Thomas chugs into Heber Valley | ParkRecord.com

Thomas chugs into Heber Valley

Dan Bischoff, Of the Record Staff

Thomas the Tank Engine rumbled into the Heber Creeper Depot Thursday Morning. This picture was taken on his arrival last year. Grayson West/Park Record

Children from Jeremy Ranch, Lewis and Clark and Sandcastle Elementary schools lined the railroad tracks at the depot station in Heber Thursday morning.

The kids’ anticipation seemed to generate a vibrating hum, but it wasn’t the Creeper they were waiting for. Down the track a blue juggernaut materialized out of the heat waves in the distance and the children chanted, "Thomas, Thomas!"

"They were excited, yelling and screaming for Thomas," said Di Dray, director of marketing for the Heber Creeper.

Station Master Sir Topham Hatt — the same character from the acclaimed children’s book — couldn’t refuse the rally cries, Dray said, and exited the station early to greet the enchanted children.

"It was a special arrival today," Dray said. "Thomas the Tank Engine travels all over the country and visits historical railroads and now he’s in our area."

This is the fourth time Thomas has visited Heber and he will be here through Memorial Day weekend. Starting Thursday, May 25, Thomas will depart every 45 minutes and take passengers on a 25-minute rail ride. There will also be an assortment of other activities.

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"It’s a huge carnival," Dray said. "There will be music, magicians, balloon tying, coloring station, a petting zoo. People spend about three to four hours here. You can have your photo taken with Sir Topham Hatt."

Dray said there are still available spots but people will need advance reservations to ride with Thomas as they have already sold out many cars. This year they are expecting more than 15,000 people and the reservations are up from a year ago.

Thursday was part of Heber Creeper’s yearly education program called "Operation Life Saver." The children were taken on a 20-minute train ride, provided lunch and taught about train safety at the same time. They were also given a railroad designed bookmark.

"Kids are already excited about a train ride," Dray said. "To just go a step further and teach them about (railroad) crossings, they not only learn about the safety but they learn about an historic train. We’ve received good feedback on what a good field trip it is."

The Creeper’s fleet consists of two coal-burning Baldwin steam engines from the early 1900s, only one is currently in service. The trains take a considerable amount of maintenance and are constantly under repair, Dray said. The fleet also utilizes a 1952 diesel locomotive on some trips; passengers can purchase tickets to ride in the locomotive engine. There are four open cars and eight coaches that vary in capacity. They are currently refurbishing a 100 passenger car. The coaches were originally built in 1900-1932.

Aside from the Thomas the Tank Engine event, the Heber Creeper has developed fresh ideas and more options for the locomotive enthusiast. The trains will run Tuesday through Sunday. There will be short excursions and longer trips in different locals throughout Heber Valley. Some will even allow well behaved canine companions to accompany.

There will be a variety of night trains throughout the summer with music and dinner starting at 6:30 p.m. Among them include a Sunset barbecue special with blue grass music. There will be Heber Valley hoe down train that will teach square-dancing. There will be a murder mystery dinner with prizes for the winning detective.

New to this summer is a combined train and horse-drawn carriage ride. During the Hay ride, instructors will teach about saddle construction and demonstrate blacksmith and tinsmith trades. For the adventurer, there will be a combined train and guided river raft tour and a combined train and mountain biking option. The trips are all designed for the entire family.

Day Out with Thomas, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. Meet Sir Topham Hatt, take a train ride with Thomas the Tank Engine. Magic shows, petting zoo, miniature train rides, imagination station, music, balloon tying, and food. Admission all-inclusive.

Departure: Thurs and Fri starting at 12 p.m., every 45 minutes. Sat, Sun, Mon starting at 9:45 am, every 45 minutes. May 25 29, Memorial Weekend. All tickets 2 years and up, $14. For tickets and information, visit http://www.hebervalleyrr.org, Smith Tixx or call (435) 654-5601.