include all of that, plus a third train to seat more people, and another building with live animals.
"We've added to Bethlehem," Alan Screws said. "We have a new two-story building — The Inn. It will be beside the Nativity, with corrals with animals for the kids to enjoy. There'll be donkeys, sheep and goats. Some night, we'll have a live Nativity.
"This year we've also added another train. We haven't named it yet. Kim did the colors so they're kind of wild — purple, orange, one with solids, one with circles with colors. The kids will love this one," he said.
Those hoping to avoid the holiday rush will want to go to one of the earlier dates to avoid the crowd and having to wait in line for rides.
"The first weekend is usually the lightest. The closer to Christmas it gets, the longer the wait and the heavier the flow of traffic," Screws said. "We'll have everything we've had in the past, plus live animals. Santa will be here every night with candy to give out to the kids and we'll have free hot chocolate from Kim's Hot Chocolate Factory."
To find the North Pole of Texas, take Interstate 30 east from Sulphur Springs to the Weaver exit. Turn right onto FM 269 south into the Pine Forest community. Turn left at Betty's Store (look for the Texas-shaped sign with North Pole of Texas on it) onto County Road 3310. Then follow the oil-top road for about 3 miles until you see the lighted bridge. Directions and times are also available at www.northpoleoftexas.com or by calling 903-866-3305.