It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas outside, and to help local families get in the holiday spirit, the North Pole Express is running here in Mid-Michigan. The Pier Marquette 1225 is the pride and joy of the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso. It came back into service a couple of weeks ago, and families rushed to book tickets for their special ride to the North Pole.
If this train looks familiar, or sounds familiar, it's because you've probably seen it in the 2004 movie The Polar Express. The real train, a 1940's steam train named the Pere Marquette 1225 lives in Owosso at the Steam Railroading Institute. The train was replicated for the film and was used to create all the sounds.
"Huge microphones... the train had to repeat many trips... movements... whistle blows and so forth... so it was a big project," said Terry Bush, Event Coordinator.
It was a big project that was a big hit at the box office. The Institute's Chief Mechanical Officer Kevin Mayer helped sound crews make movie magic.
"My family can't stand to watch the movie with me because I can tell them how all the sounds were made, and we have sounds from when the kid slid down the coal pile... I can tell you that was actually one of our guys sliding down the coal pile," said Kevin Mayer, Chief Mechanical Officer.
And for his help, Kevin got a bit of a shout out. his crew says the engineer in the movie looks a lot like Kevin. And though the film was produced almost 10 years ago, the folks at the steam railroading institute are working to keep that movie magic alive, turning the Pere Marquette into the Christmas train it was in The Polar Express. The train takes hundreds of families on a ride from Owosso the Village of Ashley.
"If there were Christmas trains before, they weren't anything like the North Pole Express because the movie has certain parameters that allows you to create an experience that's familiar to people," said Bush.
It's an experience that will be even better this year. After a four-year renovation project that cost nearly a million dollars, The Pier Marquette is back online, and she'll spend her holiday season giving families their own Polar Express Experience. When families arrive to the "North Pole," there are holiday crafts and a visit from Santa. The North Pole Express will run through the last weekend of this month. The train is so popular it's already sold out. The Steam Railroading Institute says the train ride is their largest fundraiser every year.