Archive for Thursday, July 22, 2004

Thomas time

Annual Thomas event proves successful as thousands flock to Midland Railway

July 22, 2004

Kaleb Alexander is a huge Thomas the Tank Engine fan. So much so that the 3-year-old from Olathe had to see the big blue engine in person.

"He had to have the real deal," Brad Alexander, Kaleb's father, said. "He's been looking forward to it for weeks."

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Kaleb, his father and his mother, Dena, made the 45-minute trip from Olathe Friday morning with friends so they could take their first ride ever on Thomas.

They weren't the only ones who wanted to ride the train behind Thomas. Thousands of people flocked to Midland Railway this past weekend to enjoy the third annual Day Out With Thomas event, an event for children ages 2 to 6 years old that features 25-minute train rides throughout the day with Thomas, a full-size, 17-ton, 25-foot-long replica, leading the excursions. The event will continue Friday through Sunday at the depot.

Tim DeMott, event supervisor, said the first weekend of the two-weekend event was successful. Approximately 5,500 tickets were sold for Friday, Saturday and Sunday rides.

"It was wonderful," he said. "We did real, real well."

He attributed some of the turnout to the unusually nice weather.

"Things were amazing with the weather," he said. "We had a sloppy start with the rain on Friday, but it dried out. The humidity was a little lower and we had a slight breeze the entire time. So we just had very nice weather for it."

Those families that took advantage of the mild temperatures not only had an opportunity to ride behind Thomas, but they also got to participate in a number of other activities on the grounds of the depot, including a magic show, coloring, temporary tattoos and a moonwalk and air slide.

DeMott said he heard a number of positive comments from some of those in attendance.

"Everybody was really enjoying themselves," he said. "They were having a good time."

Kyle Turner brought his 3-year-old son, Wyatt, to the Thomas event for the second year in a row. Turner said he and his son, who are both from Leawood, came a second time not only because Wyatt is a Thomas fan, but because Turner liked the way the community worked at the event.

"It just makes it special," he said.

DeMott agreed.

"We had a lot of good staff," he said. "The groups we had out here were wonderful. They took good care of the public."

He said the groups, which included the Baldwin High School wrestlers, pom squad and student council, the Boy Scouts and the Baldwin City Community Theatre, work at the event as a fundraiser.

The rest of the proceeds from Day Out With Thomas will go to Midland.

DeMott said Midland, which is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization, views the Thomas event as its big fundraiser. Not only does Midland use the money for regular maintenance on the tracks and equipment, but it also uses the money for special projects.

In the past, he said, Midland used the money to help restore the south half of the track between Norwood and Ottawa.

"Thomas is what made that a reality," he said.

The plan this year, he said, is to use some of the proceeds to help refurbish cars for a dinner train from Baldwin to Ottawa. It would be Midland's first dinner train in 10 years.

But DeMott said Midland has also continued the Thomas event for the children.

"Just the excitement of those kids," he said. "They have gone to heaven."

Amy Wiley, from Independence, Mo., said her sons, Carter, 5, and Keaton, 4, who are both big Thomas fans, were excited not only to see Thomas, but ride their first-ever full-sized train.

"Obviously they're excited," she said. "They can't stand still."

DeMott said he expects as big a turnout, if not larger, this weekend, especially if the weather remains nice.

"If you missed a beautiful weekend this weekend, come out next weekend," he said. "It'll be even better."

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