COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — For Laura Shimek, there was never a question of skipping the annual Holiday Train, despite subzero temperatures and a wind chill that would have made Rudolph call in sick.
"Leo wouldn't allow us not to come," she said, referring to her grandson Leo Klingel, 4, who was attending his first Holiday Train party.
They joined hundreds of other hardy souls Tuesday evening to await the dramatic arrival of the Canadian Pacific locomotive, which was ablaze with hundreds of LED lights. The train stopped in Hastings the night before.
But with a predicted low of minus 6, many chose to stay home. Former board chair Mary Slusser said it may have been the coldest Holiday Train event since its first visit to Cottage Grove in 2003.
The cold caused headaches for organizers, who scrambled to find another tent company after the original vendor backed out.
"They said the tent would become like paper and crumble, so we were able to secure tents from another vendor," Slusser wrote in an email.
Longtime community volunteers didn't let the cold deter them. They knew the drill: just put on an extra pair of long johns. Or two. Or 18. They included the Cottage Grove Lions and members of Zion Lutheran Church, who handed cookies and Caribou Coffee.
For volunteers Kristi Joeckel and Becky Uecker, the key to staying warm was hot coffee, hand warmers and Carhartt bib outerwear.
Not long after the train's arrival, a panel on one of the train's boxcars flipped open like a castle drawbridge, revealing a stage where Meghan Patrick, Tanika Charles and Kelly Prescott each played a short but spirited set.
Proceeds from the evening benefited Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park. Director Michelle Rageth came onstage to receive a $10,000 check from a Canadian Pacific representative.
The Holiday Train was hosted by the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Cottage Grove, the City of Newport and the City of St. Paul Park, with help from an army of volunteers, local businesses and community leaders.