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2013 Holiday Train: Frigid, but festivities draw a crowd

Dryden Seeley, 9, (right) and Colton Wolf, 4, make Christmas tree ornaments in the Whistle Stop Shop, one of many attractions at Saturday’s Canadian Pacific Holiday Train concert. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

On any other day, it’s a railway yard.

On Saturday, the Canadian Pacific property along Highway 61 in Cottage Grove was rechristened North Pole Station.

The occasion, of course, was the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train concert, which celebrated the 15th anniversary of the railroad’s annual yuletide tour to raise money for hunger relief.

More than one shivering reveler would attest that North Pole Station lived up to its name, thanks to a fanged, frigid wind, blowing snow and temperatures low as a champion golfer’s handicap. Jack Frost didn’t just “nip at your nose,” as the song goes. He tried to bite it off.

Minutes after arriving with her family, the nose and cheeks of Evelin Amundson, 14 months, took on a rosy hue that matched her pink parka. She came from Stillwater with parents, Erik and Lisa, and twin siblings Elle and Liam, 3.

These and other elf-sized visitors to North Pole Station didn’t seem impressed that Cottage Grove was the only American city chosen by Canadian Pacific to host a concert with Take 6 and Sheryl Crow. They seemed more interested in the Christmas tree, the ice sculpture demonstration and the hot chocolate and cookies handed out at the Mistletoe Cafe.

“Sheryl Who?” their faces seemed to say.

The woman who won nine grammys? Nothing. “All I Wanna Do?’ Yawn. Lance Armstrong’s ex-girlfriend? Nada.

But mention Santa Claus or the train, and their face lit up like Cindy Lou Who.

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, which idled on the tracks at the far end of North Pole Station, beckoned small fry like a living picture book. The cars, draped in jewel-colored holiday lights, seemed to hold out the promise of adventure and travel to far-off places.

“We just heard that there was a train,” said Amanda Wolf, who brought her son Colton, 4, from Prescott, Wis. “He loves trains.”

So does the Rodmyre family, which included Kelsey, 2, dad Brian and grandmother LeAnn.

“We’re all train lovers,” LeAnn said.

Becky and Justin Koehler came from Osceola, Wis., to see the train with son Bentley, 3, and Lily, 2.

“This one!” Bentley said when asked which was his favorite train.

Heated white tents provided a variety of attractions. The Whistle Work Shop let kids create their own miniature train Christmas tree ornaments. As darkness fell, interior red and green lights made the tents glow like luminaria.

While Canadian Pacific officials organized the event, south Washington County residents upheld the local honor by volunteering. Park High School students Travis Smith, 14, Richard Marsh, 15, and Gavin Dahlstrom, 14, are members of the school’s Junior ROTC program. The three Cottage Grove boys worked all evening loading donated toiletries and paper products into a semi truck for the Friends in Need Food Shelf.

“There’s been a couple of people who have gone overboard,” Marsh said of attendees’ generosity.

“We got six big boxes of mac and cheese,” Dahlstrom said.

Nearby, volunteers Kendra Witt, 14, and Alanna McCormick, 15, both of Cottage Grove, stood at an intersection, directing visitors from the parking lot at Innovation Road to the line of buses that would take them to North Pole Station. They’d already spent more than two hours standing in toe-numbing cold, yet their good cheer seldom flagged.

“Hi!” they greeted everyone.“Have a nice time!”

“It’s fun,” Witt said.

“It feels good to help,” McCormick added.

Emily White, of Newport, was stationed at the door of the Whistle Work Shop. This was her 11th year volunteering for the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, she said.

“I wouldn’t miss it,”she said.

As temperatures continued to dropped, some decided to skip the concert. Carolyn Virchow, of Big Lake, rode a shuttle bus back to the parking lot. Her 16-month-old daughter, Aubrey, drowsed in her arms. They never got to see Santa, she said.

“We didn’t quite get there,” she said. “The line was too long.”

But they still enjoyed themselves, she said.

Families who stayed for the concert were rewarded with short but spirited sets by a capella group Take 6 and Crow, who changed the line in her opening song, “All I Wanna Do” to “This ain’t no disco... this is Minnesota.”

Hannah Burton, 10, had one of the best seats in the house. She sat on the shoulders of her mother, Heidi, of St. Paul Park.

“I love her music,” Heidi Burton said. “It’s kid-friendly. It’s appropriate. And how many people would come out and sing for us in this cold?”

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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