|Dairy farm’s Christmas train has become a holiday tradition for many in Hopkins County|
|Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor|
Dec. 1, 2006 - The Alan and Kim Screws dairy will once again be ablaze with holiday cheer, including 30,000 new outdoor twinkle lights adorning metal trees which light the county road up to "The North Pole of Texas."
For many area residents, a trip to Pine Forest to ride the free holiday train has become a tradition. The sparkling adventure found deep in the heart of dairy land incorporates both sacred and secular scenes for a unique Texas Christmas.
Those hoping to avoid the holiday rush will want to go on one of the earlier dates to avoid the crowd and having to wait in line. The North Pole of Texas will be open from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night in December through Christmas, as well as on Dec. 20-23.
"The first weekend is usually the lightest. The closer to Christmas it gets, the longer the wait and the heavier the flow of traffic," Alan Screws said. "We'll have everything we've had in the past, plus a live nativity. 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."
About 7,000 people drove out to the Screws dairy last year. On some evenings, as many as 800 ventured to Pine Forest.
"When we first started this we had about 500 to 1,000 people come," Screws said. "Since then, they come and tell friends, then bring them back with them. We've still got the groups of school kids coming this year. Last year we had about 1,700 kids."
While the number making the trek has increased each year to see the ever expanding displays, so has the number of volunteers needed.
"We have as many as 20 volunteers here a night," Screws said. "We have three that drive the trains, Santa and the elves, six to eight in the nativity, three in the hot chocolate shop, three parking everybody, and one or two to run back and forth for general errand and in case of emergencies. And, Kim and I load and unload the trains. There's no way we could do this without everybody's help."
They also have several sponsors which help the Screws afford to offer the free train rides each year, and the neighbors pitch in along with volunteers and all available members of the Screws family. The neighbors have even begun getting in on the fun, with a few decorating their yards as an added attraction to the area.
They do, however, still have room for a few additional volunteers in the live nativity scene.
"If any area churches want to volunteer to do the live nativity we need six to eight people each night. There are still some spots open. We have the costumes, all they have to do is show up. If they want to do it, they can just call 903-866-3005 and leave a message on the answering machine," Screws said.
Screws said that the holiday display won't be open if it's raining, icing, or if there's an accumulation of ice on the bridge, as such conditions restrict lights and movement of the train on the bridge over the county road. He said if it rains during the day but isn't raining from 6-9 p.m. on the designated days, the display The North Pole of Texas will be open.
When in doubt, call 903-866-3005 to hear whether the ride has been canceled.
This year, the Screws have put together metal trees which are wrapped in 30,000 outdoor twinkle lights. They are placed strategically along the county road in front of the Screws home to light the path to the exhibit and parking area. There are also a number of gingerbread cutouts Kim has added near the Hot Chocolate Factory.
Last year, a third train was added to accommodate an additional 15 people at a time. The Bethlehem scene across from the Screws' front yard was also expanded last year to include a two-story building called The Inn beside the Nativity, with corrals of animals for kids to enjoy.
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.
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 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.
The next year, the Screws added a 24-foot by 32-foot shed which houses Santa's Workshop, complete with animated working elves, which the train passes through. In 2002, they added a second train, the North Pole Express, with three larger passenger cars.
In 2003, the original train, the Christmas Cannonball, was retired in order to make way for second, larger locomotive like the North Pole Express. 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.
In 2004, 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.
Now, especially on cold winter nights, those waiting in line for their turn can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, provided they dispose of the cup in a trash receptacle prior to boarding the train. Cups of hot chocolate will also be available following the ride.
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.
To find the North Pole of Texas, take Interstate 30 east 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. Follow the oil-top road about 3 miles until you see the lighted bridge. Directions and times are also available at
or by calling 903-866-3005.