Day Out With Thomas 2014: Looking back at 2013

As Day Out With Thomas 2014 is just over the horizon, I feel it is an honor to republish the blog entry I made over at my other blog, the Edward Ringwald Blog, when I volunteered for Day Out With Thomas in 2013.  I was just a couple of months into being a member at the Florida Railroad Museum and working Day Out With Thomas 2013 was my first ever volunteer activity with the museum.  So, without much further ado, here is my blog entry from my experience with a Day Out With Thomas which transpired over two weekends in March 2013.

NOTE: This is an edited version of the blog entry as I edited and updated the links as needed.

Recently the Florida Railroad Museum proudly hosted a Day Out With Thomas for two weekends in March 2013.  As a proud member of the Florida Railroad Museum, I volunteered for the event over the two weekends performing a number of duties ranging from crowd control to checking tickets and issuing wristbands for the many people that attended.

After all, membership in the Florida Railroad Museum has a lot of benefits.  The one major benefit, free train rides on regular ride weekends, is an excellent justification for me to go out and about rather than spend all day at home and sitting on the couch or comfy chair watching TV or YouTube.

After all, volunteers are the lifeblood of the Florida Railroad Museum.  When there is a special event taking place such as a Day Out With Thomas, the museum does everything it can do to recruit volunteers from all walks of life, including this experienced Interstate 275 Florida roadgeek and railfan in training.

In fact, the museum gave us volunteers a free train ride on the last train of the day as a token of appreciation for our hard working and dedicated service over the two weekends the event was held.  While on the train, which was a ride to just south of Dickey Road in Manatee County and back to Parrish, I happened to enjoy the continuous Thomas and Friends music including the main Thomas theme; right after I disembarked from the train I went to the gift shop and bought me a CD called Thomas and Friends All Star Tracks; I was enjoying some Thomas tunes including Go Go Thomas, Roll Call (which is also the main Thomas theme), Misty Island Rescue, What Makes An Engine Happy and the others that were on the CD for the ride on northbound Interstate 75 through Tampa and back to Interstate 275 and St. Petersburg.

While I was in the gift shop, I noticed that the other Thomas and Friends CDs (not the one I bought) were on the Koch International label.  This rang a bell:  I have a 2 CD Avsenik Ensemble album on the same Koch International label in my increasingly expanding Slovene music collection.

Have you also visited my railroad museums page over at my website?  You ought to come by and check it out!

For more information on the Florida Railroad Museum, head on over to their website.  There you can get the latest information on the regular train rides plus the themed train rides that are scheduled throughout the year, including the annual Day Out With Thomas event.

What I enjoyed very much is the smiles I have seen on the children when they enter the event, especially when I hand them a map that features Thomas prominently in the center.  Believe me, it was the best two weekends in March 2013 that I will remember.

Since I volunteered for Day Out With Thomas 2013, I continued to take many more train rides using my free train ride on regular ride days benefit.  As I was riding the train, the conductors and train crew started to know that I was a member but I had a few other things going on at the same time.

Fast forward to September 2013 and a few weeks after Labor Day weekend.  I took yet another ride using my free ride benefit as a member.  I was so convinced that I decided to make the decision that would redefine my weekend activities:  Become a volunteer on the train crew!  So, I gave my business card to the conductor who was after me to get on the train crew and, within a couple of days, I got an email explaining how to sign up.  I still remember the day when I got my first email telling me to report to Willow at 8 AM on a Sunday morning to receive my first crew assignment.  I was so excited!

And the rest is history.

A Whole Lot Of Events Going On!

I know, it’s been a while since I posted here but I have been so busy between the regular train rides and the themed train rides we’re having.  So, let’s get right down to what has been going on lately here at the Florida Railroad Museum!

First of all, we had our first themed train ride in early February, which is the Hole In The Head Gang Train Robbery.  Let me tell you, this is edge of your seat fun as US Marshals (played by actors, of course) see to it that the shipment of gold is put on the train and secured.  However, when we get to just south of Dickey Road the fun begins when the train stops only to find out that someone made off with the gold!

In addition to the Train Robbery event, on the Saturday part of the Train Robbery weekend we also had our Hobo Campfire Cookout.  It consisted of a train ride to our Willow facility and event grounds where participants were given a hot dog to roast over an open pit fire.  Believe me, those hot dogs tasted awesome when roasted over the open fire!  (However, it got a little chilly as the sun sets to the west so I ended up getting back inside the train before we boarded our passengers for the return trip).  By the way, I only had one and that was practically my meal for the evening, as I was watching my diet closely.  In addition to the hot dog roasting, participants were treated to music by a local Bluegrass band.

After the dust settled on the Train Robbery and Hobo Campfire Cookout events we had two more regular ride weekends before our next event which would take place over three weekends, one weekend in late February and two weekends in early March:  Murder Mystery Express, and this year’s theme was Murder in 3-D.

I had an opportunity to be a crew member on many of the Murder Mystery Express runs as well as assisted in other activities related to the Murder Mystery Express, specifically assisting on the ground at Willow and assisting staff at the ticket office in Parrish distributing will call to our passengers who had purchased tickets for the Murder Mystery show.  That being said, here’s how a typical Murder Mystery show played out:

1.  The passengers board and there is assigned seating, similar to North Pole Express.  As Car Hosts we direct the passengers to their seats and in case of any seating problems we contact the conductor on the radio.

2.  As soon as we are boarded, we Car Hosts have to retreat to areas on board our assigned cars – once the show starts, the actors have full control.

3.  Just before we get started we hand out appetizers to our passengers.  This means wearing disposable gloves; after all, food safety is very important!

4.  The show is in three acts:

Act One takes place on the train headed north towards Willow.

Act Two takes place in Willow while you are having dinner.

Act Three takes place on the return train to Parrish.

5.  During the short intervals where there is no acting the passengers are trying to solve the whodunit and writing their thoughts on a clue sheet given to them as they came on board.

6.  While the passengers are enjoying their dinner we car hosts and the rest of the crew also get dinner too!

I had a great time working the Murder Mystery Express, no matter being a car host on board or working on the ground either in Willow assisting in setup and cleanup or in Parrish assisting in ticket sales and will call. It was the best time I have had yet!

Now that Murder Mystery Express has come and gone, it’s time to change gears and get ready for Day Out With Thomas.  That’s right, one of my favorite Florida Railroad Museum events in addition to North Pole Express, Day Out With Thomas, and this year’s theme is The Thrill Of The Ride Tour 2014!  A lot of preparation goes into making sure that the Day Out With Thomas event goes so smoothly and without a hitch; therefore, I had the honor of being in Parrish for a couple of days setting up the computer equipment both in the event gift shop tent and the ticket tent among the many other things.

Now did you get your tickets for Day Out With Thomas?  Advance purchase is highly recommended and you can do that by going to the Florida Railroad Museum’s website and clicking on the Day Out With Thomas graphic on the left side of the page.  Once there you can find a good wealth of information and a link to purchase your tickets.

Your ticket entitles you to all day admission on the grounds plus your train ride at the time you select.  The time you select for your train ride is printed on your ticket.  Allow ample time to get to the museum in Parrish so that you and your family can participate in the events including your train ride.  Speaking of your train ride, you may want to make your way to the boarding area at least 30 minutes before your train’s scheduled departure time.  Again, your train departure time is printed on your ticket and believe me, Thomas does indeed depart on time; doors close three minutes before departure for the mandatory safety check.

Day Out With Thomas takes place on 15 and 16 March 2014 as well as 22 and 23 March 2014.  Admission is $18 each for all guests ages two and up.  After all, Thomas is for all ages!

So, we got an exciting two weekends coming up at the Florida Railroad Museum!  After Day Out With Thomas we got the Cottontail Express coming up on Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 10 AM, 1 PM and 4 PM.  Again, check the Florida Railroad Museum website for details and to purchase tickets.  And while you’re there, you can purchase tickets for our regular train rides we have on the weekends at 11 AM and 2 PM; just after the Cottontail Express in April we will be back to our regular ride fare for the summer – and plenty of time for this now certified car host to train for the next step.

Upcoming Events at the Florida Railroad Museum for the first part of 2014

As you probably know, we are on our two weekend break for Christmas and New Year’s, which is highly deserved after a tiring three weekends in December with the North Pole Express.  But we did a great job, especially for me being my first North Pole Express.
According to the Florida Railroad Museum’s website, we will be resuming our train operations on Saturday, 11 January 2014 beginning with our regular rides at 11 AM and 2 PM both on that Saturday as well as Sunday, 12 January 2014.  If you haven’t been out on the train with us, or you could not get tickets for the North Pole Express as the event was sold out, you owe it to yourself to come out and experience not only a train ride but an educational experience including the history of the town of Willow among other things.
Remember, you can purchase tickets online at the Florida Railroad Museum’s website for all of our regular train rides as well as our themed train rides scheduled throughout the year.  Tickets for the themed train rides go on sale well in advance, so you may want to keep checking the website for availability as the event draws closer.
This is very important if you want to consider getting tickets for North Pole Express 2014.  Tickets for that event go on sale around Labor Day weekend; you will want to keep checking the museum’s website as Labor Day weekend gets closer for dates when you will be able to purchase tickets for that event.
With that said, here’s the upcoming event schedule through March 2014, according to the Florida Railroad Museum’s website:
25 January 2014:  Hobo Campfire Cookout at 5 PM.
1 February 2014 and 2 February 2014:  Hole In The Head Gang Train Robbery at 11 AM and 2 PM.  Also on 1 February 2014 we will also have the Hobo Campfire Cookout at 5 PM.
21, 22, 23 and 28 February 2014 and 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 March 2014:  Murder Mystery Dinner Train, and this year it’s Murder in 3-D.  Trains depart at 6 PM on Fridays, 2 PM and 6 PM on Saturdays and 2 PM on Sundays.  Tickets for the Murder Mystery Dinner Train are $47 for the 2 PM matinee and $55 for the 6 PM show.
15 and 16 March 2014 as well as 22 and 23 March 2014:  Day Out With Thomas!  Your children will love a day out on the train with Thomas the Tank Engine.  In fact, Day Out With Thomas is the museum’s most popular event!
Tickets are on sale now for the events described above.  The best way to get your tickets (and hopefully avoid sold out shows) is to order your tickets online; for the Day Out With Thomas event there is a different ticket vendor that handles ticket sales for that event.  It’s very simple as going to the Florida Railroad Museum’s website and clicking on the date you would like to attend.
Now for one word of advice:  Events, dates and times and ticket prices are subject to change.  Again, you will want to check the Florida Railroad Museum’s website for specifics, especially as the date of an event gets closer.
Whether you come out for one of the regular train rides or for any of the themed train rides like the ones that I just mentioned, we’d like to have you on board.  Be sure to buy your tickets in plenty of time and welcome aboard!