Day Out With Thomas 2014:
SAM Shortline at the Georgia Veterans State Park, Cordele

On one weekend in October 2014, particularly the weekend before Halloween, I decided to take a mini-roadtrip to go check out yet another railroad museum. I have been reading up on the SAM Shortline, the excursion railroad operating out of the Georgia Veterans State Park west of Cordele about 10 miles west of Interstate 75 at Exit 101. While I was planning my visit, I found out that Thomas the Tank Engine was going to be there for a Day Out With Thomas event.

So, I made plans to go visit Thomas the Tank Engine. Tickets? Check! Hotel room reservation? Check! Car in working order? Check!

And I was on my way north from Tampa via Interstate 275, switching over to Interstate 4 for the brief 7 mile trip over to Interstate 75 for the 312 mile odyssey to see Thomas and Friends at the Day Out With Thomas event in Cordele, Georgia. After being stuck in Interstate 75 northbound traffic near Dade City (thanks to the Florida DOT having to change out guardrail necessitating a closure of one lane causing backups as far as the St. Joe Road overpass on Interstate 75 halfway between FL 52 and Pasco CR 41) it was four and a half hours of smooth northbound travel on Interstate 75 save for a few stops including the Georgia Welcome Center just over the Florida-Georgia border.

Once past the Georgia Welcome Center it was another 100 miles to Cordele and to the hotel where I spent the night getting ready to check out the SAM Shortline and Day Out With Thomas. The next day I had breakfast at the hotel and the SAM Shortline was a 10 mile drive west of Cordele on US 280.

Once at the park I had to park the car first. As it meant having to use a Georgia state park, it meant the payment of a parking fee of $5.00. That was very simple: Approach fee payment booth, pay $5.00 fee, get parking hang tag to display from rearview mirror, and proceed to the parking area set up for Day Out With Thomas. Once there park the car and ride the shuttle bus over to the SAM Shortline station - good parking and crowd control!

Last thing I had to do is to get my ticket for the 2:15 PM ride before enjoying the Day Out With Thomas festivities. I have already spied one major difference between SAM Shortline and the Florida Railroad Museum: SAM Shortline lets you enjoy the festivities but tickets are checked when you actually board the train, while the Florida Railroad Museum checks your ticket before you even set foot into the fenced in area at the station in Parrish.

Now it was off to enjoy the festivities! Music by a local musician, a play area for the children and a lot of things to see and do while I was waiting for the 2:15 PM ride. I noticed something familiar which I did not see at the Florida Railroad Museum: An Operation Lifesaver exhibit on railroad crossing safety including a locomotive simulator letting you see what the locomotive engineer sees, especially when someone tries to beat the train at the railroad crossing. After all, a train takes a longer distance and time to come to a complete stop than a motor vehicle. Once that engineer sees you on the tracks it is too late, even when the engineer applies the brakes in emergency mode. I got to sit in the locomotive simulator just to see what an engineer has to go through when someone who either is in a hurry to be somewhere or uses the railroad tracks as a hiking trail or photo backdrop is ahead and has to frantically hit the brakes! Right after I had my simulation I made a pledge when I see tracks to think train, as is Operation Lifesaver's current campaign.

A short walking distance down the hill and this is where I find the SAM Shortline's Georgia Veterans State Park station, and where I would get on board for the Thomas ride. I managed to get a photo not only with Thomas the Tank Engine but with the man in charge of the Sodor Railway, Sir Topham Hatt.

Time for a little humor here: Let's say you are a city government and you need a railroad crossing in order to efficiently move traffic in town including emergency and public safety vehicles. The only railroad crossing you got in town isn't good enough due to rapid development. As the tracks that run through your city are owned by the Sodor Railway, you make an inquiry just to find out that your city has to go through plenty of onerous hoops to get that railroad crossing built. Instead, the Sodor Railway does not want you to construct a new railroad crossing - the Sodor Railway expects you to construct an overpass for your road to go over the tracks, which is way over your budget. If your city desperately needs a railroad crossing, expect to pay a hefty upfront initial application fee plus an annual license fee.

Train time came and I got to go on board the train! The ride was awesome - a 25 to 30 minute ride on the Heart Of Georgia Railroad, which supplies the engine crew for the SAM Shortline. The highlight of the trip was going over the Flint River and seeing US 280 on the north side of the train. We went through a lot of the Peach State that was before the era of Interstate 75. The conductor and car hosts kept us passengers entertained throughout the trip.

After we got back to the station I explored some more. Unfortunately, my time was cut short as I had a 5 hour trip back to Tampa via Interstate 75 and the fact that I had to be at work the next day. But the SAM Shortline is a great weekend destination, and it was time and money well spent.

The trip on Interstate 75 north from Tampa to Cordele

The trip on US 280 to the SAM Shortline and Day Out With Thomas

Checking out downtown Cordele and
the trip on Interstate 75 back to Tampa