The stars shine bright in Bardstown, Ky.: Take the whole family on a great getaway to see Thomas the Tank Engine and more

Kathy Witt

This summer, Thomas the Tank Engine and Sir Topham Hatt will join Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion – and Toto, too – in Bardstown, Ky., a small town known far and wide as “The Bourbon Capital of the World” owing to its preeminent spot on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Liquid gold pedigree aside, Bardstown will greet families with beloved characters and childhood favorites – and plenty of opportunities for making scrapbook-worthy memories.

With its dining car exhibit, ticket office and display of steam locomotive whistles, the Kentucky Railway Museum has an excellent and far-reaching collection of railroad artifacts and memorabilia – but for kids, the main attraction will be Thomas the Tank Engine. The classic storybook friend – in a 15-ton replica of the original star of the popular Thomas & Friends series – will roll into the museum, which is housed in a replica of the original brick L&N New Haven Depot, to take little engineers and their families into the countryside for a “Day Out With Thomas: Leader of the Track” on June 4, 5, 11 and12.

Besides the 25-minute excursions, kids will have an opportunity to meet Sir Topham Hatt, Controller of The Railway, and to share in lots of activities: arts and crafts, storytelling, video viewing, live music, a magic show, bounce house and more. Also planned are commemorative merchandise and giveaways focusing on steam engines and diesel engines to celebrate the 2011 Thomas & Friends DVD movie, “Day of the Diesels” (Sept. 2011, Lionsgate).

Once back at the museum, everyone can check out the more than 100 pieces of rolling stock, including passenger cars, cabooses, refrigerated units, box cars, Railway Post Office cars and other assorted pieces. Also on display is a French 40-et-8 Box Car, a circa 1905-1908 box car that was filled with gifts and presented to each state and the District of Columbia in 1949 as a token of France’s appreciation to the U.S. for its help during World War II.

While Thomas is rolling about central Kentucky’s lush countryside, “The Wizard of Oz” gang will be following the yellow brick road right to the amphitheatre in Bardstown’s My Old Kentucky Home State Park, its wooded backdrop ideally suited for lions and tigers and bears – not to mention flying monkeys and wicked witches on broomsticks.

Scheduled for 10 performances running from July 7 to Aug. 6, the classic musical will bring the entire cast to the stage, including a real dog playing the role of “Toto” and a cast of 60 young performers as The Munchkins. It will also feature more than 130 costumes, including an exact replica of Glinda’s famous pink gown from the 1939 movie.

The adult cast of “The Wizard of Oz” will be performing double-duty: Dorothy and company are also the cast of “The Stephen Foster Story,” Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Musical. This splashy Broadway-style musical celebrates the “It” composer of the mid-19th century, a rocker who gave America its first pop song with “Oh! Susanna” and Kentucky its official state song, “My Old Kentucky Home.” The musical, running from mid-June through mid-August, returns to the days of swinging hoopskirts and sing-along harmonies like Foster’s “Camptown Races” and features 175 colorful costumes swirling beneath the starlit sky and a paddlewheel boat that drops anchor right on the stage.

Bardstown offers plenty of affordable fun for families, including the free-admission Bardstown/Nelson County Historical Museum and My Old Kentucky Home State Park, where families can picnic in beautiful surroundings and kids can climb on the jungle gyms. Families can buy a money-saving three-attraction pass to visit the Civil War Museum (canons, rifles, Civil War drums), the Kentucky Stuffed Wildlife Museum (elk, bears, wildcats, deer, wolves, beavers) and Old Bardstown Village and its collection of frontier cabins. Civil War re-enactments are held here the third weekend of each month, now through December, and tickets cost just $4 for adults and $2 for children.

Bardstown has lots of kid-friendly restaurants, including Hadorn’s Bakery, where the donut holes simply melt in your mouth, and Hurst Drug Store, where everyone can order a milk shake and a cheeseburger at the old-fashioned soda fountain. There are lots of overnight options, too, including nearly a dozen hotels, several campgrounds and – for the most adventurous families – the Jailer’s Inn Bed & Breakfast, with its cheekily adorned jail cell guestroom. This is an actual prison cell in a circa 1874 jail that is surrounded by a stone fence. Families can tuck in for the night on two original cell bunks – there’s a full-size bed, too – amidst the cell’s black and white motif accented by a poster of Elvis Presley in full “Jailhouse Rock” hip-swivel.

If You Go

“Day Out With Thomas: Leader of the Track,” Kentucky Railway Museum, www.KYRail.org: 25-minute rides offered at 9, 9:50, 10:40 and 11:30 a.m., 12:20, 1:10, 2, 2:50, 3:40 and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5 and11-12. (NOTE: No 9 a.m. ride on Sundays). For tickets, call Ticketweb at 1-866-468-7630 or visit www.ticketweb.com/thomas.html or www.KYRail.org. Tickets are $18 plus tax for ages 2 and up (service charges and fee may apply).

“The Wizard of Oz,” Stephen Foster Productions, My Old Kentucky Home State Park, www.StephenFoster.com: 8:30 p.m., Thursday and Saturdays, July 7-Aug. 6. Tickets: $18-$23/adults; $10-$12/children; children 5 and under are admitted for free. A special behind-the-scenes tour is offered at 7 p.m. before shows for $5 per person.

Info: Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission, www.SampleOurSpirit.com.