Trains at NorthPark Gets an Update with App, VR

In its 29th year, The Trains at NorthPark has added a new twist to the exhibit that attracts about 70,000 people a year.

Few holiday events in the Dallas region have a richer tradition than The Trains at NorthPark.

This year, the tradition got a tech twist, with the introduction of an app and virtual reality module that allows participants to take a virtual reality ride on the trains, and to participate in the time-honored scavenger hunt through smartphones as well.

“Our goal with this project was to use our design and technical skills to benefit the Dallas community.”

The All Aboard! 360 app was the result of a brainstorming session from the folks at Dallas-based AstroMutt Creative LLC, a year-old digital company that focuses on creating unique experiences with emerging technologies.

“Our goal with this project was to use our design and technical skills to benefit the Dallas community,” said Jay Rutherford, co-founder and creative director of AstroMutt. “We knew The Trains at NorthPark was an important annual event that helps to provide benefits for families during tough times. We reached out to the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas with the idea and were thrilled that they were open to partnering with us on the app.”


In its 29th year, The Trains at NorthPark draw more than 70,000 visitors annually and has become a tradition for generations of North Texans. What’s more, the exhibit raises about a quarter of the charity’s operating budget. The exhibit has been operating almost as long as the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas.

Rutherford said it took the crew at AstroMutt about two months to develop the app for Apple and Google Play (Android) app stores.

While the app, the scavenger hunt, and the first virtual reality train ride are free, users can donate between about $1 to $20 to unlock several additional virtual reality train rides through various landscapes featured in the exhibit. These sites include the State Fair of Texas/Cotton Bowl, the San Francisco Bay, the City of Dallas, and Area 51.


Diane Fullingim, chief development officer for the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas, said she was somewhat skeptical about the app idea at first.

“He [Jay] told me he and his business partner had this idea for an app,” Fullingim said. “I said, ‘That’s great, but we don’t have a budget.’ And he said, ‘We want to do it pro bono.’ I looked into them [AstroMutt] and saw all the fabulous digital products they worked on. I checked out their website, and I saw they had street cred. They presented their idea and the rest is history.”

Fullingim said because construction of the train exhibit ran close to its Nov. 19 opening day, AstroMutt only had two days to shoot footage for use in the virtual reality component of the app; they worked nearly around the clock, and the app was fully functional and ready to roll in both app stores before the first model train fan stepped through exhibit’s doors.

Rutherford said AstroMutt’s work for The Trains At NorthPark was a great showcase of the company’s capabilities.

“Considering we’re a younger company, we wanted to give back to the community, and it’s an opportunity for us to create brand recognition, and to let the public know we’re willing to undertake fun and cool projects like this,” he said.

Fullingim said she hopes that AstroMutt’s work for The Trains at NorthPark will generate additional business for the company.

“I hope that as people hear more about this, that they get some more business out of it,” she said. “Because they’re so great to work with, and easy to work with.”


The Trains at NorthPark — located at the second level of NorthPark Center, between Nordstrom and Macy’s — usually run from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Donations are $3 per child, (ages 2 to 12), and $7 per adult. The exhibit is open through Jan. 8.

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