My son Jameson is now 13-months old, and I’ve learned this is the exact age when a young boy develops a full-blown love affair with vehicles: cars, trucks, planes, and trains. Every large transportation vehicle he sees is currently a “truck” (his favorite word), and “trucks” of every kind litter my living room: an ATV, a police car, a pickup, a bulldozer, and a tractor. Some of them he rides; some of them he makes a little “vvrrrrr” sound while he maneuvers them over the top of the ottoman. Without question, Jameson is awestruck by transport vehicles. One vehicle that has recently caught his undivided attention is the classic Thomas the Tank Engine. My wife introduced Jameson to Thomas through Youtube videos, and he is mesmerized. So when we heard the Virginia & Truckee (V&T) Railroad in Virginia City was hosting A Day Out with Thomas: Big Adventure Tour 2018, we knew we had to go.
More Than Just a Train Ride
Upon our arrival at the V&T’s F Street Depot in Virginia City, we were greeted by a throng of children and adults, all taking pictures in front a life-sized Thomas the Train steam engine. Thomas was hooked up to four of the V&T’s old passenger cars, and he was eagerly awaiting his passengers to board the train and begin the journey along the 140-year old V&T route. We picked up our tickets and were originally scheduled for the 12 o’clock departure, but we opted to stay at the station to participate in the number of activities and booths beforehand. We knew we could easily catch the 1:00pm train.
At the station, the fair-like atmosphere offered fun for kids of all ages. We opted to start by walking through the old caboose cars. There were three of them, and they each had a themed activity. The first was the Story-Telling Caboose, where people could relax indoors and watch Thomas the Train videos and/or read books. Jameson adores books, so we stayed and read the over-sized Thomas books for a few minutes. This is also where we were given a Passport to Adventures (also known as a Passport to Friendship) that encouraged us to visit four specific locations at the event, collect four stamps, and consequently collect a special prize (the prize is a secret, so you’ll have to find out what it is for yourselves). The second car was the Tattoo Caboose, where kids could get temporary Thomas tattoos. There were a number of children in line for a tattoo, so we passed on this opportunity. The third was the Coloring Caboose, where kids could color their own Thomas & Friends coloring pages. Jameson is only starting to appreciate crayons, so he scribbled for a bit, but he seemed more interested in watching older kids work on their pages instead of coloring himself.
Outside the line of caboose cars, there were a number of Thomas train-set tables erected for kids to play with under some shade trees. These tables were a huge hit with Jameson and most of the kids because they got some hands-on play with Thomas, Percy, Toby, James, and the other characters from the Island of Sodor. Adjacent to this and inside the train station, there was an Imagination Station. It housed a number of Lego tables as well as a Thomas & Friends Super Station Track set. This, too, was a favorite with the kids for the simple fact that it was hands on and largely free from direct adult influence. Most of the parents sat on the benches at the edge of the room and let their kids have free reign. It wasn’t chaotic; it was actually nice to see kids playing collaboratively and creatively in a comfortable space.
On the lawn in front of the Depot, there were even more activities and attractions. There was a Ride the Engines play yard, where kids could ride four motorized mini-Thomas the Trains. Jameson was little too young to be able to push the go-button with his tiny thumb, but he enjoyed the chance to sit on a tiny Thomas the Engine regardless. Next to this there was a giant-bubble station and a cotton-candy machine. Jameson loves bubbles, so we stayed and played with them for a bit. Beyond that there was a magic show. We didn’t stay to see the show, but we did opt to grab a quick snack in the Hobo Lunch car. It was the perfect spot to get out of the sun, sit down for a moment, and beat back the hunger-monster so we could enjoy the rest of the attractions. They were selling snacks aboard the train, but like any well-prepared parent, we had brought our own snacks.
By the time we were done snacking, Thomas was back at the station and it was time to board for the 1:00pm departure. Once aboard, the train’s luggage racks were lined with stuffed animals, Thomas’ theme music was playing, and the crew were taking professional pictures of families to be purchased later in the Photo Tent. After everyone was aboard, the train gently pulled back from the station and began making it’s way from Virginia City down the roughly six miles of track to the Gold Hill Depot. Along the way, we saw a herd of wild horses, mill sites, old train trusses, and vistas of the Virginia City foothills. One of the highlights of the trip, however, was traveling through the old beam-lined tunnel. To assure that is wasn’t too frightening for young kids, the V&T strung red and blue rope lights, which gave the tunnel a soft glow. Jameson along with most of the kids on the train oohed and aahed as we twice slow-rolled through he dark (once down the mountain and once back up the mountain). The 40-minute round-trip was accentuated by the cool autumn breeze blowing in though the open windows and the palpable joy that the children had as many, Jameson included, got to experience their first train ride— all courtesy of Thomas the Train and the V&T railroad.
Once back at the station, Jameson now had his Jr. Engineer Certificate, but there were still a number of activities we had yet to partake in: story-board stations, a beanbag toss, putt-putt golf, a sand box, railroad-handcar rides, and a photo opportunity with Sir Topham Hat. Unfortunately, Jameson still only being 13-months old was quickly reaching his energy’s end. We decided to take one last stroll through the two gift shops: the Gift Shop Tent & the Depot Gift Shop. We purchased Jameson a small James the Train engine at the Gift Shop Tent and reluctantly made our way back to the car. We were only there for two hours, but there were more than enough opportunities and activities to spend twice that amount of time. It was a great way to spend an autumn afternoon, and I’d encourage all young train enthusiasts to make a day of it.
Don’t Miss Out on Thomas the Tank Engine
October 19-21 was the first weekend for a Day out With Thomas, but the event carries on next weekend as well. Tickets are $19.00 for adults, $10.00 for children 2-11, and free for kids 2 and under. Thomas departs from the station at the following days and times:
Friday, October 26th
Saturday, October 27th
Sunday, October 28th
The Virginia & Truckee Railroad is located at the 166 F. Street Depot in Virginia City, Nevada. Parking is located in the dirt lot directly in front of the Depot. This fills up fast, but there are other parking spots located at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at the corner of F St. & Taylor St. (a block from the Depot), as well as along the streets all around Virginia City. For more information, their phone number is (775) 847-0380 and their website is Virginiatruckee.com.
Lastly, for those of you that are looking to catch a little Christmas spirit this holiday season, you can do it by catching a ride on the V&T Candy Cane Express. It rolls into town at noon and 2:00pm on November 23, 24, and December 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, and 16.