Emily delivers on Thomas
That soft toot, toot, toot of Thomas the Tank Engine's whistle kept beckoning me to the Midland Railway Depot. I drove by a couple of times to check it out, but I wasn't going to go see Thomas without some help.
Luckily, that showed up about noon Saturday when 4-year-old Emily Wolf arrived from Nebraska. I wasn't going to go see Thomas until I had some child's eyes to see him through.
My babies are now teen-agers and don't have much interest in the come-to-life version of an animated cartoon they've never watched. Even if it is in Baldwin. That's okay. I understand. I decided not to try the bribe of a tank of gas if either of them would go see Thomas with me. Somehow, I don't think their squeals of faked delight as Thomas came down the track would quite give me the right ambiance.
Besides, I knew Emily was coming to town. Valerie Wolf, Emily's mom and the Signal's Staff Everything for two years, e-mailed me from their new home in Lincoln, Neb., right after the news came out that Thomas was coming to Baldwin. "We've got tickets. We'll be there."
This was my first real clue about Thomas. He must be a big deal to get Valerie searching out tickets for a Baldwin event. I'd never heard of Thomas the Tank Engine, but I knew if he was that important to Emily and, even more so, mom, he must be a very good thing.
That's pretty much what I've learned, too, after three days of watching the crowd go to-and-from the depot. Thomas is special to these kids and their parents and/or grandparents. They've flocked for miles to come see him in Baldwin City, Kansas. Car tags are from Virginia, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, lots of Missouri, Nebraska and you name it.
They managed to turn Baldwin into the SUV and minivan capitol of Kansas this past weekend. But, you know, much to the surprise of all of us Maple Leaf Festival experts, it's been a steady, orderly crowd. The only delays I've seen are setting up strollers once everyone's off the shuttle bus.
But after that little bump in the road, there's nothing but wall-to-wall Thomas out at the depot. Kids are running, or being strolled, from one tent activity to another. There's face painting (gosh, I just have to get a Thomas on my cheek) and other stand-bys. Oh, the merchandise tent. Got to go there and drop a buck or two.
Expectations are high. We asked Emily before she went what Thomas says. She said he says "Hello, people." Well, that's on TV, anyway. There have been lots of discussions with parents to their kids about how this Thomas isn't going to talk. It doesn't seem to matter.
Kids and their caretakers are like a bunch of ants out there for the most part, going from one tent to another. Then, it happens. The PA sounds off "here comes Thomas."
For a split second, it's almost quiet. Everyone looks up from what they're doing and sees Thomas headed for the depot. Then they all make a mad dash toward the train.
Video and still cameras are clicking and whirring. Mom, dad, grandma or grandpa is trying to record the moment when "little Johnny" sees Thomas. The little guys and gals are in awe. They wave at Thomas and are sort of numb, not knowing if what they are seeing is really happening.
This continues as Thomas continues his stroll into the depot. Kids are hoisted on top of shoulders for a better view. Others scurry to secure a spot along the fence where they can see him up close.
It's this moment that I wanted to hear about from Emily what it's like to finally see Thomas the Tank Engine in real life. So I asked her, "what do you think about Thomas, Emily?" Her answer was pure classic.
"I wish all these people would get out of my way," she said.
Thanks, Emily, I couldn't have said it better myself.