When my son was a toddler, an outing to Barnes & Noble to visit the train table in the children’s section there could take up half our day. Thomas trains were an adorable obsession. There was no limit to the length of time he could spend connecting Thomas, Henry, and James, plus nine others whose names I never could quite remember. For many toddlers, trains are an obsessive phase, so we thought we’d round up some advice for those who are living with ALL THE TRAINS.
How to visit trains out in the wild
Go to a train museum. Seek out a place where your child can investigate trains of all shapes and sizes.
Ride a real train. Whether you have easy access to Amtrak or to a commuter train line, holding a ticket and choosing a seat is a real thrill for train-loving tots. In the Bay Area, we have at least five parks with miniature steam train rides.
Know where your local train tables are. Is there a map or app with all the train tables? Heather claims she could plan a day’s worth of outings by hitting the public play tables at the haircut place, Barnes & Noble, and a few more strategically placed about town.
Buy a ticket for Thomas. Keep your eye on the Day Out With Thomas tour. An entertainment company outfits real, running locomotives with a Thomas face and suit, so your family can literally ride on a train pulled by your favorite engine. Unless, of course, your favorite engine is Percy.
Managing all the moving parts of #thatthomaslife
Here’s what been-there-done-that moms say about managing your train collection.
- Pick one kind of train system and stick with it, says Jill from BabyRabies. Wooden tracks vs. Trackmaster with motorized trains is the decision you’re making. Do not second-guess.
- Say “Yes” to hand-me-downs, says Heather from 510families who built her family’s collection the easy way — when her friend was moving out of the train phase. See more money-saving tips below.
- You don’t need a train table, says Melissa from Little Lake County. While those bulky tables might be handy for storage, track-building should be able to take any shape and not be limited by the edge of the rectangular table.
- Keep a list handy of all the trains and their names, says @ameliasprout. Here’s a Thomas character guide to bookmark.
The Thomas the Tank Engine birthday party
For $30, a Thomas the Train play tent in my backyard or at the park would have thrilled my son’s pants off and you can keep it for all impromptu train cosplay in the future. Related: How to throw a cheap birthday party.
One reader suggested that grandparents and giftgivers are a good way to build up the train world inside your home. Since so many price points are available, from a single train to a fabulous set of tracks with a wheelhouse, there’s something for everyone.
A simple cake can be achieved by drawing tracks with frosting and placing a wooden train on top. (I can see a meltdown brewing, though, can’t you?) Karen leveled up the Thomas birthday cake with landscaping and a tunnel!
Saving money on Thomas trains
Craig’s List: Buying used trains and tracks is the cheapest way to grow your collection. Some people on Craig’s List are crazy and think their used toys are worth almost the retail price, but many are happy to have their now-11-year old’s trains get out of the house. I see huge collections of trains and tracks for $300 and a tub of ten or fifteen trains for $3. It’s likely your train-lover will be thrilled by 10 new trains at once.
Pro tip: Use the “save search” function on craig’s list to recieve emails when new postings come up with the search criteria you want.
Pro tip #2: Buy someone’s collection and use each train as a potty training reward.
Next Door: Join your local NextDoor.com board and search the classifieds there.
Close5: The Close5 app enables users to buy and sell stuff from people in close proximity to them. I see a few Thomas branded items, including a train table, an ABC game, and a new-in-box figure 8 track set when I search near me.
Facebook: Just ask your friends. “Hey, Owen is really into Thomas right now. If you’ve got trains that have fallen out of favor, we’d love to borrow them for a few months.” I gave everything train we owned to Karen.
Other money-saving tips we got from readers are:
- Check the $1 bins at Target for knock-off trains
- Use 40% off coupons at Michaels (just put the app on your phone, you’ll get the coupons)
- Buy trains at IKEA (the tracks fit with other tracks, but not easily) for a child who is more passionate about the engineering and not so attached to the Thomas personality