Western Maine Play Museum recently received another train table and numerous accessories for the train room. Pictured from left are WMPM Executive Director Joni James and donors Tom and Annette Stevenson of Seattle, Washington with the new train table and some of the accessories. Pam Harnden/Livemore Falls Advertiser

WILTON — The train room in the Western Maine Play Museum now has even more options for children’s play after a second train table, wooden train cars and other items were donated by Tom and Annette Stephenson of Seattle, Washington.

Tom Stephenson said he created some train tables and began taking them to train shows several years ago. He developed a website, wTrak.org where pictures and directions for the tables may be found.

The Stephensons stopped at the museum last week after attending a train show in Canada.

Annette said she told Tom when he first started, the train tables needed some things for kids to touch, different colors and textures.

“I broke her sewing machine making trees,” Tom Stephenson said.

“I received a letter asking if the designs could be used by WMPM,” he said when asked how he got involved with the play museum. “A local furniture maker was making the tables for the museum. He called quite a few times. I got a very urgent call early this summer because the pieces weren’t fitting together. Some custom pieces needed to be cut.

“I sent some. A couple months later I got to see pictures of the tables. I read about Betty Shibles and the interest in the train room.

“It’s really neat that someone recognized the opportunity and passed it on for children.”

WMPM Executive Director Joni James said, “The train room has been a major part of the museum. The community got involved with the plan for a play museum.”

” For six years people have had this vision. They pulled it together,” museum volunteer Robin Bragg said.

The Stephensons brought train tables for the museum that can be used outdoors. About 120 train cars; buildings, trees and other accessories for the tracks; a rechargeable Smart train with plastic tracks and reversible train track tiles were also given to the museum.

Tom Stephenson said he used actual pictures when making some of the buildings. The trees are made from upholstery fabric, washers and heavy wire. They can be shaped as wanted.

For the train cars, he buys stock ones in bulk then individualizes them.

“The cars are chunky, don’t look like trains,” he said. “I remove the bodies, use plywood, thimbles, broom handles and dowels. The new ones look more like train cars.

“I use a child-safe, milk-based paint. Older kids don’t like primary colors, they think they are for little kids.

“Once you take the commercialization out of the trains the older kids get immersed.”

Annette Stephenson said the Smart train, which can also be used on the wooden tracks, is a good learning tool for beginning coding.

Tom said, “Once the older kids see they can drive the train around the table with a tablet or Smartphone they say, ‘I can do that.’

“One or two kids at a train table, they lose interest. Get five or six interaction, cooperative play kicks in.”

Museum visitor Nicole Morin said she has a train table at her home in Jay. Her boys, Oliver and Silas Bradstreet spend much more time playing on the museum’s table than they do at home.

The Stephensons have participated in train and puppet shows for 10-11 years and are still learning what works and what doesn’t.

“Most kids haven’t grown up riding trains. The challenge is getting people to come,” Tom Stephenson said. “The kids want to see what else you’ve got. The parents stand back and watch.

“While the kids are playing I get a chance to talk to the parents at train shows which I can’t do at puppet shows. There’s a social part for adults too. Talking to families, engaging them gets them out from behind the wall, shows that parents and grandparents can do things with their kids. Take a picture of a building, then go make a building with it to add to the landscape. Making and playing with train cars for little kids it’s hands-on, they’re engaged. It’s good hands to eye coordination for kids.”

James said several people have offered to donate electric trains to the museum.

“They’re not suitable for little kids to play with. They’re cool in a glass box. We want things you can touch here,” she said. “These train tables are durable, really cool. We’re the first play museum in the United States to have these tables.”

“You’re ahead of everyone else,” Tom Stephenson said.

Tom and Annette Stephenson are seen with the train table donated to WMPM in Wilton. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Tom Stephenson of Seattle, Washington shows off one of the buildings he created for a train table he donated to WMPM in Wilton. Wilton Fruit & Vegetable Ltd. is the name of one business housed in the building. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

A newly donated train table and accessories will add more options for the train room at WMPM in Wilton. Pictured from left with the new table are Oliver Bradstreet, Nicole Morin, Silas Bradstreet, WMPM Executive Director Joni James and donor Tom Stephenson of Seattle. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Oliver and Silas Bradstreet of Jay maneuver train cars along the tracks on a train table in the train room of WMPM in Wilton. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Tom Stephenson of Seattle shows some of the reversible track tiles he made that will be donated to WMPM in Wilton. He also created a variety of train cars and other accessories seen on the train table. WMPM Executive Director Joni James is pictured at left. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.