Baldwin — When he was 3 years old and living in England, Nick Bovee was a big fan of the cartoon character Thomas the Tank Engine.
He had no idea that seven years later he'd be living in Baldwin and riding in a passenger car behind a full-sized replica of the talking train engine.
"I didn't think I'd even be living in the United States, let alone doing this," Nick said Wednesday morning, as he took a short ride behind the blue-and-red engine with the smiling face on the front.
And officials at Baldwin's Midland Railway certainly didn't think they'd be bracing for the onslaught of Thomas the Tank Engine fans expected this weekend and next to take a ride.
About 16,000 people are expected to see it during the next two weekends. Bovee and about two dozen parents, children and news media went along for a trial run of the 25-minute ride Wednesday.
Tickets for the trip are $14 per person, with children under a year boarding free. Only 1,000 tickets were left to be sold Wednesday, said Tom Wheeler, Midland's general manager.
Wheeler said he'd been stunned by the train's popularity and demand for tickets.
"I didn't have a clue as to what this would be about," Wheeler said. "We've had people from 22 states buy tickets for this."
Some are coming from as far away as Montana and Louisiana, Wheeler said.
Thomas the Tank Engine is actually a replica, not a real train engine. Another engine is used to pull the train.
In addition to the train rides, food and Thomas the Tank Engine memorabilia will be available at the Baldwin Depot.
Train rides begin Friday and will continue periodically throughout the day through Sunday. Rides will be available again June 14-16.
Shuttles will be available to deliver riders to Midland's depot from parking on Lawrence Street.