While Sodor may be a dystopia where no longer “useful” sentient trains are threatened with getting melted down, my kid really, really loves trains. And therefore really, really loves Thomas the Train. So when my mom and dad offered to bring us to the Day Out with Thomas event at the B&O Railway Museum, I knew I couldn’t say no. Which led to us driving through Baltimore and pulling into the museum’s parking lot this past Sunday, ready for a day full of Thomas and his perky train friends.
In reality, the event was pretty awesome. After you pass through an odd little hallway, the B&O Railway Museum opens up into a giant old train roundhouse. The wooden and metal ribs under the brick building arch upwards. Windows at the very top let in sunlight that illuminates the old turntable, now set in wood. The space that once housed working trains now displays huge engines and railcars of all colors and time periods.
But amid all of this, my son gravitated to one thing alone – the train tables. Despite the fact that we bought him a train set for Christmas, he still plays with every single public train table he can get his hands on. Fortunately, the B&O has a great kids area with multiple tables. He grabbed an engine, running from table to table to try it out on all of the different tracks. A few separate tables had Thomas the Train Megablocks, which Little Bird was happy dropping on the floor. The Kids’ Zone also has a pretend train station with make-believe props. For those interested in having their kids learn facts, there’s some informational plaques about the history of the rail system. While there were a lot of extra activities for the Day Out with Thomas event, the kids zone is a permanent part of the museum.
Eventually, we persuaded Sprout to check out all of the other activities at the event – and there were many. Exiting the roundhouse, we saw a carousel, a mini train ride, a model train, a playground, games, temporary tattoos, bounce houses and a children’s musician performing. (The carousel, mini train ride, model train, and playground are all permanent parts of the museum.) As he took it in, his feet started moving, dancing to his own beat. He literally ran from activity to activity. As we waited in line – none of which were longer than five minutes – he bopped up and down. He can be a fidget, but I’ve never seen him like this. It was so bad that when he actually did need to go to the bathroom later on, we couldn’t tell the difference between that and his “potty dance!”
Thankfully, he sat still for long enough to eat lunch. We ended up buying food there – typical carnival stuff – because the B&O website made it sound like you couldn’t bring your own. Despite that, there’s a nice outside, covered picnic area that would be perfect for bringing your own backpack full of stuff.
For the most part, the activities were well-staffed and well-run. The bounce house attendees didn’t let the kids go too bonkers and seemed attentive to the size differences between kids. The people at the temporary tattoo booth were adorably appropriate, both sporting significant ink themselves. The woman who helped us offered to apply two different tattoos on Sprout – one of Thomas (of course) and one of James. The only issue we had was that the carousel broke right when we got on it, but the staff were professional in getting everyone off.
All of that was just a lead up to the main event – actually riding on Thomas. A life-sized Thomas the Train. As we walked up the ramp to the platform, both my mom and I caught a little of Sprout’s antsiness. Up until then, we only told him that there would be a “surprise” at the museum. He knew we were going on a train ride, but had no idea it would be Thomas himself.
When we finally caught a glimpse of the Train of the Day, we couldn’t help but smile. His giant eyes moved back and forth. His mouth opened and closed with a grin. He didn’t talk, but it was close enough. “Look! It’s Thomas!” we pointed. “It’s Thomas! Hi Thomas!” Sprout yelled, jumping up and down. Even for a non-fan, it was pretty damn magical.
The actual train ride was somewhat less impressive. The train cars had obviously been out of regular service for a long time. The fake leather on the seats were cracked, along with some of the windows. I whispered, “Thomas really needs some repairs” to my mom.
The scenery was equally as dreary. We went through the backroads of one of the less lovely areas of Baltimore, with barbed wire, parking lots, and rusted out train cars visible through the windows. One of the dads of the family next to us said, “Look, there’s a tire!” Fortunately, some purple flowering trees added color and beauty.
But none of that particularly made a difference to Sprout. He was still thrilled to bits about riding on Thomas. He kept asking why we were going backwards – the train doesn’t have anywhere to turn around, so it goes backwards then forwards – but seemed satisfied once we started moving forward.
Leaving the train, we stopped to take family photos in front of Thomas. They have a professional photographer there, but my mom did it for us with her fancy camera.
While Sprout made another pass at the train tables, I stopped by the Thomas gift shop. Despite my general dislike of both Sodor and materialism, I am a mom. Sprout loves holding my umbrella, so I bought him one of his own for his birthday. (It’s a least a little practical!) I also bought a special car for his train set that commemorates A Day Out with Thomas. It’s a neat little momento and reasonably priced considering what they could have charged.
As it turns out, Thomas and Friends aren’t so bad after all. We just need to figure out how to oust Sir Toppam Hatt….
This is just one of many field trips in the D.C. area associated with Sprout’s love affair with “things that move.” We’ve also visited the National Capital Trolley Museum and the Christmas train display at the National Botanical Gardens.