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Calvin's day out with Thomas

Started: 2011-09-22 08:02:04

Submitted: 2011-09-22 08:42:26

Visibility: World-readable

I remember going to the Colorado Railroad Museum when I was younger, growing up in Colorado, so when Calvin got old enough to recognize and appreciate trains (in his own special way) it seemed appropriate that I take him to the museum. We visited the museum in January this year, and decided to visit again earlier this month for a special "Day Out With Thomas [the Tank Engine]" event. This event featured a full-size mockup of Thomas the Tank Engine pulling a train around the museum's track. (The coaches were not Annie and Clarabel but the Colorado Railroad Museum's stock.) The event transformed the normally quiet and history-oriented museum into something of a fair, with a bunch of food vendors and other special exhibits oriented at children and families, and a giant merchandise tent which we managed to avoid. They even had someone dressed up in a Sir Toppham Hatt costume, offering pictures, though Calvin did not think this was worth stopping for.

Kiesa didn't want to tell Calvin the details of the outing until we were actually on the way, for fear that he would ask every minute when we were going to see, in his words, "Thomas Train". She managed to keep me from telling Calvin until we were in the car driving to the museum. She told him we were going on an adventure and he asked, hopefully, "Plane?" Kiesa said, no, we were going to see Thomas the Tank Engine and ride in his train. Calvin asked, plaintively, "Plane!" and Kiesa wondered whether she should have given him some hints in advance other than telling him it would be exciting.

The museum expected enough people to totally overwhelm its modest parking lot, so they ran a shuttle bus from a nearby parking area. (Not only did we get to ride on a train and see Thomas, but we got to ride on a bus, which often thrills Calvin endlessly.) As soon as we reached the museum I saw the Thomas mockup at the head of a train, being pushed ("helped" was the verb the staff used) by a diesel switching engine that actually pulled the train. The Thomas mockup featured a whistle and a tiny smoke generator, but upon close inspection I could tell that, while the drive wheels were attached to each other with the coupling rod one would expect, the coupling rod was not attached to a (hypothetically) steam-driven piston to provide actual power.

Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train
Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train

At the time indicated on our tickets, we boarded the train and rode it around the museum, which Calvin thought was great fun. After the staff explained over the PA that Thomas needed help from the diesel switching engine, Calvin exclaimed (and continued to repeat over the next week) "Thomas need help!"

Calvin and Kiesa ride the Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train
Calvin and Kiesa ride the Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train
Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train at the Colorado Railroad Museum
Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train at the Colorado Railroad Museum

After the train ride, we continued to wander the museum, watching the train make its loop around the museum grounds. The museum was, as I expected, mobbed by children and their parents, but there was enough space that it rarely felt crowded.

Calvin watches the Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train
Calvin watches the Thomas the Tank Engine excursion train

Calvin especially enjoyed climbing up into the open control cabins of the engines at the museum and twisting the valves. (He tried to pull the throttle levers as well but had less success.)

Calvin turns valves in Standard Oil engine 1
Calvin turns valves in Standard Oil engine 1

At the garden railroad at the center of the museum grounds I noticed first that the railroad featured models of many of the rolling stock in the museum collection, and that the model Shay seemed to be moving much too fast to scale. I also noticed that the garden-scale railroad doesn't allow for the real-sized Doppler effect, so I proposed that the recorded train whistle include the Doppler effect as if one were standing at a crossing while the train was blowing its whistle.

I left Calvin and Kiesa at the play-with-wooden-trains tent and looked at the two geared Shay engines on display, both of them in working condition and occasionally brought out to pull trains around the museum. (The basic problem with steam engines is that they have a narrow power band in which they can apply maximum torque: at too low of a speed the steam piston simply can't supply enough power to move the engine efficiently. This resulted in the wide variety of steam engine configurations, where engines were essentially customized for the specific route on which they were to travel, and the loads which they were to pull. For certain operations, especially logging, a simple steam engine couldn't provide enough torque at a low enough power to actually move the engine and the log train up the steep slopes on hastily-laid track, so the Shay engines included gears to step down the drive shaft to provide more torque at a lower speed.) I saw a Shay on the grounds of the World Forestry Center in Portland in July (and vaguely recalled seeing it while visiting Portland as a kid), and wanted to study the museum's Shays in detail. I wasn't the only amateur railfan studying the Shays; I snapped a couple of pictures of the engineering marvels but I saw another guy taking dozens of pictures of every piece of the Shay, focusing on the fantastic (and asymmetric) drive train.

I enjoyed my trip to the Colorado Railroad Museum, and I'm pretty sure Calvin did too.

Calvin holds on to the back of a caboose
Calvin holds on to the back of a caboose
Ok, well, the most obvious problem with [new years resolution
about getting a girlfriend] is that the intended outcome relies on
variables which are out of my control. It's a matter of chance,
luck, being in the right place at the wrong time, what have you.
Obviously, it also relies on the willful participation of
another human being. Since the only people we control are
ourselves, making resolutions -- promises to ourselves -- which
require the involvement of others, who may or may not want any
part of the game, is like sitting at home and cheering a
football team, and then saying "We won! We won!" when in fact
you had absolutely nothing to do with any of it. Or something
like that.
- Bitscape, Random Rambling, 01 August 2000