Santa Claus on the Santa Fe Railroad

Yes, I am Papa Noel on the Austin Steam Train, whose rail yards are in my home town of Cedar Park, Texas, only some four miles from our home. This is my last weekend. I have enjoyed the opportunity to give spirit to both young and old. But I will never match Joe Gerard!

This Iowa born, seventeen year old youth began his rail road career in 1887 by laying track from North Texas into Oklahoma Indian territory to finish up at Purcell, Oklahoma, a city south of Oklahoma City. So that by that time that “Mr. Joe” made locomotive engineer in 1900 he already knew a lot of the people who lived in the small shanty and tent towns along the track. And during that harsh winter he took to tossing out large chunks of coal to help families keep warm when firewood was especially scarce. Oklahoma would become a state in 1907.

But Joe wanted to something more so in the next year (1901) he and his wife at their own expense prepared hundreds of packages to be thrown from steam locomotive number 3417 on Christmas Day with Joe dressed as Santa Claus. This went on year after year, even up to just before the start of the Second World War. Just imagine for a moment Joe with a flowing beard as engineer in a Santa Claus suit, tossing out toys and candy to children waiting alongside the track.

Joe would eventually retire in 1942 as one of the oldest engineers on the line at 74 years of age. He had one of the longest service records with Santa Fe at 57 years. His steam engine Number 3417 wound up in Hulen Park, Cleburne, Texas, where Joe and his family lived.

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