Little Engine That Could

    December 15th, 2023

    Holiday Train Overcomes Obstacles to Make Its Debut at Kiwanis Holiday Lights

    MANKATO, MN – All aboard! After overcoming red tape, rocky seas, a pandemic, and an engine rebuild, a dazzling holiday train made its debut at the Kiwanis Holiday Lights.

    The train touts an engine with three passenger cars that can carry a total of 55 passengers. One car is accessible and can accommodate three wheelchairs plus passengers. However, the bright, colorful lights on the exterior steal the show and mark its place as a seasonal attraction.

    The train was funded by the Curt and Debbie Fisher Donor Advised Fund of Mankato Area Foundation.

    “This has been an amazing ride, and we are so appreciative to Curt and the Foundation for their support in making this happen.” Stated Scott Wojcik President of Kiwanis Holiday Lights.

    The train is the culmination of creativity, determination, and grit from the many hands involved in its journey. The story begins in 2021 with Shannon Gullikson, a former Kiwanis Holiday Lights marketing volunteer, seeking a special project to celebrate the event’s 10th anniversary. A holiday train in Arizona caught her eye, and she brainstormed with Maureen Gustafson, Donor Relations Director at the Mankato Area Foundation, who might be interested in bringing a train to Mankato. Remembering that one of the Foundation’s donors, Curt Fisher, was a train fanatic, they pitched the idea. Fisher punched the ticket and started a ride that would pick up more volunteers and encounter barriers along the way.

    Fisher designed the creation and worked with a company in China that specialized in manufacturing trains. Many hours, late-night phone calls and looming deadlines finally resulted in the project’s completion in November 2021; however, once the train made its trip over the ocean, it was trapped in a shipping container due to the backlog at shipping ports caused by the pandemic. Eventually, the train made it back to land and arrived in Mankato in January 2022

    The highly anticipated day arrived to open the containers to reveal the train. Container number one unveiled two beautiful passenger cars. Elated, the team opened the second container with the engine. Deflated, they quickly realized the little train had a very bumpy ride. Apparently, the engine and accessible car were not secured properly for shipping, resulting in a banged and bruised pile of metal. Not deterred, Wojcik and the Kiwanis Holiday Lights team got started on repairs and ordering new parts. Running short on time, Wojcik put out another request for help.

    This time the call was answered by Taylor Haley, owner of Greg’s Champion Auto, a local repair shop in Mankato. The team led by Dale Mize worked on the train repairs outside regular business hours for several months. Eventually, the train was ready for its maiden voyage. On December 18, 2023, more than three years after the initial idea, the holiday train will debut at the Kiwanis Holiday Lights station.

    It is magnificent.

    “This is an absolutely amazing addition to Kiwanis Holiday Lights experience. We are so pleased to finally be able to show it off!” stated Wojcik. However, the “Little Engine that Could” is still working through its first official appearance. “We’re anticipating we’ll still be figuring out some of the nuances of running a passenger train. So, for this year, there may not be a regular schedule, but we’ll have it available as much as we can.”

    Kiwanis Holiday lights are open to the public in the evenings now through December 31. Free will donations of cash or non-perishable food donations are accepted at the gate.

    About the Mankato Area Foundation

    The Mankato Area Foundation is a donor-driven community foundation whose purpose is to improve the livability in Greater Mankato through philanthropy. Our community foundation connects donors with causes they care about, provides funding to address key community objectives and convenes individuals and organizations to find solutions for local challenges.

    To learn more about the Mankato Area Foundation and how the organization makes an impact on this region visit or visit us on Facebook.

    About the Kiwanis Holiday Lights

    This celebration of holiday lights for the Greater Mankato area and region builds on past traditions and promotes the communities we serve, while raising non-perishable food donations for those in need. Admission is free for everyone. Non-perishable food and cash donations are accepted and appreciated.

    To learn more about the Kiwanis Holiday Lights, visit