Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 22, 2013

SPENCER — More than 30 years ago, the N.C. Transportation’s Day Out With Thomas event didn’t exist as it does today. Now the museum’s largest attraction, it began as just a stage show.

Continuing year after year, there’s always a new generation to fall in love with the blue tank engine.
An online gallery is available here.

This year’s event began Friday, continues today, and will return next weekend, said Interim Director Larry Neal.

Tickets are $24 for ages 2 and older. Group tickets are $19 each. Neal said Saturday’s tickets sold out early.

When Courtney and Donnie Turlington found about Thomas being in town, they decided to spend the day at the museum because their son, Patrick, is a big Thomas fan. The High Point residents had never been to the museum or attended a Day Out with Thomas activity.

“It’s so cool for kids to be able to come out and see something lifelike. The great thing about Thomas is he’s family friendly,” Donnie said.

Donnie’s grandfather worked with Norfolk Southern, and trains have always been a part of his life. His love of trains has been passed down to Patrick, who will be 2 in October.

“It’s a family connection,” Donnie said.

He had a Lionel train set as a child and still brings it out at the holidays.

“I’ve always been into trains, planes, cars — and that has spilled onto Patrick,” Donnie said.

Courtney and Donnie say they are selective in what they allow their son to watch on television, and Thomas is something they can feel comfortable letting him watch.

The couple’s friends, Justin and Ashley Craven, brought their son, Spencer, who will be 2 in December, for the day’s events.

It was the first time at the museum for the Cravens, who say their son is “obsessed” with construction and loves trains.

Ashley said she really likes that the museum is a place that you “don’t have to travel far to do something fun.”

Daryll Cherry and his son, Daryll Jr., 3, had a father-son day out. The two traveled from Winston-Salem to see the museum and Thomas for the first time. Daryll said his son’s school, First Assembly Christian Academy, told of the activity.

“He’s a big fan of Thomas,” Daryll said.

He said it’s a good event that gives young children something to do.

Richard Phelps, of Rockwell, also made Saturday a father and son outing. He stopped to look in the gift shop with son, Maverick, 4. Phelps estimated Saturday was their third time attending the annual event.

“He likes any type of train,” Phelps said.

Jordan Shaver, his wife, Kate, and their two boys, Hayden, 4, and Holden, 1, attended with a friend and neighbors.

“It’s nice because it’s a safe place. There’s a lot of different things to look at,” Jordan said.

Since 2011, Dathan Port and his son, Dathan Jr., 3, and Port’s mother, Susan Whiteheart, have maintained their tradition of attending Day Out With Thomas.

The three spend all day at the museum and then return to Whiteheart’s home in Winston-Salem for dinner.

“He is obsessed with trains,” Dathan Sr. said.

Dathan Jr. waited patiently as a toy train traveled around a track and made its way back toward him. He wore his conductor’s hat. His father said it’s one of three like it that he owns. The hats all sit on a shelf at home, along with the child’s other Thomas- related memorabilia.

Gerry Foster is also about making memories with his grandson, Cole, 5, and daughter, Vicky Foster. The three have attended the Spencer activity for the past four years.

“He looks forward to it. I’m trying to build memories,” Gerry said.

Gerry is a member of an N Scale model railroad club and has spent time at the museum. He said since he’s a member of a model railroad club, he’s able to answer some of the questions Cole may have.

Gerry enjoys the history of the museum while Cole just enjoys all of the trains.

Danielle Lennon chased after her daughter, Jasmine, 2, who was so excited to play a non-train- related game of bean bag toss. The toddler picked up the bag and gave it a flip with her tiny hands. Danielle joked that her husband, Andre, a civil engineer, is more excited than their daughter about the trains.

Danielle said Jasmine really loves Thomas so much that she’s considering redecorating the toddler’s room into a Thomas the Tank Engine theme. The couple traveled from Charlotte via train to attend.

Those who purchase Day Out With Thomas tickets also have access to other museum features, including the Roundhouse, the Wagons, Wheels and Wings exhibit and the automobile exhibit.

There is a fee to ride the caboose and turntables, which can be purchased at the museum.

For more information about Day Out With Thomas and how to purchase tickets, go to or buy tickets at the gate.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253. Twitter: Facebook: