Kent Smith is a driver of Polar Express – Estes Park Trail-Gazette
As the children and their families boarded the Estes Park Polar Express wagon on the weekend of December 11, the driver was a familiar face. Local resident Kent Smith has played the part at this Estes Valley Library event four times since 2017. It was only in 2020 that he didn’t play the part when he did. there was no Polar Express due to COVID.
“I’ve always been a rail fan and have been involved with the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden in a number of ways since its inception in 1959,” Smith explained. “About 40 years ago, they were doing targeted fundraising and selling items that had been donated for that purpose. They had a full set of gold brass Denver Tramway Company conductor uniform buttons with stylized formed DTC initials.
Denver Tramway was the company that operated streetcars (trolleys) in Denver until about 1953. Although not a railroad, these streetcars operated on rails and were electrified.
“I have good, clear memories of driving streetcars and both the driver and the driver,” Smith said. “When I was six, I was allowed to go downtown on my own to buy art supplies (signs) from Meininger.”
The driver made sure Smitih had a good seat and arrived at his destination (as did Pop Meininger who was alerted to Smith’s mission) and returned unharmed.
“Because of my fond memories, I couldn’t resist purchasing the buttons,” Smith noted. “I have a classic blue double-breasted jacket that almost matched the style and a full set of buttons completed my ‘conductor’ jacket. Fast forward to prepare for Halloween 2017 and I decided to be a conductor. I acquired a suitable hat and had several of my “Free Ticket” cards printed for fun. One of the first Halloween stops was the library where our daughter was a librarian and we handed out tickets to the staff. In December, the person who was supposed to be the conductor couldn’t do it and they thought of me. With an hour’s warning, I got dressed and did my first set of Polar Express Trolley races. For the next year, I replaced my pocket watch and added a matching waistcoat with the remaining three buttons, to complete the image as described in the book.
As the driver of the Polar Express, Smith announces it’s time to go, shouting “All aboard” and carefully watches the time on his pocket watch. He makes sure everyone has a place on the cart and is seated for the ride. Then he works the aisle, punching each ticket so it can be kept as a memento. During the ride, he helps with the music and makes sure everyone stays seated and safe.
“I also coordinate with Nick (the driver ‘of the motorist) and alert Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus when we are nearby,” Smith explained. “At the end of the ride, I help everyone get back on track in complete safety and am available for photos with whoever wishes. “
In the book “Polar Express”, the driver is responsible for obtaining the riders and he is their direct link with Santa Claus. He’s the one who helps “the boy” get on Santa’s sleigh and makes sure he’s on the train home. As such, the conductor is at the center of the story.
Riders heard the story before boarding the Estes Park version of the 1985 storybook.
“Parents and kids enjoy the story, sing Christmas carols on board while ringing bells and just enjoy the ride watching the Christmas lights around town,” Smith noted. “Most little kids shake my leg, and many want a picture. Although we don’t have a train, the parents did well to make the tram ride fun for the kids.
Smith said her favorite part of participating in the Polar Express experience was being able to interact with the kids.
“As a former teacher it is a joy,” he said. “I often know a lot of parents and it’s nice to see them with their families. I didn’t grow up on the “Polar Express”, my daughters didn’t. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate and hopefully make the story real for our young community members. “