Standing on the Metra train platform at the Pingree Road Station in Crystal Lake, it was cold enough to feel like the North Pole this past Saturday.
But the singing and laughing of nearly 100 area Girl Scouts, many wearing Santa and elf hats, helped pass the time and warm spirits. Some of the girls bounced up and down in an attempt to stay warm while others sipped hot chocolate.
Waiting alongside the scouts, their parents and siblings, were members of the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department.
All were awaiting the Operation North Pole train, which had departed Des Plaines at 11:15 am. and was expected to roll into Crystal Lake at about 11:40 a.m., carrying 174 children and their families.
The children, pre-selected for the ride, all face life-threatening illnesses.
“This is a complete day where these children and their families can forget about their troubles for the day,” Crystal Lake Fire Battalion Chief Thomas Pollnow said.
When the train finally arrived, the Girl Scouts began singing Christmas carols. They waved at the passengers peering from the train’s windows. Many faces pressed against the glass of the train, as passengers smiled and waved back.
The firefighters boarded the train, colorfully wrapped in holiday decor, to deliver small presents, snacks and more Santa hats to the special passengers on board.
From there, the “Operation North Pole” train pulled forward a short distance, reversed its direction and began rolling back to Des Plaines, where the children and their families were to be treated to a North Pole party.
As the train traveled back to Des Plaines, it was expected to slow down at every depot and honk where more firefighters from other departments, dressed in holiday attire and holding “North Pole this Way” signs, were planning to line the tracks and wave, Pollnow said.
Fire departments from throughout McHenry County chipped in to help with Crystal Lake-leg of Operation North Pole. Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department raised $750, Cary Fire Department raised $500, and other departments added donations to bring the overall total to $1,900, Pollnow said.
Operation North Pole began five years ago when a nurse saw the impact a child’s illness can have on siblings, parents and entire family unit, Pollnow said. Originally, the event took children on bus trips by O'Hare, but three years ago it was converted into a train ride.
The non-stop journey from Des Plaines to Crystal Lake included activities led by Mrs. Claus, the Gingerbread Express Elves and Conductor, and firefighters from the North Pole Fire Department.
Once the children and their families departed the train, they boarded buses that took them to a Winter Wonderland waiting for them at the Rosemont Convention Center, where they were treated to visits with Santa and received wrapped gifts selected from their own wish lists.
Children participating in Operation North Pole were referred by child life specialists from area children’s hospitals and directors from four area Ronald McDonald Houses.