Chris Van Allsburg, who was born and raised in Grand Rapids Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan, has written a children’s Christmas book that will some day rival Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and “The Night before Christmas”. Van Allsburg’s book “The Polar Express” is the story of a young boy who is a true believer and takes a Christmas eve ride on a steam train to the North Pole. The book was written in 1985 and fueled by a popular movie of the same name has quickly become a Christmas literary tradition.
Interestingly, the steam train featured in the book also has a Michigan connection and was chosen for its unique identification number “1225″. Since 1957, the train had been relegated to showpiece status on the campus of Michigan State University. In the 60s, I remember walking by the giant rusting hulk many times; especially on cold winter days. I first discovered the train in the summer of 1966 while at freshman orientation and I have always had fond memories of “the little train that could”.
A little more than a decade later, a group of students formed a fan club and started restoration work, which ultimately would take another two decades. In 1983,the train was moved to Owosso and in 1988 it made it first rail trip.
As a famous newscaster once said “here’s the rest of the story”: In 2004, the train began making holiday winter excursions and starred, along with Tom Hanks, in the film “Polar Express” based on Van Allsburg children’s book. Due to grinch-like copyright problems the train excursion can not use the name Polar Express. The train and Owosso’s signature story book “Curwood Castle” are two important literary signatures for the mid-Michigan city.