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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shining Time Station

I was recently given a suggestion in regards to my blog for the future by at least a couple of regular readers. They wanted me to insert more of myself into each entry. They wanted me to share some more personal stories about myself while blending them in successfully with my pop culture topic selections.

So, I decided to take them up on that suggestion.

When I was growing up, I was always surrounded by trains of all shapes and sizes. Part of the reason why this was the case was because of the fact that my father worked for a major Canadian railway between 1971 and 2002. I've had train safety drilled into my brain since birth. I knew about train whistles, train signals, conductors, passenger cars, and when the appropriate time was to cross the train tracks.

However, having a father who worked on the railroad did have its advantages. During the time in which he was in service, one of the perks was free train travel anywhere in Canada through VIA Rail. I can't remember all of the train trips that I took when I was a child. Most of the time, I only went on the train when my dad had to go to Toronto for job-related duties, but the ride was just so fun. Back in those days, the servers provided us with snacks and light meals, which to me was neat because who ever thought you could eat on a train, right? Oh, and a train trip wasn't complete without getting one of those cardboard VIA passenger train toys that you had to build yourself. I think I ended up with ten over the course of my childhood alone!

Even running around Toronto's Union Station as a young boy are fond memories that I will never forget. Union Station circa 1989 was quite the happening place. You could go right into the heart of Toronto if you left the station, but most of the time, I was content running around. I loved the souvenir shops, the restaurants, the comic book stand where I loaded up my arms with all the comics I could carry for the long train trip back home. I loved those days, and miss them fondly.

Of course, back in 1989, I had a bit of an ulterior motive in running around Union Station. Often I would take off and my parents would literally have to run around after me to keep up. The reason why I was so hard to keep an eye on at Union Station was simple. I was looking for someone.

I was looking for a conductor. More specifically, a conductor that spoke in a British accent and was no bigger than a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure.

You see, right around that time, a television show premiered on our local PBS affiliate, and I loved it because it had to do with trains and train travel. And, as it so happened, one of the main characters of the show was a tiny train conductor with the unique name of “Mr. Conductor”. Of course, the main reason I loved him so much was because he used to play “Thomas the Tank Engine” episodes.

Yes, you heard right. Today's topic is a show within a show!

But “Thomas the Tank Engine” was just one of the many components that made “Shining Time Station” one of my favourite shows growing up. And, as it so happens, “Shining Time Station” is the subject for today!

Shining Time Station” debuted on January 29, 1989, and ran until 1993, with television specials filmed in 1990 and 1995. Created by Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow, the show depicted life at a sleepy train station located along the Indian Valley Railroad, as well as the lives of its staff.

The one thing that kids had to get used to were frequent cast changes between seasons. Only two cast members managed to stick around for the show's entire run. Didi Conn (who most of you remember as Frenchie from Grease) played the station manager, Stacy Jones, a kind-hearted woman who loved her job, but sometimes lacked assertiveness.

And Brian O'Connor played Horace Schemer, the manager of the station's old-fashioned arcade, a man who cares more about nickels than the people who insert them into the jukebox. He usually comes up with plans to try and get as much money as possible, but his plans usually are foiled, often comedically.

The rest of the cast were switched over between the 1989 and 1991 seasons, and the breakdown went down like this.

In the 1989 season, “Shining Time Station” was run by railroad engineer/mechanic Harry Cupper (Leonard Jackson), but by the 1991 season, Harry was transferred to another station, and was replaced by Billy Twofeathers (Tom Jackson).

In addition to the adult characters, five children would visit the station quite often. There were Harry's two granddaughters Tanya (Nicole Leach) and Kara (Erica Luttrell), Stacy's two nephews, Matt (Jason Woliner) and Dan (Ari Magder), and Becky (Danielle Marcot). Tanya and Matt were mostly seen during season one, with Dan, Kara, and Becky joining the cast in season two...but all five would occasionally share a few scenes with each other.

Then there's the tale of the two Mr. Conductors. The first Mr. Conductor was played by former Beatle Ringo Starr. This made perfect sense, as Ringo Starr was the original narrator for the “Thomas the Tank Engine” series when it debuted in the UK in September 1984. But when Ringo Starr left the series after the 1990 Christmas special, a replacement had to be found.

And would you believe that the man that replaced Starr in the role was comedian George Carlin? Fortunately, he never uttered one of his “seven words” during his entire appearance on the series.

One of the recurring gags of “Shining Time Station” was that for the most part, only the child characters could see Mr. Conductor. I don't quite remember if Stacy Jones saw him or not, but I would like to say that she could. Schemer, on the other hand, knew nothing about Mr. Conductor, and his magic tricks would often leave Schemer believing that the station was haunted.

Now, if you're thinking that Mr. Conductor was the station's best kept secret, think again. If one were to really look closer at the jukebox inside of Schemer's arcade, you may find that inside of it resides the “Jukebox Band”!

Don't worry...there weren't really any little people trapped inside a jukebox. The band members were created by Craig and Olga Marin of Flexitoons Puppets and Marionettes. The band was comprised of Tito Swing, Didi, Grace the Bass, and identical twin cowboys Rex and Tex. Oh, look, here's a couple of their songs down below.

You know something though? I remember the excitement and fun that all of the children who visited Shining Time Station had...and whenever I think of watching those old episodes, I remember those days when I was a kid, trying to find my own Mr. Conductor in the middle of Union Station in hopes that I could have him tell me interesting stories.

Never did find the little bugger though. Bummer.

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