No doubting Thomas’s appeal

The Grosvenor Park Miniature Railway had closed in September the previous year and did not reopen until the following Whitsun weekend.
“We had an infrastructure but no locomotive to run with,” says Hardin. “Luckily I was able to purchase a second-hand diesel locomotive and we were up and running again.
“The green diesel was not always the most reliable in the world and did break down a few times in the first couple of years, but it got us started and we were able to purchase a new class 47 diesel at the end of 2001. At the time it was much needed as our passenger numbers had been growing.”
Things moved on quickly and he was able to buy two big new locomotives in 2004: the Union Pacific diesel and a blue Thomas II design steam engine, which actually looks a bit like Thomas The Tank Engine, although it is called Stevie B.
From the point of the railway takeover, the Hardins had decided to have a small shop, selling a few souvenirs, flags and whistles, bubbles and even nuts for people to feed to the park’s tame squirrels. But it soon became obvious that people also wanted Thomas The Tank Engine items and the range was expanded to include ERTL diecast toys, tableware items and books.
Then, in 2006, after the major heart operation, Hardin decided that a change in lifestyle and career path was the only way forward. It was at this point that he realised he could actually make a living out of his favourite pastime.
“I had to slow down,” he says. “The heart bypass really made me take a step back and re-evaluate my life and I realised that I needed to make some big changes in my lifestyle.
“I looked at how we could build on what we had got at the railway and the natural thing was to offer mums a solution to their Thomas challenges.  Where can I buy this…  I am looking for…  Do you know where the full size Thomas is this week?”
From this, an online Thomas the Tank Shop  was born to sell to a wider market of Thomas lovers. And it aims to provide some of the answers to those questions, offering not just one of the most comprehensive ranges of Thomas items available, alongside other little boys’ toys, but also providing mums and dads with information on Thomas events throughout the UK and information on other railways, large and small, that could be of interest to little Thomas The Tank Engine fans.
It is an e-commerce business that allows Hardin to continue working as an entrepreneur and at the same time enjoy a much needed lifestyle change. “I can work from home now. I have flexible working hours and I have time to spend with my family,” he says. 
Already the online shop is one of the largest stockists of Thomas products in the UK and Hardin’s immediate plans are to extend the Thomas product range even further.
He has also already branched out to sell brands including Ivor the Engine, Underground Ernie, Postman Pat and Bob the Builder and plans to sell an even wider selection of toys over the next year.
He says he doesn’t want to be the next dotcom millionaire. He’s happy to settle for a steady income that will let him to enjoy a good quality of life and that’s what the Thomas the Tank Engine Shop has allowed. Perhaps the Fat Controller would call that “a very useful earner”.

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