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Day Out With Thomas returns to Transportation Museum

SALISBURY — The N.C. Transportation Museum buzzed this weekend with families who came to see Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends.

Saturday kicked off Day Out With Thomas, a major family draw for the museum that was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were vendors and activities this year that included a hay maze and regular museum exhibits, but train rides were the main draw.

The train engine was created as a character in Wilbert Awdry’s children’s books and later achieved widespread fame in the long-running children’s show “Thomas and Friends.” Toy and media company Mattel owns TV rights to the franchise and oversees the traveling exhibit the transportation museum takes part in. The museum had real engine replicas of Thomas and popular character Percy chugging along.

There were precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the trains. Everyone boarding trains was required to wear a mask because of federal mandate, the lines to board trains were expanded, capacity on the trains was lowered and cars were disinfected between trips. Masks were required in the museum as well.

“This year was a lot more challenging because we weren’t sure if we were even going to get to do the event,” said Museum Director and COO Kelly Alexander.

Alexander said the museum is following all relevant guidelines from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. She said people have been complying with the requirements and the museum provides masks to people who show up without them.

Alexander said attendance the first weekend was similar to normal years, if not down slightly. It will return for a second weekend Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s amazing how the popularity is still there,” Alexander said. “What you get now is a lot of parents with their kids now they came when they were kids.”

Museum Director of Administration Marcus Neubacher said the event takes a lot of coordination — staff to run trains, ticket booths and activities as well as making sure the event includes the pieces Mattel requires.

“The month or so leading up to it is a lot of extra work,” Neubacher said. “The week leading up to these events, that’s everything that everybody does.”

While the event is a busy time, it’s fun, too. Neubacher said all the kids love Thomas, and he hears from quite a few kids whose names are Thomas.

“We see a lot of families, a lot of happy people out here,” Neubacher said.

Kids got the chance to get their photo taken with Thomas, Percy and the character Sir Topham Hatt. A new addition this year was the Thomas balloon used in the Macy’s Thanksgiving.

Jennifer Shirley visited the museum on Sunday from Concord with her family, including her grandson Weston, who is a big Thomas fan. Weston said he was having a blast and has a miniature Thomas train at home he rides every day.

Shirley said she has been to the museum’s other major kids event, the Polar Express, and she came to the museum when she was a kid.

“I love it, it’s a great place to travel that’s not too far,” Weston said.

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