All Aboard the Santa Train!

Interactive Museum Brings Tourists

Volunteer and museum treasurer Henry Nechemias stands in front of the #44 steam locomotive engine.

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – They call it a museum, but this is the kind of “museum” that moves. Up and down the tracks.

Actually, the South Carolina Railroad Museum has a bunch of trains.

The museum, located on Highway 34 just outside the Town of Winnsboro, has several locomotives, train cars, and a gallery exhibit – but the Santa trains that operate in the weeks leading up to Christmas are a unique experience.

“On these trains, Santa, himself, rides along with the kids and their families – so they’re not taking a train ride and then getting off with 200 people and waiting in line to chat with Santa,” says Henry Nechemias, the treasurer and a 15-year volunteer for the museum.

Santa chats with a girl on the Santa train.

“Santa walks through the train during the ride and chats with each child, taking the time to pose for pictures, accept their wish lists, and sooth those little ones who are sometimes pretty freaked out by this weird-looking guy in this weird-looking outfit.”

“It’s a point of pride,” Nechemias says, “that the museum has always run an all-volunteer operation – from museum staffing to operation of the trains.”

As the museum has become one of the area’s biggest tourist attractions and brings thousands of families to Winnsboro annually, Nechemias says the museum has started employing part-timers to handle certain administrative functions. But he says the local nonprofit otherwise remains an all-volunteer organization as it prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

“There are other railroad museums in the state of South Carolina,” Nechemias says, “but we are the only one that actually runs trains.”

The museum owns five miles of operational track, five locomotives, and an assortment of passenger cars, open cars, and cabooses. Future projects include restoration of several passenger cars that were part of the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus train.

The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and includes such iconic relics as the #44 steam locomotive that sits out front of the other trains at the museum and was formerly part of the Hampton & Branchville (South Carolina) Railroad.

Dining car

The museum also has several retired cars on site with the original furnishings from back in the day – a mail car, a Pullman (bedroom/bath) car, dining car, kitchen car and luggage car.

Visiting the museum exhibit gallery is free, and that’s open Wednesdays through Saturdays. Tickets must be purchased to ride a train, however.

The cost is typically $17 per person (or $20 to ride in the dining car), whether for summer train rides, fall pumpkin patch trains, Easter rides or daytime Santa trains, which will run on three Saturdays this year: Dec. 2, Dec. 9, and Dec. 16. Five daytime trains will run each of these days.

The museum will also run one twilight Santa train at 6 p.m. on each of six days in December: Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, and 16. On these rides, passengers will be served hot chocolate and cookies and they will be riding with Santa. They’ll be entertained with some really good stories as well. Tickets for the twilight rides are $27.

The museum, Nechemias says, was started back in the 1970s in Charleston at what was then the Charleston Navy Yard.

Forty years ago, in 1984, a no longer used short line railroad in Winnsboro was donated to the museum – 11.5 miles of largely unusable track which had originally been built to service two granite quarries.

It was all the South Carolina Railroad Museum needed to create something really cool in Winnsboro.

In the four decades since, grants and donations have enabled the museum to repair five miles of that track into a track that now takes the museum ‘passenger’ trains through the Fairfield countryside and back to the train station – and now it’s just a matter of maintaining it.

These days the museum owns all of the land it operates on – some purchased, some donated by Fairfield County – with no debt.

In addition to the special event trains, the museum also charters numerous trains for school field trips, serving thousands of children each year.

Pullman Car

“There’s something very special about trains. People love to ride trains,” Nechemias says.

“We don’t ride them very much, particularly in South Carolina because Amtrak services are limited, but people love trains and they have great nostalgia for riding trains. A lot of grandparents – who remember riding trains – bring their grandkids,” he said.

Nechemais acknowledges that he is one of those people who’ve always loved trains. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he’s proud to be part of the museum’s effort and, through the years, has largely been the impetus behind its success.

“I am so proud to be a part of this organization because a bunch of volunteers have kept this thing going,” he says, giving credit where credit is rightly due to his loyal army of volunteers.

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, the museum’s board director Pat Walker, his wife Addie, the Winnsboro Garden Club members and others volunteered their day to decorate the museum’s entrance and grounds and trains for the holidays and the crowds that will soon arrive for the exciting ‘All Aboard’ call for this year’s Santa rides.

“We have more people coming in as volunteers all the time, and there’s always things to do, but the bottom line is that there are a lot of people who have made this thing happen and have kept it functioning.”

More information about the South Carolina Railroad Museum and this year’s Santa train rides can be found on the museum’s website at

Mail car

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]