Hey, Rudolph - take the day off. Santa's got alternate transportation lined up.
One weekend a year, Santa Claus hangs up his reins and keeps the sleigh in storage, opting instead to ride the rails and visit with children at the Nevada State Railroad Museum's Santa Train.
He's been doing for 18 years, and every year volunteer Terry Ward has been there to greet him. The 67-year-old Ward, himself donning a bushy salt-and-pepper beard, has been volunteering at the museum for 26 years.
"I am retired from (Nevada Department of Transportation), and I saw the trains running one day and said, 'Wow this is interesting! I'll do this for a couple of years,'" said Ward.
He is one of the 125 estimated active members of the Friends of the Nevada State Railroad Museum, a volunteer organization that supports the museum financially and with manpower. Only one other person has been volunteering as long as Ward: group President Ron Allen.
"It takes about 55 volunteers to make the Santa Train run, including people on the train, in the depot, the crossing guards and the 20 or so in the museum. All the people who are working are friends. It's a love for history and a love for trains, and it's about seeing that the public gets to see the old-time railroad," said Allen.
While Ward manned his post at the back of the first passenger cabin, the man of the hour, Santa Claus - who said he preferred to be called Nick - was refilling his bag of candy canes up front.
"I've done it for five years, and I do it for the children. For the smiles, the hugs and the kids in general, you just can't describe it," said Santa, whose alias is Nick McGahuey of Carson City.
As he entered the first car, brothers Luis Loe Jr., 4, and Donovan Loe, 2, were first in line to wish Santa a merry Christmas and tell him what they really wanted - "Fantastic Four," the movie.
As he exited the first car, Santa turned and wished all a merry Christmas.
"Be good now, because I know where you live," he warned.
While the train continued to lumber on, 7-year-old Haley Robbins waited patiently, eyes darting toward the door, waiting for Santa to appear so she could tell him her wish.
"I want a Pegasus Barbie with a purple dress," said Robbins.
As he continued his journey through the cars, Santa said he hoped to get a message across to children and adults alike.
"As children, be what you are because the love is on the inside and as adults, remember your childhood," said Santa.
Outside the warmth of the cars, Ward just smiled as another group of children climbed aboard.
"Every year I say I'm done, and every spring I'm back playing trains," he said.
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.