Rendering gives first look at Thomas Town, coming this summer to Kennywood
With an industrial past and scenic landscape, the Mon Valley looks a lot like the make-believe Island of Sodor.
That's a good thing for Thomas the Tank Engine and his railroad pals who will join Kennywood Park in time for its 120th anniversary this summer, park spokesman Nick Paradise says.
The West Mifflin amusement park this week released a rendering of what its new Thomas Town themed area will look like.
Nestled between the Raging Rapids and the Auto Race, the $8.5 million addition is one of the largest in the park's history, and includes a refreshed train ride, plus four new rides, a birthday party center, and an indoor soft-play and activity area that will feature a jungle gym-like experience and let kids tinker with train and track pieces. Clips of "Thomas & Friends" also will be shown.
Kennywood is targeting a June debut of Thomas Town, meaning the area won't be ready for the park's May 5 season opening, Paradise says.
When it does open, guests will enter Thomas Town near the Pagoda refreshment stand.
Flynn's Fire Training, pictured from the Edaville Family Theme Park near Boston, is one of four new rides to be added to Kennywood Park's Thomas Town area for the 2018 season.
Photo provided by Kennywood Park
New rides are Cranky's Drop Tower, Harold's Helicopter Tour, Flynn's Fire Training, and Diesel Drivers.
The rides are the same as those at the country's only other Thomas Town inside the Edaville Family Theme Park near Boston, but will be "unique to Kennywood," Paradise said.
The park's Olde Kennywood Railroad ride will be rethemed as a "Journey with Thomas" and meander along the same path through a dense tree cover on the bluff overlooking the Monongahela River and the Edgar Thomson Steel Works that generations of parkgoers have enjoyed.
"If you plopped us down on the Island of Sodor, it might look something like that train ride," Paradise says. "It helps to make it a little more of a natural fit."
The seven-minute ride will weave stories and songs from the show and eventually include themed display pieces.
Since its 1945 debut, Paradise says, the train has undergone multiple theme changes, and for the last 10 years it celebrated the storied history of Kennywood, which dates to 1898 as a trolley park. Some of the signs depicting Kennywood's history will be placed throughout the park.
The park's two 1939 Gimbels Flyer engines will remain and be outfitted with character designs. Train cars will be painted to match.
Thomas Town at Kennywood Park will feature a live-action show — "Steel City Adventures" — at the Island of Sodor's Tidmouth Sheds, which will look like the one pictured from the Edaville Family Theme Park near Boston.
Photo provided by Kennywood Park
A live-action show — "Steel City Adventures" — will help share the story of how the popular Nick Jr. series "Thomas & Friends" landed in Pittsburgh. Details still are being finalized on the production, but the show will feature popular Sodor engines Gordon, James, Emily and Percy, and railway leader Sir Topham Hatt.
Eventually, Thomas-themed items and toys unique to Kennywood will be available.
In nearly a month since Kennywood announced the addition, Paradise says the park has received an increase in inquiries from families outside of the region. He attributed that to the longevity of the Thomas name.
"Thomas is a brand that has a lot of history," he says, also noting the park's historical relevance. "This helps to introduce kids to Kennywood at an early age and help make those lifelong Kennywood fans.
"This is a great addition for Kennywood. We look at it as a great way to celebrate our 120th anniversary. Some people think the park needed a big thrill ride. But we also needed a big attraction for families and kids. We've always prided ourselves on being a park for everybody in the family."
Bobby Cherry is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @bc_trib.
What about Sal?
Generations of parkgoers likely recall Laffin' Sal, the mechanical (and maybe slightly maniacal) character welcoming guests with her over-the-top laugh as they entered the Olde Kennywood Railroad station.
Sal had her Kennywood debut in the early 1930s as part of the park's Laff in the Dark ride. When that ride was removed in 1965 to make way for the Turnpike (now the site of the Sky Rocket roller coaster), Sal was placed in storage.
In the early 1970s, though, Sal was added to the railroad station, where she remained through the 2017 season.
Where will guests find her this season?
"For right now, we want to leave that as a surprise for the summer," Paradise says.