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The Railway Series
James was designed by George Hughes and built by Horwich Works in 1912/13. He was designed as an experiment of the Class 28 locomotives, with a front pony truck installed at the front and 5'6” sized driving wheels instead of the class' usual 5'1”; these were added in an attempt to cure the “nose-diving” the class experienced when travelling at high speed. The experiment did not entirely produce the results hoped for, and in 1924/25, James was sold to the North Western Railway. However, when he first arrived on the Island of Sodor, James was damaged in a crash after his trucks pushed him down the line and his wooden brake blocks caught on fire. After being recovered from the wreck, James was sent to Crovan's Gate Works, where he was repaired, repainted into a new red livery and gained proper brakes; he presumably gained his Fowler tender around this time too.
When James returned from the Works, he became vain and troublesome; while double-heading a passenger train with Edward, he accidentally showered water over the Fat Controller's new top hat, almost forgot to stop at the station and disturbed an elderly lady with his hiccups. After being threatened by the Fat Controller with a coat of blue paint, James became grumpy and began bumping the coaches around aggressively, though this backfired on him when one of the brake-pipes began leaking and needed to be mended with a bootlace and some newspapers. Following this incident, James was shut up in the shed until he could learn his lesson. When he was finally let out by the Fat Controller, James was assigned to pulling a goods train to Killdane. Although he had some trouble when some of the trucks broke away, James managed to keep the train under control and deliver it to the station, and was allowed to keep his red paint after the Fat Controller had seen everything.
Even though he had proven to be useful, James was still teased by Gordon and Henry, who mocked him for his past mistakes. However, after Gordon got lost and wound up at Tidmouth, James was allowed to take the express in his place. He did so successfully, and he and Gordon became firm friends.
When Thomas left Tidmouth to run the Ffarquhar Branch Line, James, Gordon and Henry became irritated, as they now had to fetch their own trains. After an incident on the turntable that left him humiliated, James, along with Gordon and Henry, decided to go on strike, refusing to leave the shed and behaving badly when they had to work. The Fat Controller eventually shut them up in the shed and made Thomas and Edward pull their trains, though he allowed them to come out when they were sorry.
When Diesel arrived on trial, James gained the nickname "Rusty Red Scrap-Iron". Believing that Duck was behind the insults, James, along with Gordon and Henry, turned against him. However, when Diesel was exposed and Duck was proven innocent, James and the other engines were sorry and welcomed him back. James later recalled the events of Diesel's visit to Duncan, though he greatly exaggerated certain parts of the tale, making it seem as though he was the one who sent him packing.
James continued to treat diesel engines with hostility, long after the other steam engines had already accepted them. Although he liked BoCo and Bear, James was openly nasty to other diesels, believing them to be inferior. However, when his injector froze one wintry day and he had to be rescued by the Works Diesel, James decided to give up his prejudiced views, as the diesel had been friendly to him.
In 2011, James was chosen by the Fat Controller to go to the Mainland to collect a bust of the Thin Clergyman and deliver it to Tidmouth. James did so, but on the way back the entrance to Henry's Tunnel collapsed. Thankfully, James had gone through the tunnel before it collapsed and made it to Tidmouth with the bust. He attended its unveiling alongside the other engines.
Thomas & Friends
Like in the original story, after Thomas left the yard to work on his new branch line, Gordon, James and Henry went on strike because they refused to shunt like "common tank engines". So the Fat Controller shut them up in the shed and bought a new engine named Percy to ease the workload. Once the tender engines realized how silly they had acted and were allowed to work again, Percy stayed on as station pilot, which has led to him developing somewhat of a rivalry with James, who often considers the work Percy does to be menial and of lower stature and is often not fond of what Percy does or how he does it. In the third season, James complained about Percy leaving for the harbour because now he has to "do Percy's job." Gordon advised James to pretend to be ill, which he did. Thomas happily took James' trucks for him, but they played tricks on Thomas. James and Gordon sincerely apologized for getting Thomas into trouble, and Thomas forgave them.
In Percy, James and the Fruitful Day, James called out Percy for being late, dismissing his "excuse" of the trucks being troublesome and saying that nothing should stop the engines from meeting the Fat Controller's expectations of being punctual. Later, when he pulled a train of fruit, he ended up breaking down, leading to Percy excessively teasing him about it before ending up in a crash of his own. James also teased Percy for finding a scarf (trousers wrapped around his funnel) and left to tell Henry, who actually felt sorry for Percy. Along with Henry and Duck, he also teased Percy for thinking that he’d seen a dragon.
James’ work mostly entails something he considers important, and his arrogance comes from his belief of himself as splendid and pride in the jobs he does; if he doesn’t get an important job, he sulks or gets jealous of those who do. This has caused Gordon and sometimes Henry to look down on him. In Time for Trouble, the extra trains being scheduled caused Gordon to become tired so James did his work. This prospect absolutely delighted James; the narration states that “he liked to show off his smart red paint and was determined to be as fast as Gordon”. James boasted to “little Toby” that he’s an important engine, “Regular as clockwork, never late, always on time!”. Later, James complained about being late when he heard the news about a dehydrated Toby stranded on the main line and was not happy that he had to push Toby along. He arrived at “the Works station” later than the express was scheduled to arrive. In The Trouble with Mud, as James got ready to take the express in Gordon’s stead again, he ignored Gordon’s advice about needing help on the slippery hills. Despite knowing that the hill was difficult to climb, James made a run at it. He ended up slipping and sliding back down in front of Gordon. The big engine offered to push behind, and James accepted the help.
In his next appearance, James was stated to supposedly brighten up everyone’s day. He bragged to Thomas and Percy that he is the most useful engine on the line. Thomas called this rubbish, and Percy called out James on getting all puffed up. Later, he boasted to Gordon that he’s the pride of the line, but because Gordon saw James pulling trucks earlier that day, Gordon said that James is a mere goods engine and doesn’t pull coaches very much. As a trick, James told Thomas that he was supposed to take Gordon’s express, leaving Thomas to give Gordon the trucks. James thought his plan clever, but the Fat Controller sent him to the sheds until he was wanted. Gordon and Henry teased James by asking who will take the express, but when James went back to work, Thomas was glad to see him out and about, and James apologized for tricking him. Thomas kindly gave James his trucks, and James took them to the harbour, working very hard until it was time to go home. In the fourth season, when the three tender engines were feeling overworked, James complained about getting no rest in response to Henry saying that Percy should be fetching their coaches but wasn't there. James and Henry spared with each other, including James telling Henry to "stop worrying and do some work instead", until Percy revealed that he'd been too busy helping with the circus' arrival and that they should help too. The big engines forget to be cross while helping, but when it's time for the circus to leave, James got to pull their departing train away and left Gordon and Henry to sulk.
Despite being called a little engine by Gordon in both James and the Express and Tender Engines (though not to his face in the latter), James, like Gordon, often looks down on engines smaller than he is. Both he and Gordon had no sympathy for Thomas and Percy when the latter two were being hassled by Cranky. James said that they should look at Cranky’s point of view: “high up in the air coping with wind, rain, and baking sun”. Seeing “little engines” being “annoying” is “no wonder” that they’re called bugs. While James generally agrees with Gordon when it comes to smaller engines, such as in this example, he became cross at Gordon’s constant complaining (this was while he was bantering with Percy and Gordon, who said that he's "just a small red engine with ideas above your station"), considered Gordon breaking down to serve him right for being full of himself, and had no sympathy for Gordon’s fire being unable to light.
Throughout season five, Thomas often tried to reason with James to show more kindness. James being given a new coat of paint boosts his ego, and he bemoans jobs he considers beneath him (pulling trucks) and dirty. He scathingly remarks more than once that the job should be done by Percy (because Percy’s “dirty” and James is “too important”; the first time, he also includes Thomas because he "likes working with trucks", and the second time, he also includes Oliver because he's "not as important as [James is]!"). All the while scoffing at the job that Percy actually is doing – clearing the line of branches and trees that are too close. James was forced to eat his words when he came across an unstable tree “standing” on the line that was about to fall over. Before the tree could fall on him, he was saved by Thomas. James once again complained about his work in front of Thomas when he said that the Fat Controller works the engines harder than ever and during holiday time. Thomas told James to think about others for a change, which James did when he took a sad Mrs. Kyndley on a mystery tour to the fairground, which cheered her up. James told Thomas that he was right about thinking of others.
James’ great and sometimes overblown pride from his work also applies to not extending it to non-rail vehicles. He fully supports engines who need Sodor as a safe haven for steam engines and have had to face the possibility of being scrapped. This was previously seen in the second and third seasons when he stood beside the Scottish twins when they were worried about being sent away and when he gave Oliver high praise for his daring escape from scrap. This becomes pertinent again in the fifth season when James learned that Harold was showing a special visitor around the Island instead of any of the engines; he said, “Engines are meant to take visitors around our Island, not that whirlybird thing!”. He had an extreme distaste toward the Horrid Lorries, and considered Cranky’s suggestion that a lorry should do Percy’s work to be “stuff and nonsense”; his previous sympathetic view of Cranky seemingly gone, implied by his initially negative opinion of Harvey as being “just Cranky on wheels!” When Thomas delivered The Hot Air Balloon, James was worried that the balloon will take all their passengers and for what would become of the engines if that happened. When James “saved” the balloon after it fell on him by billowing smoke and causing it to rise, it wasn’t intentional. The Fat Controller explained that while the balloon carries holidaymakers, they'd still need an engine to take them home. This put James in a much better mood, and he started dreaming he can fly like the balloon.
As stated above, when Harvey first arrived on the Island, James was among the engines who were skeptical of Harvey’s usefulness, but when Harvey rescued Percy and various trucks after an accident at Bulgy’s Bridge, they changed their minds; James said, “Very useful!”. When Percy found himself in the middle with trucks in front and behind, James laughed at him. Percy telling the Fat Controller about ‘Arry and Bert making him a middle engine prompted James to remark that he “could handle those diesels with bent buffers and a busted boiler” so the Fat Controller had James do Percy’s run to the smelters while Percy shunted trucks in the yards. Nonetheless, ‘Arry shunted trucks in front of James (ironically calling him little) to make him a middle engine, and Bert jeered, “Just like Percy!”. James vehemently took offence to this and said, "I am NOT like Percy! I am NOT a middle engine and I'm NOT moving!" and of course, he refused to move. The Fat Controller sent Percy to fetch James, and Percy brought all the trucks plus James to the docks. Percy said that James was learning to be a middle engine, and James tried to conceal himself with steam. Right before a big freeze, an eager James and Percy were given a job that James would later consider top priority: delivering coal to the stations. Thomas teased them about running into Jack Frost, but James was dismissive and considered Percy to be silly for being steamed up over Jack Frost. But James got a fright when he saw an ice-bound Percy with spiky icicles on his face, believing it to be Jack Frost. The next morning, James bragged to the other engines about it, but Percy pointed out that James ran away. The engines whistled, including James.
When Gordon returned from the works after a horrific accident feeling very unhappy with himself, James informed him that Salty was sorry for their earlier argument, and Gordon apologized for being too full of himself. Later, when Percy said that getting dirty much more frequently makes washdowns more of a necessity for him than Gordon, who only does it to feel important, and Gordon insists that he is important, James said that Percy was being pouty. Also, when Alicia Botti was coming to the Island, James was certain he'd collect her due to being the brightest and the shiniest. Gordon said, "Nonsense, I'm the most important.". Both engines appeared cross when Thomas was chosen instead. When Gordon broke another record, a smug and unimpressed James said that speed isn’t everything, but Gordon retorted that he’ll never understand. Later, when Thomas and Henry were teasing Gordon for being overrun by Thomas and the Jet Engine, James brushed off Percy’s remark that Gordon should not be expected to go as fast as a jet engine by saying, “But he’s still full of hot air!”. Later, when Gordon called Edward a useless old steampot that should be retired, James agreed with him. He was among the engines who were pleased when they heard Duck would help them while Edward is busy teaching Stepney how to run the new loop line. James was also seen smiling at Knapford as he behold a strange sight: An exhausted Duck pulling trucks with Gordon and the express in the middle and Edward as the banker.
James’ pride in his important work and his pride in his paintwork sometimes clash. When James was to collect the mayor, he told a dust-covered Percy to keep his dirt away from him. Later, Gordon presented the chance for “important work”, and James immediately jumped on the opportunity, but was dismayed when he found out that it was taking a leaky old barge to the works. Throughout the journey, James was primarily concerned about staying shiny and clean, especially when oil spilled everywhere, as opposed to the accident that just happened. James took the barge to the Sodor Ironworks without getting dirty, but Percy blew dust on him anyway.
James is very proud of his splendid red paintwork. He hates pulling trucks, and believes that he should only pull coaches. He thinks himself superior to the others, and can be shallow, boastful, and vain, particularly to those who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow, or dirty. This has caused him to have somewhat of a rivalry with Toby. However, on a number of occasions, he has found himself in need of help from those whom he has insulted and is, in the end, apologetic.
James was the last engine to retain a prejudice against Diesels. However, after stalling on a cold day, he was rescued by the Works Diesel, and James had to admit that nothing was wrong with Diesels. This appears to be one of the few lessons that has stuck.
James is based on the L&YR Class 28, a class of 0-6-0 mixed-traffic tender locomotive designed by George Hughes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and built by Horwich Works between 1909 and 1912. It was a rebuild of Aspinall's Class 27, with the addition of a Belpaire firebox, a Schmidt/"twin-plug" superheater, and the extension of the footplate and front sandboxes.
According to The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, James is an experimental member of the Class 28s; he is fitted with a front pony truck (thus making him a 2-6-0 instead of an 0-6-0), 5'6" driving wheels instead of the class' original 5'1" ones and a Fowler tender. His front sandboxes also appear to be mounted underneath his footplate rather than his splashers.
James was originally painted black with red lining before his accident and was given his red coat with yellow stripes and black lining to cheer him up. Sometime during the 1960s, James' black lining was repainted blue and gold. James has the number "5" painted in bright yellow with a blue border on his tender sides.
In the television series, James has always been red with gold stripes and black lining, except in the tenth season episode The Green Controller, when he was painted yellow and black, like a bumblebee, on Percy's orders. Then, in the thirteenth season episode, Tickled Pink, James was painted in a pink undercoat.
In the Railway Series, he carries two builder's plates on the sides of his cab.
The Mid-Hants Railway repainted a Southern Railway N Class 2-6-0, No.31874, into the livery of James. The engine retained this colour scheme for many years, and participated in the Railway Series Golden Jubilee celebrations at the National Railway Museum. However, following the withdraw of the N Class in 1998, the Mid-Hants Railway quickly repainted its cousin-engine, a Southern Railway U Class 2-6-0, No.31625, into James for the 1999 season. After the withdraw of the U Class, the N Class reprised its role as James, only wearing a face during Thomas events. However, due to the fact that both of these engines are privately owned, they will be leaving the Mid-Hants Railway in 2014. For the Mid-Hants Railway's "Steam Railway" supported gala in September 2012, it was decided to repaint N Class No. 31874 in wartime black to carry its Southern identity No. 1874; this means that James will no longer appear at the Thomas events at the Watercress Line.
However, the repainting of the engine created a stir among railway enthusiasts, who felt that it was wrong to paint a historic main line locomotive in such a garish livery. Nevertheless, the locomotive was popular with the railway's younger visitors.
On the East Lancashire Railway, the unrestored LMS 2MT 2-6-0 No. 46428 has been painted as James, although his face only appears during Day Out with Thomas events.
It is unclear when James had his accident. According to the RWS books the accident took place shortly after the arrival of James in 1923. But Thomas, who rescued him, was given his own branch line in 1947, immediately after rescuing him. That means that he may have not in fact been new at the time of his accident.
- A large-scale working replica of James, along with replicas of Thomas, Percy, Harold, and Jack, was created by BBC Visual Effects for a tour in 2003. The battery powered locomotive is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records as the largest model railway engine ever built, at 2.64 x 1.5 x 6.52 metres.
- Michael Angelis originally voiced James in Thomas and the Magic Railroad, but he was cut from the movie and was replaced by Susan Roman.
- In the Railway Series and television series combined, James has been painted more colours than any other engine.
- Since Thomas and the Magic Railroad, James' front brake pipe has faced downwards.
- In a interview with SiF, Andrew Brenner stated James was one of his favorite characters, along with Toby, Bill and Ben.
- "If you can't behave, I shall take away your red coat and have you painted blue!"
- James didn't like that at all. He was very rough with the grumbling coaches as he brought them to the platform.
- "Gordon never has to fetch his own coaches, and he's only painted blue!"
- To make James even more cross, this time no one came near him.
- "I'll show them! They think Gordon is the only engine who can pull coaches!"
- Sir Topham Hatt threatening to repaint James blue, "James the Red Engine"
- At last, Toby lost patience.
- "James," he asked, "why are you red?"
- "I am a splendid engine," answered James loftily, "ready for anything. You never see my paint dirty."
- "Oh!" said Toby innocently, "that's why you once needed bootlaces; to be ready, I suppose."
- A conversation between Toby and James, "Toby the Tram Engine"
- "Any wan wad think," said Douglas, "that Donald had his accident on purpose. I heard tell," he went on, "about an engine and some tar wagons."
- Gordon and Henry chuckled.
- "Shut up!" said James. "It's not funny."
- Douglas ribbing James, "The Twin Engines"
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