BARSTOW — Holding a small bell, Joe Sloan walked into one of the BNSF Holiday Express passenger cars full of children and parents and announced Santa Claus was on his way.

"What we have to do is ring the bell, then sing," Sloan told the youngsters.

"Who else wants to shake the bell for holiday spirit?" asked Sloan, the regional director of public affairs for BNSF Railway. "What should we sing while jingling the bells?"

"'Jingle Bells,'" shouted someone behind Sloan.

"Excellent, let's hit it."

Then everybody sang.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..."

All of sudden the doors to the passenger car sprung open, and man with a large, white, curly beard in a red suit entered. As Santa walked up the aisle, he gave every child a small present.

Meanwhile, the BNSF Holiday Express chugged along on the tracks between Barstow and Victorville during a special trip for military families.

BNSF offered two train trips Tuesday to approximately 700 military family members from Fort Irwin. They all boarded the Holiday Express at the Amtrak Station/Railroad Museum next to the Harvey House.

Following the second train trip, the BNSF Railway Foundation donated $10,000 to the local military support organization.

BNSF’s Holiday Express train is expected to provide rides to more than 2,000 members of the military and their families during the seven-day trip through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California. In all, the BNSF Railway Foundation will donate $50,000 to organizations that support military personnel and their families.

Since the Holiday Express’s inaugural trip eight years ago, the BNSF Railway Foundation has donated more than $500,000 to organizations that support the troops and their families and has donated $3.5 million to the USO.

“BNSF has a long history of supporting the military, dating back more than 160 years. Since those early days, our people, equipment and tracks have played an important role in our nation’s defense, helping to carry millions of men and women and countless tons of equipment and supplies to ports for deployment to conflicts around the world,” said Mark Kirschinger, general manager for the California Division. “The Holiday Express gives BNSF an opportunity to honor military families as we usher in the holiday season.”

Leah Ehricks said her children loved the train ride.

"They love trains. Which kid doesn't, right?" she said.

"He loves the train," Brittany Atkinson said of her son, Nehemiah, age 2. "Even when they go by the highway and stuff, he's always going 'choo, choo, choo.' It's his second train ride, but he was little."

Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or mlamb@desertdispatch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.