Special Santa Trains in Carson City bring Christmas to children battling cancer
Logan Smith was so excited to hop aboard the special Santa Train at the Nevada State Railroad Museum, that he couldn’t stop humming a happy tune.
Saturday was the first time the 4-year-old got to tour a Santa train. It also was a celebration that his scan results were clear. Logan has been battling neuroblastoma — cancer found in certain nerve systems.
However, Saturday’s ride was an experience Logan will cherish forever.
“We can only do so many things,” said Nancy Smith, Logan’s mother. “We are so grateful for this opportunity.”
The Special Santa Train is the museum’s newest ride and is dedicated to children battling cancer. One local mother made it happen because of her heartbreak for the demographic in Carson City.
Rebecca Bevans, a psychology instructor at Western Nevada College and Southern New Hampshire University, is a volunteer for the Nevada State Railroad Museum. Her colleague, who also is faculty at WNC, has a 3-year-old daughter.
When she asked him if he was going to take her to the annual Santa Train ride at the museum, he told her he couldn’t because his daughter has leukemia.
Currently, the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation is serving seven families in Carson City diagnosed with cancer. In Northern Nevada overall, the foundation is serving 124 families with an age range between 1-3. Typically, they have 40 new diagnoses a year, according to the foundation.
The original Santa Train is a risk for children with compromised immune systems as their bodies cannot handle an open environment.
“I don’t think people realize we have a lot of kids in this community who are going through cancer and other health battles,” Bevans said.
As a volunteer at the museum for the last six years, Bevans took action. She pitched the idea to have a Christmas train ride dedicated to children battling cancer.
For three Saturdays in a row, the historic Virginia & Truckee No. 25 steam locomotive toured sick children and their families in the evening. The ride served at least 12 families per weekend.
The locomotive is fully sanitized before and after each ride. The depot also is closed as displayed artifacts pose a risk for compromised immune systems.
“Lots of sick kids miss out on things during the holidays because they’re sick,” Bevans said. “This is our way to give back to the community and to kids who need it the most.”
Businesses in the area also united to make this event possible.
Tickets were paid by Artsy Fartsy Art Gallery and the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation.
Gifts and books also were donated by Artsy Fartsy Art Gallery, John Hancock Investments and Webster Wealth Management.
“From our families’ perspectives, it’s wonderful to give them a unique experience,” said Debbie Strickland, executive director of NNCCF. “This is an event that is usually excluded from family outings and this experience is a special moment for them to share.
“One mother brought her four children and one of them just finished chemotherapy. The oldest sibling of the group gave me a hug and told me they haven’t been able to do the Santa Train in a long time. It meant so much to me.”
Danton Williams, 10, also attended the Special Santa Train with his parents and two younger siblings. He finished chemotherapy a year ago, battling lymphoma.
Not only does Danton love trains, but the museum allowed him to engineer a ride for his birthday, which falls on Dec. 24.
“It’s special for us as a family,” said Vanae Williams, his mother. “It’s the only thing we could have him do. He’s also a very proud fighter and he loves to meet other kids who are going through the same thing. He’s uplifting.”
Bevans said the Special Santa Train tradition is guaranteed to continue. She also said 2017 will be a good year as Friends of the Railroad Museum will be creating more events.
“I think we’re going to start coming up with programs to represent people in our community who don’t have the privilege like we do,” she said.
Bevans’ son, Alexander, 11, helped out at the event by greeting children and families as they board the train.
One of the families they recall boarding was Bevans’ colleague with his 3-year-old daughter.
“I’m really proud of what the museum is doing for the community and getting it done together,” Bevans said.