Santa Train’s First Santa-Joe Higgins

The 67th annual Santa Train will roll into town this Saturday, November 21 to kick off the holiday season. The train is scheduled to arrive in Kingsport at 3:08 pm and will be followed by the Santa Parade at 3:15 pm.

The Santa Train started in 1943 as a goodwill gesture to rural residents in eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia.  The Merchants Bureau of Kingsport (which later became the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce) and the Clinchfield Railroad conceived the idea as a way to think rural residents for shopping in Kingsport.

Joe Higgins, the Santa Train's first Santa.

The first Santa aboard the train was Joe Higgins.

Joe Higgins played the role of Santa on the Santa Train from 1943-1950. During that time he also played Santa around town at various functions for the holidays, including playing Santa at W.B. Greene Company.

Joe Higgins took his role as Santa very serious, even attending Santa School so he could more realistically portray Santa. After his death in 1951, the next Santa, John Dudney, was selected because he was able to fit into Higgins’ size 9 boots.

The archives is fortunate to have the Joe Higgins Santa Train Collection. The collection, donated by Clara Higgins in 2000, consists of items related to Higgins’s role as Santa Claus on the annual Santa Train, including his Santa Suit!  For more information on Joe Higgins please contact the archives.


For more information on the Santa Train please visit the Kingsport Chamber’s website or check out the Santa Train’s facebook page.


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