The Santa Fe Santa Claus
December 23, 2007
By: John Watson
This past September I received an email from one of the editors at the Texas Highways
Magazine asking if I knew anything about a Santa Fe Santa Claus that ran a train from here
to Oklahoma. The name I was given was Joe Gerard. This was the first that I had heard of a
Joe Gerard train engineer or of a Santa Fe Santa Claus, so I went to digging.
I found several newspaper clippings from a Fort Worth newspaper at the Layland Museum
telling about the “Santa Fe Santa Claus.” The Newspapers were dated 1939 through 1941.
I made copies of the articles and sent to the magazine editor. There was a short article in the
December issue of Texas Highways Magazine and they used very little of the information I
sent them. So, as Paul Harvey would say, here is the rest of the story, as gleaned from the
old newspaper clippings.
Joe Gerard was born in Vinton, Iowa in1868. After his family moved to Texas he went to
work for the railroad in 1885, at the age of 17, helping lay track from Gainesville, Texas to
By 1900 Joe had worked up to become an engineer. His run was from Cleburne to Purcell,
Oklahoma. About this time he moved his family to a home only four blocks from the rail
yard – at the northeast corner of Willingham and Anglin Streets.
At this time Oklahoma was still known as Indian Territory, it did not become a state until
1912. Joe came to know the settlers who opened up the Indian Territory and who lived in
little shanty and tent towns along the way.
During the cold Oklahoma winters, firewood was in short supply so “Mister Joe”, as he was
known, began tossing chunks of coal to the freezing families above the Red River area. He
must have gotten a great deal of satisfaction from this labor of love.
In 1901 Joe got the idea of dressing up as Santa Claus and throwing out gifts for the children
along his route who might otherwise be without Christmas remembrances. From his own
funds, and aided by his wife, he prepared each year hundreds of packages which he tossed
into the anxiously waiting arms of happy youngsters who gathered to await his coming.
On through the roaring twenties, the great depression of the 1930’s, up until the start of
WWII, Joe Gerard distributed toys to the children along the rail line from Gainesville,
Texas to Purcell, Oklahoma.
Joe would also gather up the newspapers and magazines left in the waiting room at the
Purcell depot, bundle them up, and toss them to the people in the little shanty towns on his
route so that they could have some news of what was happening in the world.
A newspaper clipping with a tag line of Purcell, Oklahoma and dated December 25, 1940
states: “Two thousand persons turned the tables on Santa Claus Tuesday.
“For 39 years, 72 year old Joe Gerard, Santa Fe engineer, has distributed presents to children
up and down his run from Cleburne, Texas to Purcell, Oklahoma. Dressed in a Santa Claus
costume he has made boys and girls not so fortunate happy with the gifts he and his wife have prepared.
“But today when Santa Joe climbed from his cab here he was greeted by several hundred
children who followed as he was placed atop a fire truck and escorted uptown where 2,000 persons waited.
“Introduced by State Senator James C. Nance, who sketched Gerard’s philanthropy over the
last four decades, the honor guest was given a desk name-plate by city officials and many other gifts.
“Still physically fit, Gerard, who has seen railroad service since he was 17 and will probably
retire after January 1, said in a talk that he would like to go on until he had rounded out a
century of service.”
Apparently Joe didn’t retire in January of 1941 because another clipping dated December 19,
1941 states: “The Santa Claus of the Santa Fe will ride again, but this time in an automobile.
“Joe Gerard, 73, doesn’t know why and he wished he did, but the railroad has asked that he
not make his famous Christmas run this year.
“I think it has something to do with the war,” he commented, “but the company has asked
me not to make any run this year. Nevertheless, I will give out my gifts just as I always have
and this time I am going to meet them personally.”
“The Santa Fe has cancelled his plans; but Gerard says that this will only give him an
opportunity to meet his friends he has known for years by waving to them as his train
zipped along. He is planning on making the trip early next week so that he can be back in
Cleburne in time to drive his engine Christmas Day.
“Gerard isn’t sure when he will retire, but hopes that his successor will carry on as the ‘Santa
Fe Santa Claus’”
When Joe Gerard retired in 1942 he was one of the oldest engineers on the line at 74 years
and had one of the longest service records with Santa Fe at 57 years.
According to Jack Carlton, who knew him personally, during his last years in service Joe
Gerard was assigned to engine 3417, the same engine that is sitting in Hulen Park. The next
time you are at the park check out engine 3417 and just imagine an engineer sitting in the
cab with a Santa Claus suit on, his beard blowing in the wind, tossing out toys and candy to
children waiting alongside the tracks.
Joe Gerard, the Santa Fe Santa Claus, was the father of the Joe Gerard who had the lumber
yard on East Willingham Street for many years.
Gerard School on the corner of Country Club Road and South Nolan River Road was named
for the Gerard Family.
Here at Christmas time may we remember this great Cleburne engineer who made so many
children happy for so many years in the true spirit of Christmas.
Santa Fe engine 3417 sitting in Hulen Park in Cleburne, Texas.
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