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TAMARA GRUHOT: A day with Thomas

Alex Gruhot sits on an engine after enjoying a ride during “A Day Out With Thomas” in August 2013 at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum at the Depot. Tamara Gruhot /

Last year, my son, who loves all things trains, especially Thomas, was turning 3. For his birthday treat, we took the family to A Day Out With Thomas at the Depot.

We’d gotten a tip from our neighbors: Go early to avoid the crowds. So, I booked us on the first ride on Sunday morning.

We arrived at the Depot about 8:30 a.m. It was quiet. We were among the earliest passengers to arrive. We took stock of the outdoor activities — a bounce house, a bubble station, face painting, a giant slide and an elaborate Thomas Trackmaster display, ready for little hands to play with.

Then, Thomas steamed up to the station.

“It’s Thomas,” he shouted, jaw nearly hitting the ground. A loud blast of the whistle had him jumping back into my arms and then giggling with glee. “It’s Thomas,” he repeated, as if unsure whether it could be true.

We boarded the train, the Depot’s regular passenger cars and not Annie and Clarabelle, Thomas’ coaches. And that detail was pretty much my only quibble of the day.

We found some seats in the first car, directly behind Thomas. After everyone boarded, the train tooted the whistle again and backed out of the station to the switch and then forward to the veterans memorial. My son watched, rapt, as Canal Park, and then the Lakewalk, went by. He waved at pedestrians and the William A. Irvin and the ships anchored on Lake Superior. And through it all he smiled from ear to ear.

Back at the station, we exited into the train museum. My son’s eyes grew even rounder as he took in all the engines parked inside and in the yard. He eagerly clambered aboard those he could, and he would only be coaxed down with the promise that there were more yet to see.

Also inside, train tables just right for little hands to drive Thomas and his friends around the Island of Sodor, coloring pages, Thomas movies showing in a darkened room, train safety games, snacks, a souvenir zone and the chance to take your picture with Sir Topham Hatt.

Despite his insistence that he wasn’t done at the train tables, we went outside to try out the activities we’d seen earlier.

What was quiet and calm when we arrived now was raucous and chaotic, bursting with excited children and their adults.

It was too much for one little boy.

And the meltdown began.

“No! I don’t want to take a picture with Thomas!,” he screamed as we tried to coax him to smile.

No promise of treats or games could convince him to give up the tears, so we called it a day.

But it was a great day.

Gruhot is a News Tribune copy editor and page designer. Her son still loves all things train-related.