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"Look here, Percy. Whatever is that dirty object?"
"That's James, didn't you know?"
"It's James' shape, but James is a splendid red engine, and you never see his paint dirty!
— Toby and Percy teasing James

Dirty Objects, retitled James in a Mess in American releases, is the twenty-third episode of the first season. In the US, it aired on the Shining Time Station episodes Finders Keepers in 1989 and A Dog's Life in 1991.


Toby and Henrietta are settling into their new lives on the Island of Sodor, but they still look very old-fashioned and could use new paint. Due to their bad paintwork, the two become a subject of scorn for James who calls them "dirty objects." When Toby asks why James is red, James says that it is because he is a splendid engine who is never dirty and ready for anything. Toby then reminds James of the bootlace incident, causing James to become angry.


Ech! What Dirty Objects!

Later, James leaves his coaches and picks up a line of trucks for a slow goods train. James' bad mood is made even worse due to his hate of slow goods trains. Although the trucks start off behaving well, James is so rough with them that they vow to pay him out. As he climbs Gordon's Hill, James is supposed to stop and have his brakes pinned down. James, who had an accident with trucks before, should have remembered this, but forgets as he is too busy thinking of what he will say to Toby next time they meet. Seizing their chance, the trucks push James down the hill. Unable to stop, James runs through the station and crashes into some tar tankers.

Although James is not hurt, he is left looking very dirty from the tar. Percy and Toby come to help clean up the mess and Toby makes fun of James reminding him that, as a red engine, he is supposed to look splendid and ready for anything. Percy and Toby take James back to the sheds where the Fat Controller is waiting. He thanks Percy and Toby for their hard work and tells James that he needs to be cleaned.

The Fat Controller awards Toby a new coat of paint and agrees when Toby requests one for Henrietta too. Toby happily runs off to tell his coach the good news while James remains silent, knowing full well that today he is the "dirty object."





  • When James approaches Elsbridge in the first shot of the episode, his eyes bounce up and down.
  • When James leaves Elsbridge, his brake coach is at the rear of his train, but when James arrives at Knapford, his brake coach has moved to the middle of his train.
  • Because stock footage is used, when James is on Gordon's Hill with the trucks, a piece of string can be seen pulling him up.
  • When James races through Maron his brake van becomes brown.
  • In the shot of the tar wagons, look back at the station; James is not there.
  • When James crashes, the truck at the front is missing its buffers and face and a stagehand is seen pushing James. In addition, the alternate shot reveals the coupler to attach James to his tender appear to be black and red wires.
  • In the scene prior to James rushing through the station, a signal tower can be seen and it shows "all clear" even though the train of tar wagons was on the line.
  • In the Latin American version, when the line "they run into their buffers and pushed him down off the hill" is spoken, James is referred to as Henry.
  • The covered object in James' first truck is replaced with coal.
  • When James crashes into the tar wagons he comes off the rails. When Toby and Percy come to help, his position of derailment changes.
  • When Toby says, "...and you never see his paint dirty," the edge of the set is visible.
  • When James, Percy and Toby arrive at the yards the man next to the Fat Controller has blu-tak on his feet.
  • When Toby asks James why he is red, he is missing his eyebrows.
  • When James says "Dirty trucks!" his eyes are wonky.
  • When James crashes into the tar wagons you can see someones hand in the corner pushing him forwards.
  • The tar could've easily dried up on James' boiler and stuck there.


  • Buzz Books - James and the Tar Wagons
  • Ladybird Books - Thomas and Terence and James and the Tar Wagons

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