All board as Po­lar Ex­press vis­its Lans­dale

North Penn Life - - Front Page - By Dan Sokil dsokil@jour­nalregis­ter.com

An ex­press train head­ing north vis­ited vis Lans­dale Dec. 14, but it skipped the bor­ough’s train sta­tion and headed much far­ther north than Doylestown.

Sev­eral dozen young y pas­sen­gers in­stead spent their night at the Lans­dale Pub­lic Li­brary for a read­ing and film show­ing of the hol­i­day clas­sic “The Po­lar Ex­press.”

“It’s an ex­cel­lent chil­dren’s book, it’s got­ten to be a big Christ­mas tra­di­tion here at the li­brary. We sell tick­ets for big dol­lars, $1 per ticket, and ev­ery­one must have a ticket. You don’t get in with­out one,” said Bill Hen­ning.

Wear­ing a blue jacket with gold but­tons and a match­ing blue and gold rail con­duc­tor hat, Hen­ning spent the night play­ing the con­duc­tor from the chil­dren’s novel, mak­ing sure ev­ery rider on the ex­press paid for their ticket as they en­tered the li­brary’s Lynn Janoff Com­mu­nity Room.

In the 1985 novel by Chris Van Alls­burg, a young boy hears a train whis­tle out­side his house and boards a train headed for the North Pole. On the way, he sees elves wait­ing for Santa and asks for a sil­ver bell from one of the rein­deer as his first gift. When he re­turns home, the bell is lost, but a red box be­neath his Christ­mas tree con­tains one that rings, along with a note signed by “Mr. C.”

About 40 kids and al­most as many par­ents lis­tened in­tently as the con­duc­tor read the story and showed its il­lus­tra­tions, and af­ter a snack break, most stuck around for a show­ing of the 2004 an­i­mated film ver­sion.

“It’s amaz­ing. When you get a room full of kids like this, and we’re read­ing the story, how well-be­haved they are. They just sit there in awe watch­ing the story, they really en­joy it,” he said.

The sil­ver bell in the story is meant to sym­bol­ize the boy’s be­lief in the hol­i­day, and each young pas­sen­ger on the ex­press re­ceived their own sil­ver bell for at­tend­ing the read­ing, as well as a sou­venir ticket punched by Hen­ning with shapes men­tioned in the film. All pro­ceeds from tick­ets were do­nated to the li­brary, and Hen­ning said he had printed over 100 ride tick­ets, which sold out for the third straight year.

“I’m a rail­road per­son, a train per­son, as most peo­ple know, so trains and Christ­mas just go hand in hand,” he said.

“This con­duc­tor hat, I ac­tu­ally found on the rail­road tracks here in Lans­dale when I was about 10 years old. I was walking along the tracks, found it, took it to my mom and sold it to her for $5, and here I am, 35 years later, I bought it back from her,” Hen­ning said.

As chil­dren re­ceived their bells and en­joyed hot choco­late and cook­ies — also men­tioned in the novel — they shared their thoughts on the deeper mean­ings be­hind the story. When asked why the boy wanted the sil­ver bell, one shouted, “to im­press his girl­friend.” Sev­eral chil­dren com­mented on the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the train horn from the ex­press and those they hear in down­town Lans­dale fre­quently.

Per­haps the big­gest draw of the night was a Lionel O-gauge model train set, based on the novel, that was raf­fled off af­ter the read­ing. A young ex­press rider picked the win­ning ticket of Su­san Veasey, who won a train set do­nated by Hen­ning’s Trains.

“All of the raf­fle tick­ets are $1 per chance and ev­ery dol­lar goes back to the li­brary. The set’s worth al­most $400, so it’s a good prize. You can’t beat that for $1,” Hen­ning said.

A to­tal of 270 raf­fle tick­ets and roughly 100 read­ing tick­ets were sold for the event, lead­ing to a to­tal of roughly $370 raised for the li­brary, he said.

“One mother said she was so happy to fi­nally be able to get tick­ets to bring her chil­dren this year. The last two years sold out be­fore she was able to get them,” said Hen­ning.

FROM TOP: Bill Hen­ning por­trays the train con­duc­tor as he reads “The Po­lar Ex­press” to chil­dren and their fam­i­lies gath­ered at the Lans­dale Pub­lic Li­brary Dec. 14. Chil­dren raise their hands to try and an­swer a ques­tion dur­ing the event at the li­brary. Hen­ning takes tick­ets from young vis­i­tors to the li­brary dur­ing the event. Young mem­bers of the au­di­ence think they have the an­swer to a ques­tion dur­ing the read­ing of the story.

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