July 30, 2012

So You've Decided to Throw a Train Party

Train cake!

My son Darren had his 4th birthday party over the weekend, and we decided on a train theme. Since Amy and I got a lot of our ideas from the Internet (mostly this page), I thought I'd pay the Internet back a bit by sharing what we used and what we added, to put it out there for others.

First, we needed something fun for the kids to do, so we adults could drink our beer uninterrupted. So Amy and I devised a game/activity that we think turned out great.

Activity: The Great Train Quest

The kids started by making a craft train, using blank six-pack holders as train cars. Before the party, we shaped one like a locomotive for the Birthday Boy, and pasted wheels on the others to make basic train cars. During the party, everyone got to decorate their car further using stickers and markers. I admit, beer holders are an odd choice, but they're perfect for what we had in mind: they're cheap, light, decorate-able, can hold stuff, and have a built-in handle. It took a few long hours for me to drink 30 beers, but it was worth it. The things we do for our children...

Making a train

Next, we brought the kids outside, where I had laid down train tracks made out of duct tape, forming a path to follow. The tracks went under the fence gate, making for a nice mystery of what's on the other side.


Once through the gate, the track extended down the driveway, with stations set up every 10 feet or so. Each stop had a railroad-crossing gate, and an activity station. The railroad-crossing signs were printed on paper, then glued to strips 3.5"x20" strips of foam board. These were then taped to some scrap wood pieces, which were held up by plant pots filled with soil. Sand would likely have worked better, but we didn't have any on hand. The gates were also foam board, with spray-painted black stripes. I bolted each gate to another piece of scrap wood using one bolt, so they could swing up and down. Friction was enough to keep it in position when it was moved, but I put a second bold under the gate to stop it from going too far down, just in case.

Putting up the train gate

At the first station, the kids shoveled coal into a firebox. The coal was made from cut-up foam strips from Home Depot. They're the ones that come with air conditioners to help plug up gaps in the window and keep bugs out. The firebox was a cardboard diaper box, spray-painted black.

Putting coal in the firebox

After shoveling coal, they shoveled M&Ms into dixie cups for their trains to use as coal. Good parents would have splurged for all-brown or all-black M&M's, but we went with the typical assortment.

Fueling up with M&M coal

Then it was off to the next stop, the water station. There we had each kid make their own "calming jar": a mix of water, glycerin (which we found in Walgreens), dish soap, and glitter (tip: look for "extra fine" glitter), which swirls around nicely for a few minutes. We put the glycerin in ahead of time, to minimize the mess. The kids scooped in water with measuring cups and a funnel, and then an adult helped add the glitter and soap. (Later, we glued the caps on each one with Gorilla Glue to be sure they they didn't get opened and spilled in the car ride home).

Making glitter bottles

We used Fiji water bottles, since they have a nice flat front. Fiji: Natural Artesian Water. (I'm gunning for a Fiji sponsorship). We peeled off the labels, and used Goo-Gone to get rid of the adhesive. (Taking the labels off probably hurts my shot at a Fiji sponsorship, but they look better.)

Calming jars, calmCalming jars, all shook up

When the jars were done, they went into each train to become the boiler.


Next stop was Zoo Station. Some (stuffed) animals had escaped from the zoo, and we needed the kids' help in getting them back to their pond (a small tub). Then they got to add a box of animal crackers to their train car.


The last stop was Farm Station. Here we clipped bags of apple slices to the bushes, and each kid could "pick" the apples and put them into their train car.

Apple (slice) picking

Then it was back inside to have some lunch and enjoy their haul.


Train cake!

Amy found a cool-looking train cake over at the Betty Crocker website, so we tried making that one. We used one full-sized loaf pan, and a few mini-loaf pans to make two cake-boxes' worth of cake. Altogether, it came to 10 cars. That was more than we had planned, but it made for an impressively long train, so we used them all. We used another piece of foam board to hold them all.

The cars were pretty simple. We sliced off the rounded tops a bit, flipped them over so the flat bottom was on top, then iced them with food-colored icing. Some candy on top, some Oreo wheels, and viola: train car. I like the Pieroette lumber car the best.

The train cake hauling some serious cargo

The locomotive was pretty much just like the one on Betty's site, though we used full-sized Oreos for the driving wheels, and small Oreos for the bogie wheels. Betcha didn't know those small wheels are called bogie wheels, did you? The things you learn as the parent of a 4-year-old boy...

We put four candles in the front as a smokestack, and a Twizzler "4" on each side.

Train Cake Engine


We also made a few decorations to fit the theme. We made a couple Railroad Crossing signs, which you can see in the background here:

Hauling presents

And a "Darren Station" sign, made to look like a Metro North Hudson line stop.

Darren Station, Hudson Line

And a little collage-type sign with pictures of Darren's previous birthdays.

Birthday collage

Amy made a cool snack tray that looks like a train using this page as inspiration, though we didn't get a great picture of it. You can see one of the cars in this shot:

Hanging with Uncle Jay

And there you have it. One great train party!

Posted by Kevin at July 30, 2012 08:20 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?