BRANDON FOUNTAIN: On a mission to find the ‘real’ Thomas

He waited. He counted down. He constantly reminded us about what was coming up.

“Twelve more days until the ‘real’ Thomas,” he excitedly announced, just as he had the 50-some days before and the 11 days that followed.

For more than three months, my 7-year-old son watched the calendar like a vulture, waiting for Saturday, Aug. 20, to arrive, knowing each day brought him closer to what he so desperately wanted: seeing Thomas the Tank Engine.

My son has a very strong attachment to Thomas, the No. 1 blue engine on the Island of Sodor. That attachment has intensified over the years as it’s been one of his comfort items.

As a child who lives each day on the autism spectrum, Thomas and all his railroad friends are one of just a few of things that receive my son’s complete attention.

From lining up the 20-or-so battery-powered trains of the various characters, the two dozen or so DVDs, with ingenious, yet somewhat irritating songs, and the “Thomas and Friends” show on PBS, the kid can’t get enough of Thomas.

In May, family friends who’ve happily become adopted grandparents to my children, found out about the “Day Out with Thomas” tour coming to Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad in Flint. Almost immediately, plans were set in stone.

On Friday night, he was very excited, knowing the next day he was going to get to see “the real” Thomas. I set my alarm for 6:30, 6:45 and 7 a.m., knowing we were to meet Grandma Karen and Grandpa Bob at 8:30.

Foolproof ... well, not exactly.

I promptly woke up at 6:30 and started the morning routine, only to decide I could wait for the 7 o’clock alarm to go off.

The next time I opened my eyes I groggily looked at my phone and saw it was 8:10 a.m.

Without a second to waste, I woke the kids up, got them dressed, grabbed our bag of goodies, hauled in the movies for the portable DVD player for the car ride, and we were on the road by 8:17.

Whew! Talk about excitement. The ride to Flint went more smoothly.

Two hours later, the boy’s eyes widened and his face lit up as we arrived at the park and he caught a glimpse of the large banner with Thomas on it.

From the moment we walked into the park, he darted around from one thing to the next. He was all smiles as he got to meet Sir Topham Hatt, the manager of the railway on Sodor. Thereafter, a special appearance by Bob the Builder was exciting, but my son was there for one reason and one reason alone: to see Thomas.

After going through a few more Thomas spots throughout the park, riding a couple of amusement rides and stopping at the gift shop, we made our way to the train station.

The time had come and as Thomas pulled into the station, my son was all smiles. While it wasn’t exactly like the Thomas on the “Thomas and Friends” series, my son spent every second of the half-hour ride singing along with the songs playing on the speakers overhead.

To round out his day with Thomas, I took a few photos of him standing in front of Thomas the Tank Engine, and we left the park, minutes before the sunny skies clouded up and the rain started to fall.

Getting home 11 hours after we had left brought a sense of fulfillment, as he happily shared every facet of the day with his grandma.

“No more days,” he happily told her. “I saw the ‘real’ Thomas.”

We’re going to hear about the “real” Thomas for many days to come.

Brandon Fountain is the staff writer for the Herald Review. He can be reached at