Thomas the train heading to Williams

For six days in May, Williams will become a Thomas the Tank Engine train station that is expected to draw a number of fans from all over the Southwest.

“We could have 10,000 people or more in Williams for this event,” said Jerry Thull, public relations manager for Grand Canyon Railway.

The railway has been working on hosting two three-day events in mid-May for over a year. The dates Thomas the Tank Engine will be in town are May 10, 11 and 12 and May 17, 18 and 19.

“Thomas will run seven times a day,” Thull said. “He’s a full-sized Thomas engine, and he’ll depart at 10:15 a.m., 11 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 2 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.”

The train ride is only part of the fun, Thull said.

“There will be activities through the facility throughout the day,” said Sam Slack, vice president of guest services and general manager of the Fray Marcos Hotel. “It’s a day out with Thomas.”

Fair-like events will take place 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on the grounds of the GCR depot, 233 Grand Canyon Blvd., on the above dates and will include storytelling, an imagination station, video displays, a temporary tattoo station and a play station. A total of 1,750 seats can be sold for each day Thomas is in town.

“We’re also going to do a few other events,” Thull said.

Thomas the Tank Engine will turn 55 years old this year. The story originated in England in 1945 when the Rev. Wilbert Awdry wrote the first of the now famous railway stories. Later on Christopher Awdry continued the series.

“He first made up stories about Thomas and his friends in 1943 to keep his son Christopher amused when he was ill with the measles,” the Thomas the Tank Engine website states.

After 26 books, Awdry put don his pen and his son, Christopher, took up the job. He wrote and additional 40 books.

Thomas the Tank Engine is a popular children’s character that has sold 25 million books in America with worldwide book sales approaching 80 million.

The book series was made even more popular when Britt Allcroft, a British producer, created the television show, “Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends.” The show can now be seen in over 120 countries and has earned Allcroft a number of accolades.

In the early ‘80s, Allcroft persuaded Ringo Starr, former Beatle, to be Thomas’ first storyteller named Sir Topumhat. In the late ‘80s, she was also instrumental in creating “Shining Time Station” where Thomas stops to visit with friends. George Carlin, a comedian, has also played Sir Topumhat.

“It’s a series of morality tales set in England,” Thull said.

Another big draw for GCR will be the opportunity to purchase Thomas toys.

“Williams will have the most diverse selection of Thomas merchandise available,” Thull said.

He said oftentimes it’s difficult to find Thomas items but that will not be the case in May.

Thull said he thinks ticket sales for the two weekends will go fast and encouraged locals to sign up fast. He said when the GCR offered the “Polar Express” in December, a lot of area residents complained they didn’t get the opportunity to ride because the special excursion train sold out. To ensure this doesn’t happen again, the railway decided to let locals know first before advertising to the Phoenix area.

“A lot of the locals felt left behind,” Thull said. “They can sign up for tickets now by calling 1-800-the-train.

“It’s $14 per person and that includes the train ride and access to the fair.”

Thull said 51 tickets have already been sold and the final paperwork was only signed a week ago.

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