The popular PBS TV show “Thomas and Friends” has sparked the imagination of young children for generations. Each summer, railroad amusement park Edaville USA in Carver hosts a “Day Out With Thomas” weekend that includes a ride on a train pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine himself. And the experience is about to get a whole lot bigger. Construction is underway on Thomas Land, a new Thomas theme park on the grounds of Edaville. The new park isn’t much to look at now, but by this time next year, it’ll be the biggest Thomas Land in the world.
Edaville USA owner Jon Deli Priscoli is a huge Thomas fan – for the same reason as all the other parents here today.
“I have young children. They all love Thomas,” he said.
Priscoli is a big, soft-spoken guy, and he wears his “Thomas and Friends” engineer’s hat without the slightest trace of embarrassment. Priscoli’s not a sit-behind-the-desk type of manager. He likes walking among the crowds, greeting families and employees.
The new Thomas Land should be complete by next summer, and it’s expected to bring 300 new jobs to the region. Priscoli said he was able to attract the interest of the company that handles the Thomas brand. They had already built two other Thomas Lands, one in England and one in Japan. Edaville’s Thomas Land will be the biggest in the world, and the only one in the U.S.
“For Thomas Land, they realized that really, Edaville is the Island of Sodor, and it really fits the age bracket that Edaville was focused on already,” Priscoli said. “So it fits hand in hand - the two of us together, working as a collaboration is just a perfect marriage. We’re very, very excited, and so are they.”
For the uninitiated, Thomas is based on the popular British TV children’s program “Thomas and Friends,” about a group of talking trains who live on the island of Sodor. The show teaches preschoolers about self-confidence, problem-solving and positive social interactions.
“That’s the reason Thomas fits here so well, because the message for Thomas is wholesome lessons, problems, fixing those problems, being good to your fellow man, those type of things is the message we’re sending too,” Priscoli said.
Over to the depot, past the ferris wheel, several other rides, and an army of parked strollers, kids pose for pictures in front of the familiar blue and white Thomas engine with its friendly, smiling face…and lively personality.
“Talking” Thomas engine - “Well, bust my buffers!! What a special day! I love the island of Sodor, but it is a great adventure to join you in your town for a day out with Thomas!
These are smaller scale trains than normal – which makes them much more kid-friendly. The cars are mostly open-air, and parents and their kids eagerly wait for the wheels to start rolling.
“Here’s the train as it’s pulling outta the station with Thomas pulling this wonderful train,” Priscoli said, standing on the platform of the red caboose. “He’s a very useful engine, as they say.”
With the exception of one completed roller coaster and flume ride, Thomas Land is still a group of large, sandy-white tracts of land. But by this time next year, the area will be transformed into 14 Thomas-themed rides featuring Cranky the Crane, Sir Topham Hatt and other familiar characters.
“So this is still Thomas Land,” Priscoli pointed out. “When you look here to the right, all this area right here, so it’s quite a big swath of land.”
Aboard the train, parents and their kids take in the view. After 20 minutes chugging around the park alongside wetlands, cranberry bogs and the future site of Thomas Land, the train pulls back into the depot. Priscoli chats with riders as they hop off the train, asking if everyone enjoyed the ride.
He expects to announce a grand opening date for Thomas Land sometime in early 2015.