Calling All of Santa’s Helpers – “Polar Express” Float Faces Derailment

by on February 28, 2011 · 4 comments

in Culture, Ocean Beach

The Polar Express. (All photos by Bob Sherman.)

Imagine, for a moment, a typical San Diego Christmas: It’s just after dark and there’s a chill in the air; carefully dressed trees peek out from nearby windows; lights of every color twinkle along the neighbors’ eaves; Garrison Street is once again visible from space; and carols have become rulers of the airwaves.

And then you see it appear right outside your window. You thought this only happened in the movies, but it’s really there. The Polar Express looms before you like a giant alien spaceship, enshrouded in a steamy fog with a lone light plowing into the darkness ahead. In a matter of seconds it whizzes by, but the memory—and that feeling of Christmastime magic—lasts forever.

For anyone who’s seen OB’s very own realistic steam engine float, there’s nothing like it. There’s still a chance for those who haven’t, but time is quickly running out to keep this Obecian and Point Loma tradition alive.

“I was so impressed with (The Polar Express) movie,” said Bob Sherman, who clearly remembers seeing the original in theaters. “I wanted to recreate with the float that amazement to see a live, full-sized steam engine with steam and smoke and the light and all that going right down your street.”

And that he did. But in order for the magic to continue, Sherman is in need of two essentials: a 10 foot by 12 foot storage space to house the float’s life-size parts during the off-season, and a 32-foot “class A” motorhome, on which the dream machine is built.

“In the short run, we’re just trying to find storage for the float,” he said. “If we can find storage, that gives us until November to find someone with an RV.”

As for the RV, he said they don’t need anything fancy, just something mechanically sound. While he considers it a long shot due to the ongoing annual expenses it would incur for insurance, servicing and possible repairs, Sherman said it would be wonderful if someone could donate an old RV, or the funds for one, thereby making the Polar Express a permanent float.

“This isn’t really a charity, but it’s something that the community would get a lot of enjoyment out of,” said Sherman, a longtime Point Loma resident and local father who volunteers his time building other floats for Silvergate Elementary.

Though the specific design of this motorhome version was inspired by Sherman, it came together with the help and hard work of several neighborhood dads, and includes an engineer’s cab and mood-setting theatricals such as music, mock steam and a single head light.

“I calculated about 300 man-hours,” Sherman said of the float construction process. “We had anywhere from six to 10 guys working on Saturdays and Sundays in November … It was beyond my wildest dreams how well we made it almost seem real.”

Their labor of love has been of great popularity since the initial construction in 2007, with appearances in the OB and Coronado Christmas parades that year and the following. In 2008, it was also selected to appear in the Holiday Bowl Parade, where it won the People’s Choice Award.

“I had an idea and turned it into a reality, obviously with the help of a lot of other people,” Sherman said. “I’d just love to see it continue to live on.”

Anyone willing and able to donate storage, funding or an RV is asked to call (619) 847-1122, or email]

Here is a gallery of photos showing the amazing transformation of an RV into the Polar Express by Bob Sherman and his friends.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Outlaw February 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm

The Little Engine that Could


bodysurferbob February 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm

this is way too cool. nicely written. these guys have got to find a place for the engine and vehicle. thanks for bringing this up.


JPinSD March 1, 2011 at 7:56 am

Why hasn’t it been in the OB Christmas parade the last couple of years?


Dianne March 2, 2011 at 11:54 am

Thank you so, so much for this article!!! I LOVE Sherman’s Polar Express and am so hopeful that this article will reach a donor or donors so the Express may continue to bring a smile to our faces and warm our hearts during the holiday season. If this article doesn’t encourage someone to step forward, I don’t know what will!


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