Thomas is set to toot into town
All aboard. Thomas the Tank Engine is rolling into Baldwin City Friday for its first of two weekends.
Once again, the annual celebration will be taking over Midland Railway depot this weekend and the following one. Workers have been busy for weeks preparing for the event and they are ready for it to begin.
"We're looking forward to another fun event," Event Organizer Tim DeMott said. "We are trying to change it up to keep it exciting for the repeat customers, yet make it always exciting for the first-time customers."
Sales for this year's event have decreased from last year's total. Midland representatives aren't quite sure why, but they believe fuel prices might be one reason.
"Some are up and some are down," Midland Railway President Mike Fox said. "There is no particular pattern to it. We don't have any solid reasons as to why, but gas prices probably don't help. This is a discretionary activity for families. If it's go buy groceries or go to Thomas and takes more gas to go to Thomas than to buy groceries, then they're going to go buy groceries."
Since many trains still have room for customers and gas prices are hindering family travel, DeMott is hoping many community members will take time to visit Thomas this summer.
"That's why it might be a nice event for the local Baldwin residents," DeMott said. "There is not a whole lot of gas being used by the local community to get here. Baldwin residents are always welcome to come out, catch the sites and catch a train ride."
Several of the same activities will be back this year for Thomas. However, there will be a few slight changes to keep the entertainment new and exciting for the children.
"We have a lot of very similar stuff," DeMott said. "We are trying to tweak it up and change it a little bit. We are limited a bit by HIT Entertainment, budgetary constraints and space."
Another addition this year will be an open-air car for the train. Midland workers constructed a car for passengers to ride on that will allow them to see the countryside during the ride.
"We're looking to some new and exciting stuff," DeMott said. "This year we're going to have an open-air car that you can ride outside and feel the experience a little better. We're hoping for nice weather to make the car a little more enjoyable. We'll have a roof over it so people can sit outside in the shade and enjoy the train ride."
At the Midland Railway, activities will include: a live magician, operating model railroad, moonwalk, inflatable slide, straw bale maze, and a treasure hunt.
There will also be the opportunity to meet and take a photo with Sir Topham Hatt and a Thomas & Friends Imagination Station; featuring stamps, temporary tattoos, hands-on arts and crafts activities and coloring sheets.
The annual event also serves as a fundraiser for several community groups and organizations. Some help run the activities while others sell food to raise money each year.
Baldwin High School student council, pom squad and several teams always help run the annual event.
Linda Ballinger, chairman of the volunteers and merchandise tent, said the volunteers account for most of the 120-130 people on the grounds during the event. She is in charge of the volunteers, including the Baldwin City Community Theater, which runs the merchandise tent.
"They are a tremendous help," Ballinger said. "I would say 75 to 80 percent of the people here are volunteers. I think the groups look forward to it every year. We couldn't do it without them."
DeMott suggested visitors park at Baldwin High School, located north of U.S. Highway 56 one block. He said there will be signs on the highway. DeMott suggests the BHS parking lot every year, because parking is crowded by the depot, buses shuttle visitors back and forth to the depot from BHS and the High Street construction will force cars down Eleventh Street instead of heading downtown.
"The easiest parking is at the high school and then ride the buses over," DeMott said. "The kids love riding the bus, especially the younger ones.
"It will be a minor challenge, but we try to direct most of the traffic to the high school," DeMott said of the construction. "We're just going to have the local traffic, school buses and the ones that don't read signs in town. We like to run the buses downtown, but we will have to run them out to the highway."
The Day Out With Thomas 2007: All Aboard Tour trains will depart every 45 minutes, rain or shine, between 9 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. Fridays and Sundays and between 9 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. on Saturdays. Tickets for the event are $16 for ages two and up.
Tickets are on sale now and are available by calling toll-free 866.468.7630 or logging onto www.Ticketweb.com. For more information and directions contact the Midland Railway at 800-651-0388 or visit www.midland-ry.org.