A friendly face steaming into Golden

Column by John Akal
Posted 9/16/20

When I was a kid growing up here in Golden, my first exposure with trains and railroads was probably the ones running around and into the Coors Brewery. That place is like a giant model railway …

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A friendly face steaming into Golden


When I was a kid growing up here in Golden, my first exposure with trains and railroads was probably the ones running around and into the Coors Brewery. That place is like a giant model railway layout with all its tracks and switches. One of the things that makes it seem like that is the roads to the north and south of the complex are elevated so you can look down on the whole operation from a bit of a distance and it kind of looks like it’s on a tabletop in somebody’s big basement.

My next experience with trains was at my grandmother’s house in Chicago. There was a track that ran behind her house and you could watch trains running through there all the time. As kids we used to put pennies on the tracks and wait for the trains to roll by and flatten them out. We also got to know the friendly engineers by sight and if we yelled “Chalk!” as they rolled by, they would toss us pieces of the big chalk they used to mark freight boxes with. We’d take those and draw pictures on the flagstone sidewalks there in the neighborhood.

Then there was a picture book called “The Little Engine that Could” my mother would read to me. I don’t remember when it was written, but it had big mean locomotives that picked on a little one, with the little one eventually saving the day when it was called in to pull something heavy up a hill. It had a catch phrase. When things got tough, it kept saying “I think I can, I think I can!”

All the while this was going on in my life, there was another series of kids’ books and stories that were published about trains that I somehow missed during my childhood. That’s probably because they were written and published in England. It was called The Railway Series and was written by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher. These stories came to include a very popular character named Thomas the Tank Engine. The little guy sort of became the lead character and eventually a television series was created in 1984 that propelled little Thomas to world wide superstar status. It was called Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, but eventually shortened to just Thomas and Friends.

2020 has been a remarkable year for many things, but for fans of Thomas the Tank Engine it also marks his 75th birthday. So, to celebrate this occasion he’s making a tour and this month he’s stopping at our own Colorado Railroad Museum for some Days Out with Thomas.

If you are a fan and live around here you probably already know that this production makes frequent stops at the Museum for weekend special events, but this one is punctuated by adding a birthday party theme to his appearance.

One weekend of his special visit has already passed by, but he and all his friends will be there for the next two weekends, Sept. 19 and 20 as well as Sept. 26 and 27.

A Day Out with Thomas features a 20 minute train ride led by a full-sized, talking Thomas the Tank Engine locomotive with staggered seating allowing for safe distancing. It includes admission to select portions of the Colorado Railroad Museum with outdoor offerings and hands-free activities including juggling, a magic show, acrobatics, sing-alongs, storytelling and more. There will be a hay bale maze and scavenger hunt to collect temporary tattoos, party favors and coloring sheets to take home. You can also check out a terrific G-scale model railroad operating all day long by the Denver Garden Railway Society and push a locomotive around aboard a 120-year old, “armstrong”-powered railroad turntable. Plus a special appearance by Sir Topham Hatt, Controller of the Railway.

For tickets and more information, visit www.colorailroadmuseum.org. Tickets run $23 for all ages. So, if you or your kids are fans of Thomas and his friends, make sure to drop by and wish him a happy 75th. Tell him he doesn’t look a day over 40. Us old folks appreciate that kind of flattery. It makes us keep saying “I think I can, I think I can.”

John Akal is a well-known jazz artist/drummer and leader of the 20-piece Ultraphonic Jazz Orchestra. He also is president of John Akal Imaging, professional commercial photography and multi-media production. He can be reached at jaimaging@aol.com


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