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‘ChooChoo Bob’ brings back local TV programming for kids

Casey JonesIn the early days of television, local TV stations used to produce a fair number of their own programs. And none were more popular than children’s shows. Nearly every major U.S. city had at least one legendary local kiddie-TV host.

In the Twin Cities, those legends included the stars of long-running programs like “Lunch With Casey,” “Axel and His Dog” and “Clancy the Cop.”

By the early 1970s, locally produced programming (except for the news) had pretty much disappeared from U.S. airwaves, a victim of the increased corporatization of the TV business.

But a St. Paul filmmaker is hoping to bring a locally produced children’s show to stations in Minnesota and its border states. Bob Medcraft is currently producing 26 half-hour episodes of “The ChooChoo Bob Show,” a train-themed program that got its start as a promotional tool for Medcraft’s hobby shop, ChooChoo Bob’s Train Store.

Medcraft plans to offer the show to local stations in the Twin Cities, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Duluth, Eau Claire and other regional markets. With financial backing from an angel investor, Medcraft plans to buy the airtime, hoping that the show catches on and the stations eventually will pay him to air it – rather than the other way around.

What makes Medcraft think that today’s kids – with their computers and video games – are interested in a technology that reached its zenith a century ago?

'Exciting to watch'

“Trains are big and they’re fast and they’re exciting to watch,” he said. “I think kids are naturally attracted to big technology like tractors and trains and road graders. There are some train shows already. But they are all CGI (computer-generated imagery). There’s nothing as old-school as what we’re doing.”

The show features about a half-dozen local actors, including Sam Heyn as ChooChoo Bob, Emily Fradenburgh as Engineer Emily and Paul Howe as Engineer Paul. Howe is a longtime employee of Medcraft’s train store.

The cast of 'Choo Choo Bob'

Medcraft opened the store in 2005 after a 20-year career as a film producer. He worked on a number of movies shot in the Twin Cities, including “Jingle All the Way,” “Grumpy Old Men” and “Little Big League,” and also worked on music videos for Prince and others.

But as the new century dawned, “the whole industry here in town sort of started falling apart,” Medcraft said. “Videos collapsed, film work went to Canada.” He decided to open a retail train store after noticing how kids flocked to a Thomas the Tank Engine play table at a local bookstore he and his sons frequented.

The ChooChoo Bob Show actually began as a commercial for the train store and morphed into an idea for a public-access TV show. Then one of the actors brought a wealthy train enthusiast into the picture: Bob Vince, a University of Minnesota chemist who shares in royalties from several drugs he developed at the U. Vince put a substantial sum into the project, allowing production of a full slate of episodes as well as providing the wherewithal to buy airtime for them. Former KSTP sportscaster Eric Gislason was brought on board to line up sponsors and broadcast opportunities.

The goal is to have the first episode on the air around June 1. Medcraft admits that he has dreams of eventually taking the show national, but he’s not holding his breath.

“Sure, that would be the Holy Grail,” he said, “but Disney or Nickelodeon can’t wrap their heads around this. This is so old-school. It’s not CGI, it doesn’t move fast.

 Kids still want to be entertained by human beings – we just don’t give then that chance anymore.”

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Comments (6)

Just what Minnesota needs

Another kids show with all white people. And probably all middle class and straight too. Not everything "old school" is good. In fact, wishing for the "old days" ignores the gross inequities and bias and violence of the time.

Really?

These shows are meant for little kids...don't you think we could cut them a break before the indoctrination starts? Maybe just let 'em have fun with trains?

Sheesh.

Choo Choo Bob Rides The Rails

May be risky, but I'm glad Medford is giving it a go! Great way to reinvent the wheel, and himself.

Thank you

First a thank you, to the Choo Choo Bob Train store and Medcraft for giving my 4 year a terrific place to explore trains- we are looking forward to more episodes of the train show.

To N. Jeanne- wow. Your venom towards something so innocent is ridiculous. Have you been into the train store? In our years of patronage, we have loved being a part of such a diverse community of TRAIN lovers. Trains aren't about ethnicity, sexual orientation, or class- and neither are the kids who are playing at the store. Trains are big moving machines that fascinate kids and move their imaginations.

There are so many places, your home included, where conversation and interaction with people different then you (however that looks) should be happening. So many opportunities to recognize how incredible the global community, and your role in it, is. Can we just let this one be about the trains?

Spend your energy somewhere else.

Thank you

First a thank you, to the Choo Choo Bob Train store and Medcraft for giving my 4 year a terrific place to explore trains- we are looking forward to more episodes of the train show.

To N. Jeanne- wow. Your venom towards something so innocent is ridiculous. Have you been into the train store? In our years of patronage, we have loved being a part of such a diverse community of TRAIN lovers. Trains aren't about ethnicity, sexual orientation, or class- and neither are the kids who are playing at the store. Trains are big moving machines that fascinate kids and move their imaginations.

There are so many places, your home included, where conversation and interaction with people different then you (however that looks) should be happening. So many opportunities to recognize how incredible the global community, and your role in it, is. Can we just let this one be about the trains?

Spend your energy somewhere else.

Amazing show and goup

We went to go see this at the river center in St. Paul today. Was a blast as kids from all age and races were dancing and having fun. It hits upon the love and affection kids have for trains. It makes it real for them and has some great humor and music. Great job guys....I think this could nationally
-jeanne-burns, I don't know where you were trying to go with your statement but did you know they have an African American girl on cast? Ce ce. There was a lot of diversity at the show as well. And what does having straight have to do with any of this? I mean really do we have to have a homosexual couple on a kids program as well so young kids are exposed to it? Please, I would love a response to back up your naive statement .