BOSTON — Thomas the Tank Engine, the iconic talking cartoon train that has thrilled millions of children around the world, and Edaville USA Railroad, a favorite destination of generations of southeastern New England families, are teaming up on a permanent Thomas-themed park.
Groundbreaking on the first Thomas Land in the U.S. is scheduled for next month, and the park is expected to open for business in the summer of 2015. There are two other Thomas Lands, in the United Kingdom and Japan, but the Carver, Mass., version would be the biggest.
“Thomas fits Edaville like a glove,” Edaville owner Jon Delli Priscoli said.
[PHOTO: In this undated photo provided by HIT Entertainment, children take a spin on a Harold the Helicopter ride, one of Thomas the Tank Engine’s friends from the Island of Sodor, at Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Theme Park in England. Groundbreaking for the first Thomas Land in the U.S. is set for July 2014 at the Edaville USA theme park in Carver, Mass., and is expected to be open for business in the summer of 2015. (AP Photo/HIT Entertainment)]
Thomas Land, being built on about 11 of Edaville’s 250 acres, will have 14 rides based on the television show, with the highlight being a 20-minute train ride on a life-sized Thomas the Tank Engine.
A roller coaster, drop tower, Ferris wheel and other rides will feature more Thomas characters, including Toby, Cranky the Crane and Harold the Helicopter. Children will even be able to meet Sir Topham Hatt, the railroad’s administrator.
Edaville, which is still an active cranberry farm, and Carver are the perfect spot for Thomas Land, said Julie Freeland, director of live events for Hit Entertainment, a division of Fisher-Price, which owns the Thomas brand.
The company has had a relationship with Edaville for more than decade with the “Day Out with Thomas” tour. Carver is near Boston and Providence, R.I., yet has a rural feel similar to the mythical island of Sodor, where Thomas and his friends do their hauling and shunting.
“The first time I went to Edaville I said, ‘This is Sodor,’” Freeland said.
Edaville began operating as a tourist railroad in 1947, after Ellis D. Atwood bought abandoned railcars from a defunct railroad to carry cranberries and workers across his 1,500 acres of cranberry bogs. The train was named using Atwood’s initials: EDA.
Delli Priscoli’s association with Edaville dates to the mid-1970s when he was offered a job straight out of high school. He didn’t take the job, but 25 years later in 1999, when he had a chance at an ownership stake in the narrow-gauge railroad, he jumped at it, rescuing it from the scrap heap.
The railroad shut down in December 1991 when it was unable to get bank loans to cover offseason expenses and its owner and operator could not reach a contract agreement. Delli Priscoli and his partners brought it back to life.
His association with Thomas goes back almost as far. His three sons were all Thomas fans, and even though the two oldest are now teenagers, his 6-year-old is still Thomas mad.
“He’s all Thomas, all the time,” Delli Priscoli said.
Adding Thomas Land will turn Edaville from a regional attraction to a national attraction, he said. He expects attendance, currently at about 250,000 people a year, to quadruple.
And that’s good for the town about 50 miles south of Boston and next door to Plymouth.
“The town is very excited about this,” Town Administrator Michael Milanoski said.
“Thomas is good wholesome entertainment.”
Edaville, already one of the town’s largest employers, is expected to triple its workforce from about 100 to 300 full- and part-time employees, he said. The town will also benefit from the park’s spinoff business, as visitors eat at area restaurants and shop in local stores.
And for those who fear Edaville will lose its character, Delli Priscoli says don’t fear. Edaville will continue all its old favorite events, including the annual Christmastime Festival of Lights and the National Cranberry Festival.
“This is going to completely remake and revitalize the Edaville experience,” he said.