BNSF holiday train ride honors veterans, families

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldDecember 5, 2013 

A holiday-themed train ride ushered in the spirit of Christmas on Thursday for about 275 military family members and their supporters.

Among them were Bill and Charlotte Best of Prosser, who lost their son, a Marine, nine years ago in Iraq.

Marine Staff Sgt. Marvin Best died after the Humvee he was riding in struck a land mine in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq in 2004.

To Charlotte Best, trains symbolize achievement and progress.

"I got to be around trains a lot," she said, explaining she grew up in New Mexico where her father worked on a train. "I think everyone should ride a train at least two or three times in their lifetime."

Her husband, who served in the Army National Guard in the 1960s, also appreciated the train ride.

"It's in honor of all those who served," he said, shortly before the engineer hollered, "All aboard!"

BNSF Railway Co. organized the free ride to thank active duty military, veterans and their families for their achievements.

The train traveled about an hour from the Pasco Amtrak station across the Columbia River to Kennewick, past Vista Field Airport and Interstate 82 and west toward Badger Canyon, before switching engines and heading back.

The 14 1950s-era passenger cars were decorated with wreaths, garland and Christmas lights. A crew served the families hot chocolate and cookies, and Santa Claus strolled through the cars handing out gold packages filled with BNSF Christmas ornaments.

Kids young and old and adults like to look at the train, which includes a dance floor and dining car, as it passes, said Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman.

"The train has certainly resulted in numerous observers along the route," he said.

The train traveled from Hauser, Idaho, to nearby North Pole on Tuesday, before crossing the state line and taking out military families around the Spokane area Wednesday, Melonas said.

On Friday, it heads to Bend, Ore., on its way to its ultimate destination in California as part of its nine-day journey.

BNSF picks a region for the train tour each year from its service area of 28 states and parts of Canada, said Melonas.

"It's a way for us to say 'thank you,' and to show our gratitude from BNSF for everything they do for all of us each day," he said.

The train definitely beats air travel, said Nathan Pfister, 10.

"You don't have to buckle your seat belts or sit down forever," he said. "And it's much cheaper."

Nathan's uncle, Marine Sgt. Travis Pfister, formerly of Richland, died in a February 2007 helicopter crash 20 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Events like the holiday ride are special for military families, said Josh Pfister, Nathan's dad and Sgt. Pfister's brother.

"We attend all the events the Gold Star Society puts on," he said, referring to the community of military families whose loved ones died in the line of duty.

Chadd and Tami Ottley of Kennewick said the train ride was a treat for their three kids, particularly Gavinn, 4. His mother said Gavinn has a "love affair" with trains.

"It's very nice of them to do it," she said.

Chadd served in the Marines from 1999-2007.

The event ended with a presentation of a $10,000 check from BNSF to the Association of Washington Generals.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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