Santa Cruz's newest holiday train had a sneak preview Friday and will be full Saturday with riders who scooped up hundreds of free tickets.
The train, owned by the Iowa Pacific Railroad's local branch, called the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway, will run along the 32 miles of track between Watsonville and Davenport that the county bought for $14.2 million. So far, the last miles need work, so it's current destination is Christmas Town, set up in an out-of-town field near Wilder Ranch.
There will be music and costumed characters during the holidays and next month meals will be served on trips that leave from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
This test ride drew huge response from westside residents who took pictures, ran out without shirts on to see it and some even mooned it from atop a fence.
Saturday the train will break through ribbons and stop for an hour in Watsonville, Aptos, Capitola, the Simpkins Family Swim Center and Swift and Fair Streets in Santa Cruz. (See schedule here).
Friday the train ran on an old, unpainted engine, while its real one was being painted.
The train will run Nov. 23-25, Nov. 28-30, Dec. 1-2, Dec. 5-9, Dec. 12-16, Dec. 19-23, Dec. 27-30 and Jan. 4-6. Tickets are $25 for kids under 12 and $35 for adults.
Owner Ed Ellis took the first ride Friday, along with his wife, Peggy, who signed copies of her book, The Train to Christmas Town. They brought with them the Grammy award duo Trout Fishing in America, who have played Santa Cruz many times. A group that writes children's songs that adults can love and visa versa, they wrote a song for the train ride and book.
Ellis, a former journalist for Trains magazine, created a job where he could combine his two loves, railroads and music. He has 10 passenger lines around the world doing holiday trains this year. One, in southern Colorado, leads to a solar-powered concert stage in the mountains.
There are still two other holiday trains that run from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, sponsored by Roaring Camp Railroad. There is a holiday lights train, which is $20 for children and $26 for adults and a Thomas Train, which is $26 for everyone.
The rest of the year the trains will haul freight and passengers as part of the county's deal to purchase the tracks and draw revenue from them.