HISTORY OF THE SANTA TRAIN
Our 42nd Year
The Santa Train was born 42 years ago in Baltimore, MD and celebrating 30 years in Ahwatukee. Although celebrating in this
year of the pandemic is a stretch.
The original train was purchased in 1978 from a mail order catalogue that specialized in obsolete products. It was intended to be
a gift for my two boys. Like typical little boys they played with it for about an hour reverting to the box it came in for more lasting
enjoyment. We packed it away and almost forgot about it.
After Halloween that year, I had an idea to salvage my purchase and make a train display. Unfortunately, the train only came with
enough track to form an 8-foot circle. I didn't think that would be a very effective display, so I called Tyco, the company that
manufactured it to see if I could purchase more track.
Bob was the gentleman I spoke to on the phone. I told him what I wanted to do, and he informed me that the train set had been
discontinued for about 2 years, but he took my name, address and phone number and said he would check the warehouse and get
back to me if there was any track left. Obviously, I did not hold out much hope. However, two weeks before Thanksgiving, a truck
pulled up to the to deliver four boxes of track. On the packing slip was a note that said, "No charge - Merry Christmas, from Bob and
The tradition started and very year I try to add something new. Moving here 30 years ago helped me elaborate a since I did not have
the snow to contend with. I remember some of those Baltimore years when I literally had to shovel the track, put rubber belts on the
wheels and weight down the engine to make it go without skidding on the icy rails. I also knew the batteries would not last long if left
to run continuously so the first few years were spent trying to develop an adequate system. I started using a timer that made the train
go every 5 minutes. That made the batteries last all night, but some missed out on seeing the train in operation. It was then I
experimented with different means of operating the train automatically. Until 2005 I used a photocell on the engine that sensed
The original train fell apart in 1987 so I started designing and building my own engine and cars. I also designed and built the track,
features and most of the accessories and animation you see. Most of them have computer controlled electronic circuits. There
are sensors in the track that activate various features as the train passes by (Yes, I am an Engineer by education). Incidentally, I usually
start after Halloween and try to finish by Thanksgiving Day. When we moved to Ahwatukee in 1990, I took advantage of living next
to a preserve and received special permission for a snowflake and tree display in the hill next to us.
By 2004 the train started showing its age and we had so much traffic that I was replacing batteries four times per night. They were
getting expensive so in 2005 I introduced an all new train and track system with automatic circuits that keep the train operating reliably.
The track is now externally powered (low voltage) eliminating the dependence on batteries. Our parents all lived long lives and they were
always a great inspiration to us. We miss them terribly.
Even though our children are grown up, we still love Christmas and get great pleasure seeing the little visitor's excitement as they
watch the train and display. Now we're doing it again with our Granddaughter, Sophia.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my beautiful wife, Dianne. She has provided me with her awesome artistic talent and support for
my whimsical ideas for 53 years and I certainly could not have done any of this without her. We both struggled this year in the middle
of this horrible pandemic. There were times when we though we would not put up the display. However, with the encouragement of our
family, friends, and this great community, we decided we were not going to let COVID-19 beat us. We decided to change a few things
to make the display safe and forego the candy canes until I can develop a better distribution system.
We were also honored last year to be a part of a national TV special produced by HGTV called "Outrageous holiday houses."
It must have been fate when I made that "long shot" call to Tyco 42 years ago. My counter indicates that the train has made over
144,000 trips around the track and has traveled over 4300 miles. Since 1994, I have given away over 146,000 Candy Canes. The
candy cane loader I built in 2005 made that task a lot easier. We've donated over $20,000 to help cure children's diseases; in
part from money left in lieu of candy canes.
I often think of that nice gentleman on the phone over 42 years ago who took the time to go out of his way to do something special.
I'm sure all of my little train pals out there share with me in saying, "Thank you, Bob, and Merry Christmas wherever you are."
To the greatest parents ever, we miss you very much.
………….Yes, the display is brighter but so is Heaven now that you're there.
YEAR BY YEAR PROGRESS
1978 - Purchased train from Harbor Freight Catalog
1979 - 1st year of Christmas train display. Nothing moved. About 200 large multicolored lights
1980 - Added about 30 more feet of track. The motorized car we bought David broke. I used the motor from it to
power the train for the 1st time.
1981- Added a timer to the motor that made it move for about 1 minute every 5 minutes. About 500 total lights.
Added the Reindeer hoisting Santa to the roof display.
1982- Replaced the motor and added an electronic circuit to control the train when cars went by which employed a
light beam that shot across the street to a reflector mounted on a light post then back to the train. Every
time a car broke the beam, the train would run. Added the Crashed Sleigh Scene. About 700 total lights.
1983- Added about 20 feet of track. About 900 total lights. Started blowing fuses.
1984- Rewired the fuse panel and added Christmas outlets to the front yard.
1985- Added a 3' rotating Christmas tree.
1986- The main engine fell apart. Made a new one out of wood. About 1500 total lights
1987- The coal car fell apart. Made a new one out of wood. About 2000 total lights
1988- Replace the train motor. The wooden engine was too heavy for the previous motor. About 2500 total lights.
1989- Rebuilt the engine. Added a bridge to the track. About 3000 total lights. Moved to Arizona in late December
1990- 1st time for display in Arizona. Added working crossing gate that activates when the train goes by.
1991- Added photo sensor circuit to the engine. About 5000 total lights.
1992- 1st snowflakes on the mountains. Hosted party for building snowflakes. About 7000 total lights
1993- Added a caboose car to the train that flashes it's red & green lights as it goes around the
track. Added 50 more feet of track bringing the total to 180 ft. About 8000 total lights
1994- Added a Candy Cane Car. Started giving candy canes to the visitors. About 9000 total lights.
1995- Added a tunnel to the train. Neighborhood snowflakes grows to 40. About 10,000 total lights.
1996- Added a Flashing RR sign to the train that activates when the train goes by. About 10,000 total lights
1997- Added an illuminated mountain Christmas tree. We are featured in Foothills Magazine.
Neighborhood snowflakes grows to 65.
1998- Rebuilt the engine. Added an animal car. Neighborhood snowflakes grows to 80. About 12,000 total
lights. Added a 6' rotating tree.
1999- Added an animal car. Neighborhood snowflakes grows to 85. About 12,000 total lights
2000- Added Dancing Santa in a gingerbread house. Added more mountain snowflakes. Channel 3 visits us.
2001- Added Candy Cane Striping Factory - White Candy Canes in, Striped Candy Canes out.
2002- Added Teeter Totter. About 14,000 total lights.
2002- Added volcano with smoke. About 15,000 total lights. I get a thank you card from SRP!
2003- Added a Ferris Wheel and more mountain snowflakes
2004- Added train sound and whistle
2005- Completely new train, track and automation. 1st year for externally powered track.
2006- LED lights on Ferris Wheel.
2007- Artificial snow making added. Over 4000 LED lights replaces the front yard incandescent. Even the Santa
Train is "Going Green"
2008- Over 15,000 lights replaced with LED's. More lights added to Ferris wheel.
2009- Added Carousel Swing, improved Candy Cane loader. Over 17,000 LED lights.
2010- Renewed "Crashed sleigh Scene", Web Cam link. 2000 LED lights added.
2011- Life size talking, singing & dancing Santa scene. Falling snow icicles. Over 17,000 LED lights
2012- A Mouse emerges from a gift box to recite "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"
2013- New mountain animation. Added 4000 LED lights
2014- New Cocoa Train Car. Improved Ferris Wheel
2015- New Holiday singers pop-up box. New cosmic color mountain show and snowflakes
2016- New 12 segment cosmic color mountain tree with musical sequences of popular Christmas favorites.
2017- Had accident. No new features.
2018- Added Hot Air Balloon display. Added new segments and music to cosmic color mountain tree.
2019- Display part of HGTV's Christmas Special "Outrageous Holiday Houses".
2020- Modified train to ue foot switches. Modified crashed sleigh scene on roof. Made two Palm Trees