Thomas is a tank engine who works on the North Western Railway. He originally worked as the station pilot at the Big Station, but longed to leave his yard to go out and see the world. After helping to rescue James from a nasty accident, Thomas was rewarded with two new coaches, Annie and Clarabel, and was given the responsibility of running the Ffarquhar Branch Line, where he continues to work to this day.
The Railway Series
Details of Thomas' arrival on the North Western Railway in 1915 are more or less undocumented, and it is unknown how exactly he showed up. The most popular theory put forward, however, is that he was sent to Sodor in a wartime mix-up. His driver and fireman got along well with the local people and married Sudrian girls, and by 1920 neither one wanted to leave the Island or their beloved engine.
On inquiry, Topham Hatt found out that the LB&SCR had written off Thomas as being "lost on war service". Rather than face complications resulting from a change in their books, the LB&SCR quietly sold Thomas to the North Western Railway for a "nominal sum".
Thomas originally worked as the station pilot at Vicarstown, shunting trains for the bigger engines on the main line to take out. He enjoyed teasing the other engines, Gordon most of all, and would quietly sneak up on him and whistle loudly as he dozed on a siding. However, one morning, Gordon managed to get back at Thomas by pulling out of the station before he could be uncoupled from his coaches, dragging him down the line at tremendous speeds. Thomas vowed to never tease Gordon again, but made him change. Perhaps as a result of his brief excursion beyond his boundaries, Thomas longed to see more of a world and become a part of it, and became jealous of the bigger engines for having the opportunity to pull trains.
When Henry fell ill one morning, Thomas was allowed to take his morning passenger train when there were no other engines available, much to his delight. However, for reasons unknown, Thomas left the station before he could be coupled to his train, leaving behind the coaches, the passengers and their luggage. Thomas was not aware of his mistake , until he was stopped by a signalman who asked where his train was. Ashamed and humiliated, Thomas returned to the station, this time waiting to be coupled to his coaches, but the incident had made him a laughing stock among the bigger engines.
Thomas continued to grumble to the other engines, though they took no notice of him. However, Edward felt sorry for him, and allowed him to take his goods train to Wellsworth while he handled his shunting duties in the yard. Although Edward warned him to be careful around the trucks, Thomas took no notice and bumped the trucks as he started. When they reached Gordon's Hill, the trucks pushed him down the line, causing him to lose control. Thomas raced through Maron station and came , where he was confronted by the Fat Controller. Sometime after this, Thomas was relocated to Wellsworth to learn more about handling trucks.
Thomas was present in the yard when James ran out of control with his trucks and derailed in a field outside the station. Thomas fetched the Breakdown Train and rushed to James' aid, and he helped to clean up the broken trucks and bring James back to the shed when he was re-railed. As a reward for his actions, Thomas was given two new coaches, Annie and Clarabel, and was given the responsibility of running the Ffarquhar Branch Line, much to his delight.
Thomas loved his branch line dearly, and had many adventures during his first days on the line. He once left his guard behind by accident, and on another occasion he accidentally swallowed a fish in his tank when he took on water from the lake, causing him tremendous pain. During the autumn season, Thomas met Terence and teased him for his caterpillar tracks, though he later came to regret this after he became stuck in the snow and had to be pulled out by him. Thomas later met Bertie and was challenged to a race to Ffarquhar. Although he was behind for most of the race, Thomas managed to overtake Bertie and won.
After a compliment by his driver went to his smokebox, Thomas became conceited, believing that he no longer needed his driver to control him. The next morning, Thomas found himself moving on his own after a careless cleaner had meddled with his controls, but he was unable to stop and crashed into the Ffarquhar stationmaster's house. Thomas was sent to the Works to be mended and received some changes to his design, including a new footplate that was now level from smokebox to bunker. When Thomas returned to the branch line, he began looking after the passenger trains with Daisy.
In 1990, Thomas was invited by the National Railway Museum to represent the North Western Railway in the Great Railway Show, an event showcasing many famous engines across the UK. Thomas was excited, but the journey to York was shaky; he damaged his front bufferbeam when he hit a crossing gate, and the lorry he was traveling on was booked for parking illegally. Thomas was repaired when he arrived at the Museum and befriended Green Arrow while he was being mended, though he continued to have bad luck when he ran into a bag thrown onto the line and frightened a small child. Fortunately, Thomas managed to make up for his bad luck when, as he was double-heading a railtour with Green Arrow, he noticed the line up ahead was damaged and stopped the train. As a reward for his actions, Thomas was made an honourary member of the National Railway Museum and received a commemorative plaque. Afterwards, Thomas left York and returned to Sodor.
Thomas & Friends
Thomas the Tank Engine started his life on the Island of Sodor as a cheeky little engine who shunted coaches for the Main Line engines, such as Henry and Gordon. He liked to play tricks on them, including Gordon, "the biggest and proudest engine of all". He was taught a lesson when Gordon tricked him into being coupled to him during his express run. Tired out, he vowed never to tease Gordon again, realising he did not have to be important. Soon he desired to pull his own passenger train too, much to the bemusement of the other engines. He got his chance when Henry became ill, and no one could pull the passenger train. However, Thomas was so excited that he accidentally left his train and his passengers behind, believing he was pulling it easily. He soon realised his mistake and returned to pull the train. The engines laughed at him, though, and soon Thomas wanted to get out of the shunting yards and see the world. Edward offered him a chance to pull trucks, and Thomas excitedly took the job, not realising how troublesome trucks could be. The trucks pushed him down Gordon's Hill into a siding, where the Fat Controller told him to practice so that one day he would become as good as Edward. Thomas soon proved himself when he rescued James after his accident with the trucks, using the Breakdown Train. As a reward for his quick and heroic action, the Fat Controller promised him his own branch line.
Thrilled, Thomas soon began running his branch line with his two new coaches, Annie and Clarabel, who he grew to love very much. He soon considered his branch line to be the most important part of the entire railway, a fact he would constantly remind the other engines of. However, he continued to make mistakes and dream big, and sometimes this got him into trouble, such as when he was so impatient that he left his guard behind at Elsbridge or when he wanted to fish, not realising the implications of a fish being in his boiler. His greatest mistake was when he got his snowplough broken in the winter and ended up stuck in a snow drift, having to be rescued by Terence, whom he had insulted earlier for not having "real" wheels. He soon proved himself again, though, when he beat Bertie the bus in a great race. He quickly became friends with both Terence and Bertie, despite their differences.
Although Thomas' branch line was indeed the pride of the line, on the main line, things were not going well for the Fat Controller, who was having to deal with Gordon, Henry, and James' sulking, refusing to do Thomas' former work of shunting themselves. After they went on strike, Thomas was brought back to help alongside Edward and their new friend, Percy, who quickly became Thomas' closest friend. Thomas also became friends with Toby after he was asked by the Fat Controller to help their railway avoid a lawsuit from a rude policeman. But Thomas still had some cheekiness in him, returning to teasing Gordon after Gordon slid into a ditch. He soon needed Gordon's help after he blatantly went past a danger sign and fell down a mine. They soon became friends after that and promised never to tease each other again. Thomas and Toby later helped Mrs. Kyndley at her cottage after she was snowed in and helped her celebrate Christmas with a very special Christmas party.
The following year, Thomas shared a shed on his branch line with Percy and Toby. However, he became conceited about his brilliant blue paint and soon paid the price when Percy accidentally caused a coal hopper to pour coal all over him. Thomas was angry at Percy, but the two friends soon made up after Percy had an accident with some coal trucks. Thomas soon met Trevor, a friend of Edward's, who proved his usefulness when he helped Thomas at the newly constructed harbor. Unfortunately, Thomas became ill a few months later and had to be sent to the Works, while Duck looked after his branch line. When Thomas came back, his brakes were stiff, and made it seem as if they were hard on. As a result, one day, when his fireman was ill, a substitute accidentally caused Thomas to run away, and Harold had to help stop him. Later, when the Viaduct needed to be repaired, the main line engines became late to drop off Thomas' passengers and, as a result, made him late for Bertie. Thomas continued to be of great service to Sir Topham Hatt's railway, although he still remained a cheeky little engine.
Thomas later became conceited again when he took his driver's compliment to heart and believed he no longer needed him to work his branch line. This was untrue, but Thomas was too puffed up with himself to not believe it and, one morning, found himself rolling along the line, when a cleaner had accidentally started him up. He soon broke into a stationmaster's house and ruined the family's breakfast. He had to be rescued by Donald and Douglas. As a result, the Fat Controller angrily sent him to the works again. He arrived back a few weeks later just in time to take over for a battered Percy, who just had a predicament with some trucks. The following Christmas, Thomas was eager to sing carols with the other engines, but had to pick up a Christmas tree for the Fat Controller. Unfortunately, on his way back, he was caught in a snow drift and was lost. Donald and Douglas soon rescued him in time to sing carols with all his friends.
Thomas is rather cheeky, but is good at heart and generally behaves well, except when he is getting into mishap. He loves teasing the others and, on occasion, brags about his superiority, but is always brought down to earth in due course. If Thomas has one major character flaw, it is that he is forgetful, and slightly impatient. However, he is also optimistic and idealistic.
Although their friendship has been turbulent at times, Percy is generally portrayed as Thomas' best friend, especially in the television series.
Thomas is based on the Billington E2-Class 0-6-0T locomotives built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway between 1913 and 1916. He is apparently one of the last batch built as only these engines featured his distinctive extended-side-tanks, projecting forward over the leading wheels and little downsweeps at each end of footplate. The E2s were introduced in 1915 to replace earlier members of the E1 class, which had been scrapped. The last five in the ten strong class had extended side tanks to give a greater water capacity, but all engines had two inside cylinders and driving wheels 4'6" in diameter.
After so many years of service, all of the Billington E2s, both original and modified, spent their last working years at Southampton Docks and they were all scrapped by 1963, the very last pair being Nos 31204 and 31209, the latter being amongst the last batch.
Thomas has a slight modification of having wheel splashers over his front wheels whereas the original E2s did not.
Thomas is painted in the North Western Railway's standard blue livery with red-and-yellow lining and the number "1" painted on his tank sides in yellow with a red border. In the Railway Series, he carries two builder's plates on the sides of his cab.
In the first three seasons of the television series, Thomas also had red lining on the back of his bunker. However, when characters received new models in 1994, the lining had been excluded for unknown reasons.
Thomas's running-plate was allegedly a source of some contention to the Reverend W. Awdry during the course of the Railway Series. As originally drawn, it had a distinctive dip at the front, but none at the back. The story goes that, to Awdry's eyes, this meant that Thomas' buffers would be at different levels, an operational inaccuracy and impossibility. This seems curious on Awdry's part, as all the artists had drawn Thomas as having an extra-deep rear bufferbeam to compensate, thus putting the front and rear buffers at the same level.
Be it a matter of taste or inaccuracy, the issue of the running-plate had to be settled: thus Thomas' excursion into the Stationmaster's house at Ffarquhar was arranged. After his repairs at Crovan's Gate, Thomas returned with a new running plate that was flat and level from smokebox to bunker.
The E2's on which Thomas was based had dipped running-plates at both front and rear and the Hornby Thomas model displays these features, having been retooled from a set of moulds formerly used by Hornby to make E2 models. His television counterpart, however, retains the unique forward-dipped running plate.
Too much Thomas?
While he may seem innocent enough, poor Thomas created a fair bit of trouble for Christopher Awdry and Egmont Books, publishers of the Railway Series, when the latter started asking for more books about the happy little tank engine. Granted, Thomas was the most popular character in the original Railway Series books, but Egmont went too far and thus the problem continues. With the advent of the television series, Egmont started asking for more Thomas and to this day Thomas has eight Railway Series volumes under his undercarriage. Two of the titles actually have very little to do with Thomas - Thomas Comes Home dealt with the adventures of the branch line engines during Thomas' visit to York, while Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines only featured one story about Thomas, although he did appear in two of the other three stories. As a result of Thomas' fame, classic characters like Oliver and Bear have become largely neglected.
Thomas and the toddler
When the Reverend W. Awdry created Thomas, he existed only as a wooden toy made for his son, Christopher. This engine looked rather different from the character in the books and television series, and was based on a LNER J50 or a Hudswell Clarke with smaller side tanks and splashers. He was painted blue with yellow lining, and carried the letters "NW" on its side tanks. Awdry claimed that this stood for "No Where", but later works would identify the railway Thomas and his friends worked on as the North Western Railway.
Oh, the Payne
For the illustrations of Thomas the Tank Engine, Edmund Ward, then-publisher of the Railway Series, hired illustrator Reginald Payne, who decided to base Thomas on the LB&SCR E2 Class. (Awdry was annoyed that Thomas was obviously not the tank engine he had first drawn, but was satisfied when Payne explained that he was drawn after a real prototype). Unfortunately, Payne did not receive any credit for his work; it is only since the publication of Brian Sibley's The Thomas the Tank Engine Man that he has received recognition.
Thomas on the big screen
In 2000, Thomas made it to cinemas in the box-office flop Thomas and the Magic Railroad, in which he was voiced by Edward Glen. He was the only engine from the television series to play a major role in the story, and even left Sodor briefly.
The Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough, England, was the first railway in the world to possess a full-scale replica "Thomas", an industrial tank engine built by Hudswell Clarke so nicknamed for its blue livery and resemblance to the famous tank engine. In 1971 the name was made official by the Reverend W. Awdry. Other tank engines the world over have since been dressed up as Thomas. Some railways have even gone so far as to rebuild locomotives to produce a better replica. Unfortunately this has created a divide between preservationists: some claim it disfigures historic locomotives and trivializes the preservation movement, others say it attracts visitors and can potentially spark an interest in railways amongst young children.
A "real Thomas" (built for The All Aboard Live Tour) was used in a special play staged to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, starring beloved characters from children's literature. In the play, Thomas was used to convey Sophie Dahl, the granddaughter of the late Roald Dahl, to center stage, and was greeted by thunderous applause and cheers from the audience of two thousand children and their parents.
Another "Real Thomas" is used during "A Day Out With Thomas" events where people actually ride in his passenger coaches and get their pictures taken with Sir Topham Hatt. Additional attractions include petting zoos, pony rides, story telling, viewing of "Thomas and Friends" videos, and temporary tattoos.
There are stage performances called Thomas the Tank Engine Live, where people get to see Thomas and his friends perform on stage. Three different plays have been made - "Thomas Saves the Day", "A Circus Comes to Town", and "Thomas Saves the Day".
- Thomas was the first engine to have a number.
- Thomas appeared in the Children in Need charity single. He was voiced by Ringo Starr.
- Christopher Awdry lost the original Thomas model when he was in the US.
- In Day of the Diesels, it was revealed that Thomas' driver's name is Bob.
- Thomas was the first character introduced in the TV series, unlike the Railway Series.
- In Baa!, Thomas said his favourite station is Ffarquhar.
- Thomas went through several aesthetic changes in the television series:
- Season 1:
- He had a real looking brake pipe, which was tilted down so that it didn't touch the face.
- Season 2:
- He gained a smaller brake pipe on both front & back.
- The blue supports under his whistle became gold.
- Season 3:
- His footsteps got smaller.
- After Trust Thomas, the lining on the back of his bunker was removed.
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad:
- He became slightly taller.
- His eyebrows became a bit bigger.
- His wheels became bigger.
- The gold supports under his whistle became blue again.
- His front windows became the same height as his back windows.
- Jack and the Sodor Construction Company (large scale model only):
- His lamp becomes bigger.
- His brake pipe and buffers are bigger.
- There is a hole on the left side of his running board.
- His funnel is larger.
- The face masks used in the sixth season were modified.
- Season 7:
- His wheels go back to their original size.
- Season 1:
- ERTL (normal, silver, gold, metallic, remote controlled, motorized, miniature, Gold Rail, and in multipacks; all discontinued)
- Wooden Railway (normal, gold, motorized, metallic, and in multi-packs)
- Take-Along (normal, silver, metallic, and in multi-packs; discontinued)
- TOMY/TrackMaster (normal, metallic, talking, RC, and with Annie and Clarabel)
- Brio (normal and motorized; discontinued)
- Bachmann (HO and G scale)
- Bandai Tecs
- Wind-up Trains (several versions)