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Private train, lights beckon visitors to Waterman

(Rob Winner –
Thyra Nichols, of Kankakee, and her grandson, Caylin Russell, 1, of Sheridan, arrive at the station Saturday after taking a ride on the Holiday Lights Train at Lions Community Park in Waterman. This is the 19th annual Holiday Lights Train event that runs until the end of December and admission is free.

WATERMAN – For 18 years, Peter Robinson has been doing what he loves most: managing and operating Waterman’s Holiday Lights Train.

Since 1994, the number of lights at the park has increased. Then, Lions Community Park was decorated with 20,000 Christmas lights; now it’s 250,000.

“All of the figurines you see here ... are made here,” Robinson said. “We make all of our own decorations.” They include the archway through which people enter Lions Community Park and the 16-foot water tower outlined in lights.

The Holiday Lights Train is the winter program of Waterman & Western Railroad, which also operates in summer and fall.

Getting on the train, riders can see Robinson and company’s handiwork: villages, candy canes, churches, Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, all lined with Christmas lights. Holiday music serenades visitors as they walk around the park. The only interruption is “train conductor” announcements by Robinson or a volunteer.

The train ride, along with popcorn, hot chocolate and coffee, is free. Robinson said his wife, Charleen, who also has a role in the train’s management, described it as their Christmas gift to the world.

“It’s free because I don’t want anybody’s little guy to not be able to come here because their mom and dad don’t have a dollar,” Robinson said. “It’s not about money. It’s about happiness and children, and I’m talking about children from two days to 92 [years old].”

Robinson said 20,000 people visited the Holiday Lights Train last year and he hopes to have as many this season, but it depends on the weather. He said they’ll operate the train in “up to 4 feet of snow.”

Four visitors Sunday were Duane and Cindy Lackey, and their granddaughters Riley and Zoey. Cindy Lackey said Riley and Zoey both love trains and rode on the park’s Halloween-themed train earlier this year.

“We thought we’d come out and see the lights,” Lackey said, a first-time visitor.

It was also the first time for the McCurn family, who drove from Sycamore on Sunday evening.

“We thought it would be a nice time for the kids and see all of the lights,” Sarah McCurn said. And it’s possible they will be back next weekend when Santa Claus arrives, she said.


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