The 5th Annual "Operation Toy Train" to benefit the USMC Toys For Tots Foundation ran on December 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th this past year and was another great success! Totals of toys collected are:
Dec. 7th trip….5,106
Dec. 8th trip….2,588
Dec. 14th trip..2,569
Dec. 15th trip..1,369
Total..14,563 (and still collecting as of Feb.5th!)
The URHS generously allowed Operation Toy Train to use the NYC #43 and the PRR Baggage Car again. This year they were joined by The Hicory Creek on the NYS&W and M&NJ, making Al (our volunteer Chef for these trips) very happy with its full kitchen! For the M&E run we used the NYC #43 and the famous camo boxcar.
The train began on December 7 in Ridgefield Park, NJ in the NYS&W Yard. Our first stop in Rochelle Park brought out over 20 motorcycles and several pick up trucks filled with toys courtesy of Bergen County Harley Davidson and their generous customers! The bikers loved it, and posed for a number of photos with Santa. They even let him sit on one of the bikes. They group said they plan to bring even more toys – and more bikes! – in 2014. From there we stopped in Hawthorne to the Station gorgeously decorated by our VRA volunteers. This year saw a great turnout here as well, with the Fire Department and the Boys & Girls Club all making substantial donations. Once again, the VRA Board voted to allot money to purchase toys as a donation from the group, which Andrea & Robert Rebner handled. Several large boxes piled up in the Station in the weeks before the train and looked great as they were loaded onto the baggage car. From there we made stops at the Hot Dog Caboose in Mdland Park, the center of Wyckoff, Oakland, Pompton Lakes (once again a HUGE stop!), and Butler where we unloaded. UPS donated a truck and driver to get the toys to Picatinny Arsenal, while Lakeland Bus once again supplied a ride back to Ridgefield Park for the volunteers. From there the train went on to Warwick, NY where it spent the night.
Sunday Dec, 8th started off cold with some snow flurries, but about 100 people were waiting at the lot in Warwick by 8:30 to see Santa. The Middletown & New Jersey Railroad did a superb job in promoting the train and each stop had people waiting for us. The Village of Sugar Loaf came out in force once again with Anne Marie's Country Deli providing free cups of hot chocolate and candy canes for all. Stops that day also included Campbell Hall at the Hamptonburgh Caboose Museum; Mongtomery, where the town turned the public lot into a festival with DJ, bake sale and tractor pulled hayrides; and finally Walden where the toys were unloaded into several waiting military vehicles.
The following weekend the train went all over Morris County NJ. We started off in Dover with the threat of significant snowfall looming. Within several minutes of leaving Dover the generator on the had stopped running. KC Smith and several others made valiant attempts to restart it to no avail. By the time we reached Flanders Firehouse the snow was coming down and the car was getting cold! The Flanders Firemen came to the rescue however with fuel to get us going again and even an anti-gel treatment to keep it from freezing. A big thank you to the Flanders guys, they really saved our volunteers – that would have been one cold train! After Flanders we moved on to Sleepy's on Route 10 in Ledgewood and Morris Marine on Route 46 in Kenvil, both with impressive turnouts considering the snow that was coming down! We stopped briefly in the center of Dover and Lakeland Bus' depot, and finished our collections in Rockaway at Potbelly's Restaurant. By now the snow had been falling for hours and the roads were getting slick. We headed back to Dover in about 5 inches of snow. Luckily all of our volunteers made it home safely!
On Sunday, December 15th the entire consist spent the day parked next to Kuiken Brothers Lumber in Succasunna. The owners of Kuiken Bros. graciously opened their showroom on a Sunday to host the Operation Toy Train effort. Their stellar employees spent the day baking cookies and making mulled cider in the working kitchen display in the showroom and even hired a photographer and face painter for the day! The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts brought many toys and enjoyed visiting with Santa.
All in all, even with the inclement weather, the effort did very well in 2013. I'd like to extend a big thank you to all the VRA members who put time and effort into this event. Special thanks go to KC Smith for riding with the cars on every trip and helping to keep the volunteers safe and warm! Also, thank you to the railroads and their employees who donated time and equipment: John Sobotka & all the Norfolk Southern crew, Steve Gerritsen & the NYS&W crew, Frank Eichenlaub III & the M&NJ crew, Chris Mazzei and Rich Campana & the M&E crew, and to NJ Transit. Last but not least – an enormous thank you to the Marines from both Picatinny Arsenal and Stewart AFB.