Linda Penn is way, way beyond busy.
The Bear Creek Park train ride's instantly loveable owner, operator and organizer (and just about any other title you can think of) has spent the past week overseeing the ride's final touches for opening day this Saturday.
The train ride -?a 12-minute trip through "Santaland" complete with friendly polar bears and workaholic elves - has been a holiday favourite for families for 16 years. But there will only be a daytime Christmas train this year, which will end at 4: 30 p.m. every day. Penn says the entire operation has become just too much work for her to handle.
"It's a huge project. At the train in Stanley Park, it's the city that runs it, right? They have a big organization behind them. We used to be a mom 'n' pop shop. Now it's just a mom shop.
"It's only me and it's just. too much."
Penn was left to run the business after her husband, David, passed away of leukemia in June. For 16 years, David was the brain and muscle behind the Bear Creek Park Train, taking care of all the business and organizational duties.
"It was David's dream. He loved it," she says. "He was very creative. He had put on a lot of events (working in real estate). This was right up his alley and it gave him a lot of joy."
Penn joined in the operation to support her husband, helping out on the creative end only. Then, suddenly, she was left to run the whole operation with very little idea how to do it. After David got sick, they asked the City of Surrey to take it over, but they passed.
After he died, Penn was unsure how she'd be able to carry on with the business. But shutting the train down wasn't feasible, she says, because "there's just as much work to close it as there is to run it!"
"I'm learning as I go," she says, fighting back tears. "I have fantastic team members. Fantastic. If it weren't for them, this wouldn't have been going. It's been a tough year, but everyone's pulled together, and we're doing it."
It's the impact this train has on families and, especially, on the children that makes all the work worthwhile. Every year, hundreds of children pass through, delighted by what they see, inspiring smiles and forming holiday memories that will stay with them as them as they grow older.
"That's what keeps me going, even if it's tough because we give the smiles in the children's hearts, and in the parents'. I mean, where else do you get to do that?" she says, a single tear now rolling down her cheek.
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