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Thomas the Tank Engine makes annual Valley stop

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SNOQUALMIE - A special train made its much-anticipated annual stop in Snoqualmie last week.

Thomas the Tank Engine stopped by for the first of a two weekend stint that gives fans a chance to see and ride a train led by the beloved character from the popular children's show.

"It has been a lot of fun," said Steve Wright of Sammamish, who brought along 21-month-old son Owen.

This was the third year the Northwest Railway Museum has hosted the Day Out with Thomas event, which has drawn around 14,000 people every year. The first year the event came to town, tickets sold out well in advance and last year had another strong showing.

While there are tickets left for this upcoming weekend, they are going fast. Northwest Railway Museum Executive Director Richard Anderson said Snoqualmie has remained a good place for the event and is now the only location in Washington to host Thomas. Due to the city's proximity to large metropolitan areas and the ease of getting here, Snoqualmie has drawn visitors from all over Washington and surrounding states to see Thomas. This year 28 cities are hosting the event around the country.

For train and Thomas enthusiasts, the event offers plenty of opportunities to see the cartoon character and look at the museum's large collection of historic train cars and engines. An expanded retail tent offers twice as much shopping space as in previous years and the museum is showing off the engine it hopes to display at a park planned for the corner of State Route 202 and Snoqualmie Parkway.

"We are planning to be very successful," Anderson said. "It should be equal or greater than pervious years."

The highlights of the event for many are the ride out to Snoqualmie Falls on the museum's historic cars and Thomas himself. For 25 minutes riders get to see Snoqualmie from the historic vantage point of train cars from a long-gone age of transportation. The railway museum has held on to Snoqualmie's strong railroad heritage and its trips to the Falls have always been popular.

Linda Huseby of Seattle, who brought her son (now 27) to Snoqualmie to ride the train when he was a child, brought her two godsons this year to see Thomas. The twin 2 1/2 year-old brothers, Thomas and Joseph, first rode a train while traveling in England last summer. They have since found out about Thomas and are now official train aficionados.

"We have been talking about this all week and every day," Huseby said.

As the trains made their journey out to the Falls, children and parents leaned out the windows to look at the scenery change from the old town of Snoqualmie to the woods just before Snoqualmie Falls. Riders got a unique view of Puget Sound Energy's hydro-electric plant, the Falls and then of the Snoqualmie River as it starts its Lower Valley course.

Some parents said their children were too young to really understand what was going on, but said they still got a lot of joy from just being able to see the trains and Thomas. Dan Hammerschidt of Bothell, who brought his 2-year-old son Elliot to see Thomas, said his son recently got into trains. Although he himself has never been a big train fan, Hammerschidt said his son may be becoming one.

"There's people who are drawn to them [trains] for some reason," he said. "I don't know what it is."

No matter what people thought of trains, the scene of small smiling faces and fingers pointed out the window made everyone a train fan for at least one day.

"I think it's a lot of fun," Hammerschidt said.

* There may still be tickets left to see Thomas this weekend. For ticket information, call (866) 468-7623 or visit www.ticketweb.com. For information about the Northwest Railway Museum, visit www.trainmuseum.org.

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