Archive for Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Thomas attracts crowds

August 6, 2003

Larry Langley had been planning on taking his 4-year-old son, Alex, for a ride on Thomas the Tank Engine since the tickets went on sale in May.

But when the Langleys made the trip from Topeka to Midland Railway Friday, Alex had no idea why they were there.

"We haven't told him he's riding Thomas," Langley said. "He'll be surprised."

In fact, Thomas wasn't in the depot when they arrived, and Langley said his son had no idea the popular engine was there. Langley said Alex, who is a Thomas fanatic, would be surprised.

"He's a big fan," he said. "He has all the videos and, god, I don't know how much track."

The Langleys weren't the only ones who arrived at Midland over the weekend to take part in Day Out With Thomas, an event for children ages 2 to 6 featuring the popular children's book and public television show character. A few thousand people spent part of their weekend at the depot riding the train with Thomas, a full-size, 17-ton, 25-foot-long replica, leading the excursions.

Tim DeMott, event supervisor, said Thomas was very popular with the young children.

"Watching the kids' eyes light up when they first see Thomas makes it all worth it," DeMott said. "They just can't believe Thomas is out there."

He said attendance was steady throughout the weekend. Nearly 2,700 people rode Thomas Saturday.

"Walk-in sales were great," he said. "Seventy-five percent of the capacity was filled over the three days."

Thomas fans from around 20 states purchased tickets for the two-weekend event.

Jin Gentry and her son, Levi, 2, made the trip from Oklahoma City to ride Thomas Friday.

"He's a Thomas psycho and he's only two," Gentry said of Levi. "He knows all their names. He knows everything and I didn't teach him any of it."

Thomas fans also got a chance to participate in other activities when they weren't riding on the train, including playing with model train sets, getting temporary Thomas tattoos, coloring and storytelling.

"Everyone was very pleased with the way the event was put on," DeMott said. "There were fun activities for the kids and plenty to do for everyone."

He said events went much smoother with help from the community.

"Local help was phenomenal," he said, "especially the high school wrestlers and StuCo. They went above and beyond the requested help. They did everything they could to make the kids happy."

He said he expects things to run as smoothly this weekend.

Thomas rides will continue Friday through Sunday. There are 12 train rides a day, starting at 9 a.m. and running every 45 minutes.

Tickets are needed for the train rides only. They are $16 per person, which includes the handling fee, and can be ordered by calling (866) 468-7630 or by going online to www.ticketweb.com. Tickets will be available for $14 at the gate throughout the weekend.

DeMott said anyone who had tickets for last weekend and missed the event can ride this weekend.

"There are no refunds, but we'll get you on a train this weekend," he said. "We'll do anything we can to get a kid a ride."

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