Thomas the Tank Engine has been delighting young readers since the 1940s and young television audiences for more than 30 years.
And, for his young local fans, one of the biggest events of the year is Thomas' annual visit to the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish.
The event is called "A Day Out With Thomas," and it happens every March. This year's "Day Out With Thomas" is scheduled for the next two weekends.
It's such a popular event that it's been expanded from four days to six, running Friday, Saturday and Sunday both weekends.
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"Last year, we had about 19,000 people," said Glenn Miley, the event coordinator for the museum. This year with the addition Friday, we're hoping to draw about 20,000 to 22,000."
Thomas, a happy engine with a human face, had his origins in books called "The Railway Series," by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry.
In 1984, Thomas came to television, first in England and then on PBS in the United States.
Thomas, in the books and the series, lives on an island called Sodor. Thomas was originally a large-scale model in the TV studio, but computer graphics have been used since 2009. Ringo Starr was the voice of TV Thomas for a while.
The Thomas that visits Parrish every year is full-sized. He gets hooked up to the museum's train, which features vintage cars from the 1920s through the 1960s, and takes kids and grown-ups on a 25-minute rides that ends back at the museum. (After he leaves Parrish, Thomas travels around the country to other railroad museums.)
"Kids can meet Thomas, they can have their pictures take with Thomas," Miley said. His friend, Sir Topham Hatt, will be there, and they can have their picture taken with him."
Sir Topham Hatt is the head of the railway in both the books and the TV series.
It's not all about that 25-minute ride, though. "A Day Out With Thomas" features enough activities to keep kids enthralled, and their parents amused, all day long.
"Most people probably stay about three or four hours," Miley said.
The museum grounds become a fair, with bounce houses, live music, storytelling face painting, temporary tattoos and an "Imagination Station" with craft activities.
Thomas leaves the station every 45 minutes each day, starting out 9 a.m. The last Thomas trip of each day departs at 3:45 p.m.
Details: March 11-20, Florida Railroad Museum, 12210 83rd St. E,, Parrish. Show times: 9-3:45 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets: $23 adults, $12 children. Information: 941-776-0906, frrm.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.