• There was more than a nip in the air; there was anticipation, too, as hundreds gathered to welcome the Holiday Train to Muscatine


MUSCATINE, Iowa — If it had been colder, the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train could have been a polar express.

But as it was, the weather was cool enough for a coat, but not cold enough to keep people from lining the riverfront to see the train roll into town and hear some spirited holiday tunes.

On Wednesday night, hundreds of people crowded Riverside Park along Muscatine’s  riverfront to hear some holiday music and soak in the holiday cheer. Although the Salvation Army truck ran out of hot chocolate before the train even arrived, families had the will to put up with chill as they waited for the brightly lit train.

The train, which last stopped in Muscatine in 2010, made stops in Pingree Grove, Byron and Savanna, Ill., earlier Wednesday, before rolling into Muscatine. Today, the train will make stops in Davenport and Clinton.

 Along the 14 rail cars were lights strung into the shape of Christmas trees, snowmen and reindeer colorful enough for everyone to see.

Once the train stopped, one of the rail cars transformed into a stage — complete with a dash of smoke and flashing lights —  for a free concert featuring the band The Claytones performing such holiday hits as “Joy to the World” and “The Little Drummer Boy.”

The U.S. version of the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train embarked at the end of November fromPennsylvania and will visit 57 U.S. communities as it travels the Midwest. Since the Holiday Train started traveling to towns in 1999, it has raised $6.4 million and about 2.6 million pounds of food.

During the night, the Muscatine Salvation Army collected food and set up a bell ringer and trumpet player for the kettle drive.

Capt. Rick Ray, who oversees operations at the Salvation Army, said since the Salvation Army did so well during last week’s Freezin’ for Food that all the food collected Wednesday night will be donated to the Muscatine Food Pantry.

After the band played a couple songs, Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins welcomed everyone and thanked the train for stopping in Muscatine.

“I love this show,” Hopkins told the crowd from the stage.

Ray was then brought on the rail stage and handed a check for $1,000. He said that money will go into the Kettle Drive.

“I’m blessed and humbled to accept this,” Ray said. “This will change and help a lot of lives in Muscatine.”

Jennifer and Joe Lamb of Muscatine said they got down to the park around 7:30 p.m and staked out a spot near the Iowa Avenue entrance. But when the train rolled past them, Jennifer said they ran closer to get a better view.

Joe said the family came down for the festivities for two reasons: because his boys love trains and the holiday atmosphere.

“There doesn’t seem to be enough of a holiday atmosphere anymore,” Joe said.