Wilson's Train of Lights on record-breaking pace

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For Troy Blaser, the it’s just lot of fun to drive the Train of Lights at Christmas.

The historic Kiwanis miniature train, which has become a yuletide tradition in Wilson, is operated by the city of Wilson Parks and Recreation Department.

“It’s pretty simple. There’s just a little lever and that’s your idle and that’s how fast the motor’s going,” said Blaser, who wears bib overalls and a conductor’s cap as he drives the locomotive.

The three-car, 18 seat train operates on a short track at the Wilson Recreation Park near the corner of Sunset Crescent and Raleigh Road Parkway.

Trees along the entire route are lit with Christmas lights and this year, the route passes a 30-foot candy cane and an oversized inflatable Santa.

The train rolls across two miniature train trestles back and forth across Hominy Swamp.

“You’ve got to really push it when it’s a full train to get across,” Blaser said of the first trestle leaving the station. “There is a gradual incline in this first curve. That’s the tricky part, but if you get it just right, then it’s pretty much downhill from there.”

Then it’s through a tunnel constructed and donated by The Homebuilders Association of Wilson.

“The tunnel’s pretty nice,” Blaser said. “All the kids put up their hands when they are going through the tunnel and I am laying on the horn. Then I lay on the horn again when I go through here where all the people are in line.”

The train was purchased and donated by the Kiwanis Club of Wilson in 1954. It had 4,960 hours of track time on the first day of operation this year, so unless there is a breakdown, the train could possibly tick over 5,000 hours on Dec. 17, the last night of operation this year.

This is the fifth year the train has been featured at Christmastime, according to Braxton Patterson, Wilson Parks and Recreation program supervisor.

“It’s a holiday tradition now that was started a few years ago by Dana Hall, our former program supervisor,” Patterson said. “It’s just grown each year and the love of Christmas lights and the joy of the season I think brings people out.”

“It runs from Easter to Halloween normally on Sundays only from 1 to 5 p.m. but now this time of year we are running for 12 days from Nov. 30 through Dec. 17 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays only,” Patterson said.

For $2, riders can go around the circuit three times.

“We encourage parents to be with the smaller kids,” Blaser said. “Any age can ride as long as your legs can fit in.”

Last year set a record for attendance.

“We rode around 4,000 people last year, so we are hoping with good weather that we will have another good year like that,” Patterson said.

Receipts go to the city of Wilson’s general fund.

Crews began setting up the lights on Nov. 12.

“From the music, from the lights, where it goes to get it to blink, it is a process, but it is fun to see it all come together in the end,” Patterson said.

“The train comes by every single year and it comes with beautiful lights. It’s just nice,” said Dante Bernis, who happens to live directly adjacent to the park and can see the train from his bedroom window.

One the first night, Bernis came down to watch the train ride around with enthusiastic families.

“It comes to a nice little break after I do my homework,” Bernis said. “I like it. It’s pretty nice. It’s a nice time to spend with family, friends.”

For more information about the Train of Lights, call Patterson at 252-399-2285.