Midland Railway gears up for Thomas weekends
Midland Railway has a lot riding on the next two weekends and the annual visit of Thomas the Tank Engine.
The event, now in its 14th year, annually attracts from 13,000 to 14,000 people to Baldwin City, many of whom catch a ride on Midland rail cars pulled behind the replica blue engine of the PBS Kids series. Those visitors are critical for Midland Railway’s continued operation as a nonprofit, historic railroad.
“We have other fundraisers, but this is our biggest,” said Allen Kinsley, Midland Railway director of marketing. “It’s expensive to run a railroad. This helps us do all the things we do during the year.”
Tents have been raised for use as a Thomas & Friends shopping outlet and a boarding station for rides. Fencing mostly surrounds the depot’s grounds for this year’s Day out with Thomas, which will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday and again June 5-8. The 25-minute Thomas rides start at 9:45 a.m. and continue every 45 minutes until 3:45 p.m. Parking near the depot is limited, but free air-conditioned shuttle buses will provide rides to the grounds from Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center, 500 Lawrence St.
Tickets to ride Thomas and enjoy all the activities on the grounds are $19, and tickets to gain entry to the grounds are $10. A number of tickets are reserved for walk-up sales, but those wanting to be assured of ride times are encouraged to buy tickets in advance by calling 913-721-1211 or going online at midlandrailway.org.
The number of visitors Day out with Thomas attracts to Baldwin City during its two-weekend run makes it second only to the Maple Leaf Festival as a draw to the community. Based on early strong tickets sales, it appears Thomas has not lost his star power, said Tom Wheeler, Midland’s director of group sales.
A former Midland vice president, Wheeler first proposed to the Midland board 14 years ago that it join other historic railroads in tapping into the Thomas the Tank Engine fundraising bonanza. Wheeler said the decision continues to pay off for the railway and community because there is a constant supply of new fans waiting to meet their TV hero.
“It’s an event for kids from 2 to 6 years old,” he said. “Parents of little kids are crazy about it. It’s fun to watch the little ones walk up to Thomas. They see that blue engine and can’t believe Thomas is there.”
For the second year in a row, the youngsters will be even more convinced they’ve met Thomas. The engine can now roll its eyes and speak a number of phrases. Also getting the children’s attention is one of the train’s co-stars, Sir Topham Hatt.
“They send a costume with Thomas,” Wheeler said. “One of our volunteers has to wear it. They get a kick out of it. Getting a picture taken with Sir Topham Hatt is very popular.”
Kinsley said activities on the grounds this year will include a petting zoo, miniature golf, inflatable bounce houses, entertainment from Steve Gryb, the Pied Piper of Percussion, and the balloon artistry of Baldwin City’s Kelly Potter of Full O’ Balloony.
A popular draw is the shopping tent of Thomas-related toys, books and other items, Kinsley said.
“They have merchandise only found at Day Out with Thomas events,” he said. “Fifty percent of the items are not available in stores.”
Food will be available from Moose’s Backyard BBQ of Baldwin City, the local Lions Club and Boy Scouts, Kinsley said.
Among those working the event to raise money is the Baldwin Academy of Dance and Voice, but he had to solicit volunteer groups from outside the community for the first time this year because many local groups had other commitments, Kinsley said
Meanwhile, Midland already has identified where this year’s Thomas revenue will be spent, Kinsley said. It would be used to make repairs on a section of track Midland Railway and the Kansas Belle Dinner Train use on their regular trips from Baldwin City to Ottawa and in the restoration of one of two 1937 Ontario Northern passenger coaches Midland owns.
“There were only six of those built, and we have two of them,” Kinsley said.