NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The final checks are being done on an old steam engine as Kevin Dodd and the legendary North Pole Express – a familiar sight every year right around this time – readies to return.
Dodd is the engineer with the Valley Railroad Company in Essex, Connecticut, reports CBS2’s Steve Overmeyer.
“I have the best job in the world,” he said about the railroad. “I get to play with trains.”
It is home to some of the oldest and most accurately restored steam engines in the United States, some nearly 100 years old.
“I’ve always loved the antiques, I’ve always loved the machinery and being a part of it,” said Dodd. “It’s a part of who I am. Some people say I’m an old soul and that’s partially true.
“My mom used to say I was born out of time,” he said. “I should’ve lived in the 1890s with the horse and buggys and ‘ferrous oxide equus’ roamed the earth, the Iron Horse… They’re like a fire-breathing dinosaur.”
For the past 50 years, members of the surrounding community have volunteered their time to restore these relics of the nation’s industrial past.
“It is Americana,” said Dodd. “That is what people come here to see what America was like in 1920s and 1930s. And that’s what we try to bring them as much as we can.”
In an era of quiet compact transportation, the locomotive takes us back to a day none of that was required. It runs on coal, burning 60 pounds per mile.
Running on 12 miles of track, it takes nearly 500 people to keep this railroad operating, most using volunteers.
Dodd started off as the guy shoveling coal nearly 33 years ago, and now he’s the president of the railroad.
“I liken what I do to an orchestra,” he said. “I hold the baton and I lead, but the people here make the music.”
These century-old cars full of laughing children are whisked away to the North Pole where they meet a special guest: Santa Claus himself.
What’s it like when you see the smiles on these kids’ faces?
“Oh my gosh, I have to tell you that is the payoff for what we do,” said Dodd. “Seeing the kids keeping the traditions alive…”
For young passengers donning pajamas and smiles, all it takes is some hot chocolate and a few cookies to keep them warm.
“One of the jokes is: We’re going to give them sugar and cookies and send them on their way home,” said Dodd.
Leave them on a sugar high with their parents?
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re like grandparents.”
Whether it’s the characters or the sight of these symbols of yesteryear. everyone feels like a child.
“It’s not just the kids,” said Dodd. “Its everybody! It doesn’t get any better than that.”