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Thomas Tank Engine

Thomas Party -3yr- Train Cake Activity




Melissa in Rotterdam, NY United States


January 2007


January 2007 Winner

I recently planned a Thomas the Tank Engine party for my nephew who was turning 3. The party's plans were a surprise for him and his mother and was a complete success. I spent several months in preparation but all my time was well worth the expressions on the kids’ faces when they saw everything! I spent the majority of the party budget and prep time on an elaborate Thomas adventure which I will get to later. The party was in NY in December, so unfortunately, everything had to be inside.

Decorations were kept simple with Thomas colored (red, yellow and a light & dark blue) streamers, balloons and a few Thomas, James & Percy hanging decorations spread around the house. The kitchen housed a table for snacks and pizza and was covered with a Thomas tablecloth and a cluster of Mylar and latex balloons.  In the living room was the kid's table, again covered with a Thomas tablecloth and surrounded by kid sized chairs. To make room for this table I moved my coffee table into my daughter's room which came in handy later on.

On the floor of my entire first floor I made train tracks using masking tape. The tracks were about 2 wide, with rails made from 1 tape and planks made from 2 wide tape. They started at the side door of our house where the guests arrived, looped through different rooms of the house and ended at the door of my daughter's room (again, comes into play later). When the guests arrived they ate snacks, mingled and the kids followed one another around the house on the tracks saying Choo Choo!

On the coffee table in the bedroom I laid out Thomas coloring pages and crayons for the kids to use until I was ready to begin organized activities.

The first activity was to gather all the kids in that same room around the coffee table. I explained to them that we were each going to decorate a train puzzle piece for the birthday boy to keep, so he would have an entire train puzzle as a memento of his 3rd Birthday. The puzzle was a collection of thin, white cardboard train cars that each had a tab on one end and a half-circle on the other so when put together, formed a train.

The Birthday boy got to decorate the engine of course and even all the adults made a train car and wrote him special messages and each signed their piece so he has a great memory of who attended the party! I set out markers and stickers for the guests to use to decorate the cars and left another adult in charge of the craft area while I closed the door and took advantage of the absence of kids to set up the big adventure.

Prep for the adventure took many, many, MANY hours but the results were pretty cool! I will explain how each thing was made as I go along. The adventure went like this: I knocked on the bedroom door (when I knew they were nearly done with the puzzle pieces) and held a package in my hands. It was addressed to the birthday boy. I announced that the package had just arrived and that we should open it together. The kids got very excited and gathered around me. I opened it and in the box was a note from Sir Topham Hatt. It read, Dear Kids, I have sent Thomas the Tank Engine to Ryland's Birthday Party filled with lots of candy for each of you but I'm afraid he has gotten lost on his way! Please follow the train tracks to find him and help out any of his friends you may meet along your way. As a reward for being really useful you may each keep one of these engineer's hats to wear on your journey. Signed, Sir Topham Hatt. And at the bottom there was a pic of Sir TH so the kids that couldn't read could see who it was from.

The kids excitedly each grabbed a hat, put it on and followed me out of the room and onto the tracks (which remember, started at this doorway). The tracks led down the hall and into our family room where Toby and a Troublesome Truck were.  Scattered around the tracks was coal (black stockings filled with rice, cut and knotted to look like round pieces of coal).  Toby and the Troublesome Truck were made out of cardboard, painted in detail and each had a large-scale photocopy applied for the face.

They looked great and were just as big as the kids, about 2 ½ feet tall and both together about 6 long! In front of Toby was another note: Dear Kids, Hi! I'm Toby. I was delivering a load of coal when the Troublesome Trucks got into trouble and spilled coal all over the tracks. Please help me by tossing all of the coal back into the TT. As a reward for being really useful you may each keep a red bandana to wear on your journey. Thank You, Toby (with a pic of Toby). So the kids all took turns tossing bean bags (coal) into the truck and then we gave them each a red bandana for their necks and continued on down the track.

The next stop was in our living room. Here I had made the ocean by painting cardboard in several shades of blue and attaching them so they stood vertically a few inches from one another. There were 3 pieces, each one taller than the one before it and a shade darker blue. I cut waves along the top of each and put white paint on the very top of each wave. Here was another note: Dear Kids, I am Cranky the Crane. I was lifting some packages when I dropped them into the water at Brendam Docks. Please use this fishing pole to fish out the packages. As a reward etc. etc. you may each keep anything you catch. Thanks, Cranky (pic of Cranky). I had made a fishing pole using a wooden dowel, yarn and a hook made from cardboard in the shape of a hook glued onto a clothespin. The kids took turns throwing the fishing pole over the top of the water and I sat behind it. For each child's first turn I attached a piece of chocolate which was in the shape of a fish (lucky find!). For their second try I attached their favor boxes. They were boxed with a handle and striped in red and blue and I put each child's name on it with red foam letters. Inside was Play-Doh, a cutter and a sheet of Thomas stickers.

After each child had 2 turns fishing we continued on down the tracks into the kitchen. There was Percy. He was HUGE, made from cardboard in great detail and probably stood 3 1/2 high and 4 1/2 long. I used a Sono-tube (12 round cardboard tube from the Home Depot, they use them for concrete piers) cut to size for the boiler part which worked out great. The rest was made using several pieces of cardboard and his funnel was made from the thick inner cardboard tube of a large roll of paper.

Cardboard plates were used as wheels (with a box painted black between them to support the train.) Percy was covered in mini Hershey bars and had a note that read similar to the others, but said that I have run into Mr. Jolly's Chocolate Factory and now I'm covered in chocolate! Please help give me a wash-down and as a reward keep the chocolate (which they put into their favor boxes). This was a reproduction of the Birthday boy's favorite Thomas episode, Percy's Chocolate Crunch. And so I HAD to include it! I had thought about covering him with cocoa powder and giving the kids feather dusters or wipes but after a test-run it I decided it was WAY too messy!

We continued on the tracks to the other end of the kitchen where James was. James was made the same way as Percy (except he was bigger, red and had James-appropriate details of course!) and he was surrounded by white balloons. The note read similar to the others but with I know where Thomas is but I cannot blow my whistle to call him through all of this steam (the white balloons represented the steam). Please help me get rid of all the steam and find a whistle to blow to call Thomas. As a reward you may each keep a whistle. Thanks, James (pic of James).

The kids began to pop the balloons by sitting on them and squeezing them (this frightened the youngest girl but her mom just pulled her aside). I had filled the balloons with confetti so that when they popped confetti filled the air. When the balloons were all popped the kids saw small wooden train whistles behind James and they each blew their train whistle. I had planned the adventure so that these last 2 stops were in the kitchen out of view from the living and family rooms. Once we got to Percy I had my brother rush to clear the water, Toby and Troublesome Truck out of the way and put up an 8 long pop-up crawl-through tunnel of Thomas, Annie & Clarabelle and then sprinkled tons of candy inside all of them. He did this without the kids seeing. When they were with James and blew their whistles I said lets be quiet and see if we can hear Thomas blow his whistle back and my brother had his own whistle and blew back, pretending to be Thomas.

The kids ran to follow the sound of the whistle and ran into the living room where they saw the huge Thomas and all the candy. They all yelled Thomas! We found you! And ran inside to collect candy and put it in their favor boxes as if it were a piñata.  My tip here would be to have the kids go through 2 at a time since it gets congested, especially indoors. They loved the adventure and everyone could not believe the trains and all the thought put into everything. Percy and James took about 15 hours each to make but I like projects and had a lot of fun.  My daughter even helped paint them. They've all been given away to different Thomas-families we know and have happy homes! The hardest part of this was storing them all in my house, attic and garage before and during the party and then rushing to set them up while the kids were corralled in the bedroom with their craft project.

The final thing we did with the kids was make a train cake. I had purchased a mini-train cake mold from Williams-Sonoma that makes 9 mini train cakes (a few inches long each) and made several mini train cakes in advance. I covered a long, narrow piece of cardboard with foil and sprinkled it with coconut to look like snow (you could use graham cracker crumbs for sand as well) and then using separated licorice twists I made a long set of train tracks. I decorated an Engine with a tube of blue decorators icing and added the #3 on the side using hard cake candies.  Then using mini M&M, mini Oreos, peppermints, mini colored kisses and various other candies I decorated the Engine and 2 other train cars (to set an example).

Using frosting and the hard candy letters I spelled out Happy Birthday Ryland on one side of the foil-covered board. I showed the kids the train cake I had started and asked if they'd each like to help make a train car. At the kids table I had set up several bowls of different mini candies and bottles of sprinkles, etc. and a bunch of tubes of different colored icing. Each child chose a train cake and decorated it. They were REALLY cute! Parental help with squeezing the frosting helps. When they were done I collected each train car and added it behind mine and we all posed for several pictures with the completed train cake. They were so proud!

We sang Happy Birthday and ate the cake and that was pretty much it! Each child left with their personalized favor box filled with a few small toys, lots of candy they collected, an engineer's hat, a red bandana and a wooden train whistle and a great memory. The Birthday boy got all that, plus the train puzzle with messages from his guests and our gift to him was the pop-up Thomas, Annie & Clarabelle so he was thrilled! Although his favorite possession I'm told is the coal he was able to keep! (I guess it's the little things, I need to remember that!!!) This website is GREAT and I thank everyone who inspired me with their amazing and creative ideas!

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