MANATEE -- The population of the village of Parrish is expected to soar this weekend and next with the arrival of youngsters' favorite Thomas the Tank Engine.
Billed as a Day Out With Thomas: Thrill of the Ride Tour 2014, the annual children's event is the Florida Railroad Museum's largest of the year.
Already, 5,500 tickets out of 14,000 have been sold for the four days of Thomas, according to event coordinator Glen Miley.
Gates open at the museum, 12210 83rd St. E., at 8:30 a.m., and Thomas the Tank Engine takes passengers on a 25-minute ride every 45 minutes, starting at 9 a.m. The museum closes at 5 p.m.
The crowds attracted by Thomas are overwhelmingly families with children younger than 7. Many are from Bradenton-Sarasota but also from areas hours
away. Thomas' tour takes him on a 42-city circuit. Other stops closest to Parrish are Miami, Jacksonville and Cordele, Ga., Miley said.
Heather Vick, 28, grew up with Thomas the Tank Engine books and the PBS TV show, Now she is station master for the museum with a 2-year-old of her own.
"It's a whole other experience to have Thomas come here," Vick said.
This year, for the first time, Thomas will also talk to fans. Other associated activities include mini train rides, face painting, storytelling, live entertainment, a bounce house and arts and crafts.
"Thomas the Tank Engine was created by a father for his son nearly 70 years ago," according to a press release. "The No. 1 blue engine and his friends invite children to enter a world of imagination through the tracks of a train and words of a story."
Tickets are $18 plus tax for ages 2 and older. Tickets are available at 866-468-7630 or at ticketweb.com/dowt.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1.