Chugging into Shelby County Thomas the Tank makes appearance in Calera

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Youngsters of all ages thrilled to the arrival of Thomas the Tank Engine as he pulled into the station at

the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera this past


Those who did not see Thomas spout his clouds of puffy white smoke, hear the crisp toot of his train whistle or feel the surge of motion as a rail car pulled by Thomas rolled into the distance will have another chance this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 11-13.

The museum will be open each of those days from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

A Day Out With Thomas and friends is a fund-raiser for the local railroad museum.

And some 12,000 people are expected to attend the six day event for which tickets are $14 with a $2 service charge each for persons age 1 and older.

According to Marcy Williams,

proceeds will be used to extend the Calera

& Shelby (museum) Railroad another two miles.

Williams said this season the museum is marking the 40th anniversary of its existence since its early beginnings in Birmingham.

She said during a Day Out With Thomas, youngsters can ride a full-sized train pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine.

They can play and get tattoos of their favorite Thomas characters at Imagination Station, enjoy balloon magic, bounce in the Moon Walk fun center, meet Sir Topham Hat, controller of the Imagination Station Railroad and thrill to an electric model train exhibit presented by Smokey City Model Railroad Club Inc.

Of course, there are food vendors, Thomas souvenirs and photo opportunities with Thomas the Tank Engine available for sale as well. And the old Birmingham Zoo steam engine is available for rides for an additional $3.

Among the thousands making their way to Calera this past weekend to see Thomas the Tank Engine was Ingrid Garvey of New Orleans, La.,

with her children Lyla, age 11 months; Elise, age 3; Alana age 6; and her mother Bobbie Verheugen.

The family drove six hours to stay at a motel in Calera and visit the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum

because Calera was the closest Thomas the Tank comes to their home.

Ingrid said she said she found out about the Calera appearance by Thomas the Tank Engine on the Internet.

She said they had ridden the train pulled by Thomas four times. Her mother said she bought souvenirs from the trip and rode the train three times.

Jim Batson of Wilsonville and his circus train layout are also a star attraction at the museum as part of the Smokey City Model Railroad Club Inc. exhibit. Batson’s layout which includes a Thomas the Tank Engine on the track is 23 years old and all hand-built.

The layout includes circus tents, circus animals and antique autos in remarkable detail. He said the people in the circus crowds are actually painted on Popsicle sticks. And, he said, many of the items in the layout are no longer available to the public.

Among other special events planned at the museum this year are Cottontail Express and the Polar Express.

The Cottontail Express with travel to Peter Cottontail’s meadow for an Easter egg hunt.

The Polar Express will recreate a mystical journey to the North Pole in which youngsters will receive a Christmas bell.

Youngsters who ride the Thomas the Tank Engine Train this weekend will receive a certificate