Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thomas rolls out of town

June 14, 2007

Thomas the Tank Engine has once again left Baldwin City, but not before lighting up thousands of children's faces.

The last train arrived at the Midland Depot Sunday afternoon. It was the final trip for Thomas this summer in Baldwin. His two-week stint is up here.

Thousands of families visited Thomas from around the country. Some even came back to see him a second straight year. Raymond Wilhite and his son Nathaniel, 4-years-old, came from Richmond, Mo., to see Thomas again.

"He loves Thomas," Wilhite said of his son. "We're trying to make it an annual event because his birthday is on May 22. So, we come here after his birthday."

The Wilhites rode the Thomas train late Saturday morning. They also enjoyed some of the other activities at the event, but they missed one attraction that wasn't here this year.

"He's having a good time," Wilhite said of Nathaniel. "We went over to fire truck and the slide. Last year they had a Lego Thomas and we got pictures with him on that.

"Half of the stuff in the merchandise tent he has," Wilhite said. "He's got a lunch box this year, because he is in preschool now. He also has a whistle and more stickers. But he doesn't want to get his picture with Sir Topham Hatt, yet. Maybe next year."

Of course, the Wilhites were only one of many families that have seen Thomas more than one time.

Christy Rogers and her daughter Sydney, 5, had been to another Thomas event before coming to the Midland Railway event.

"We actually went to Branson two years ago to see Thomas," Rogers said. "Then we just came here to do it again. She is a big Thomas fan. She has all of the trains and tracks."

For other visitors, it was their first time to ride the train. Larry and Lisa Lawrence traveled from Edwardsville with their son Mathew, 2, and daughter Aryland, 7 months.

Mathew prepared himself for the event by watching a Thomas movie Saturday morning.

"He loves trains so much," Larry Lawrence said of his son. "He loves the signal lights when we cross over the tracks. We figured this would be a really nice treat for him. It turns out he likes the slides better than the trains right now. He's having a blast, so I'm not sure how we're going to get him to go home today."

Attendance numbers for the train were down slightly this year. Event Supervisor Tim DeMott reported that Midland sold slightly more than 15,600 train ride tickets this year, as opposed to approximately 17,000 last year.

DeMott said gas prices might have caused a decrease in ticket sales, because the weather didn't cause any problems this year.

"Our seating capacity was down and events all over were down this year as far as sales," DeMott said. "Gas prices might have affected that because people aren't traveling as much this year."

However, the train did sell out both weekends on Saturday and Sunday. Midland also sold around 11,000 tickets within the last three weeks of the event from will-call or walk up purchases.

Although the sales were down slightly, the event ran smoothly and produced two successful weekends of Thomas.

"It was a very successful year," DeMott said. "The weather treated us nicely. We had great support from the Baldwin City volunteers once again. We sold the most walk-up tickets we've ever sold, so it was another successful year."

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