Wednesday, 13 January 2016

'Thomas the Tank Engine'

After 'Rocket' and 'Flying Scotsman' perhaps the best known locomotive is a fictional one - 'Thomas'.


'Thomas the Tank Engine' was created by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry in 1946 as a character in the second book in his 'Railway Series' for children. The publishers engaged a professional artist to produce the book illustrations and the appearance of 'Thomas' was based on Billington's 'E2' class for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway.

In 1979 Britt Allcroft arranged a deal to make the books into a television series which ultimately became popular all over the world as 'Thomas and Friends'. Britt Allcroft saw the potential in video, toys and books and a franchising operation to exploit the 'Thomas Brand' was created. The Wikipedia post here has more information. It's believed that the Reverend Awdry became increasingly unhappy about the commercialisation of his creation. Britt Allcroft Company became Gullane Entertainment who sold the 'Thomas Brand' to HiT Entertainment after two years of wrangling. In 2005 Apax Partners acquired Hit Entertainment.

Licensed Day out with Thomas events became popular on preserved railways in the U.K., as described in the section below, and in other countries but the increasing costs of mounting the event due to additional requirements imposed by HiT Entertainment resulted in many preserved lines discontinuing these events.

Apax Partners sold the 'Thomas Brand' to toymaker Mattel in 2011 for a reported 680 million dollars.

I'd not realised the extent of the interest in every aspect of 'Thomas' until I looked at the Sodor Island Fansite. There's all sorts of stuff out there - discussions of gender, race and class in the Reverend Awdry's work and forensic studies such as Henry the Green Engine.


'Thomas' at Shackerstone (Picture: The Sodor Island Fansite).

Over the years, I have driven 'Thomas' many times but, whisper it, not always the same locomotive. 'Thomas' seems to share with Doctor Who the ability to regenerate in a variety of forms. It's always been a six-coupled side tank, painted blue with the number '1' on each tank and with a cheeky face on the front but otherwise, there have been differences.

Birmingham Railway Museum, Tyseley

My first opportunity to drive 'Thomas' came when I was a volunteer driver at Birmingham Railway Museum. Tyseley held occasional 'Thomas' events, with 'Richard III' posing as 'Thomas'. This locomotive was a large Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn (7537 of 1949) built for the British Electricity Authority (which later became C.E.G.B.). In 1972 it entered preservation at Shackerstone on what is now known as the Battlefield Line. There's are more details of the engine and its history by Chris Simmons here. I enjoyed driving this locomotive a few times but there were frequent problems with firebox leaks. One day, when George was driving 'Thomas' (I can't remember what engine I was on), he showed me the most spectacular leaks which had developed in the inner firebox (which was noticeably 'quilted') and that was the last steaming, I'm afraid. That must have been some time in the 1990s. 'Richard III' is now back at the Battlefield Line undergoing a very protracted restoration.

'Richard III' (Photo: C. Simmons)

Peak Rail

In the 1990s, Peak Rail ran 'Thomas' events. I was there for at least one 'Thomas' weekend but I wasn't rostered to drive and don't remember which 'Thomas' had been hired in. Peak Rail decided that the 'Thomas' event licensing conditions had become too financially arduous and discontinued 'Thomas' weekends.

Battlefield Line, February 2004

I can't remember when I first became involved with 'Thomas' at the Battlefield Line but the earliest pictures I've found are from 2004, in the collection Thomas, Shackerstone, February 2004 using 'Coventry No. 1' (North British Works No. 24564) - a big industrial 0-6-0 side tank.

'Thomas' at the Battlefield Line in 2004 (formerly 'Coventry No. 1', North British works no. 24564.

Battlefield Line, May 2005

This time, 'Thomas' had acquired outside cylinders and was celebrating his 60th Anniversary. There are a few pictures here.

'Thomas' running round his train at Shenton.

Battlefield Line, May 2006

This time, 'Thomas' was played by a 3F 0-6-0T originally built for the L.M.S. as '7298' by Hunslet Engine Co. Ltd. (Hunslet 1463 of 1924). Between 1924 and 1931 a total of 422 locomotives of this class were built (all but 15 by private builders). There's a Wikipedia article here. They were usually called by railwaymen a 'Standard Shunt' or a 'Jocko' but, for some reason I've never divined, they were called a 'Jinty' by enthusiasts and modellers.

7298, posing as 'Thomas', shows her classic Midland lines and an odd paint job (of course, the Somerset and Dorset 'Standard Shunt' engines were blue at one stage, but not that shade).

Battlefield Line, July 2007

I was re-united with 'Gothenburg' which I'd driven at East Lancs Railway many years before but the dignified dark green lined livery she'd had then was replaced by the cheerful blue of 'Thomas'. 'Gothenburg' was built by Hudswell Clarke and Company Limited (No. 630 of 1903) for the Manchester Ship Canal. All their locomotives were named after international seaports. For more information about this extensive railway system, see the book ‘The Railways of the Manchester Ship Canal’ by Don Thorpe (Oxford Publishing Co.) ISBN 0-86093-288-5.

There's a very short blog report here and my pictures of 'Gothenburg' are here.

'Thomas' at Shenton ready to return to Shackerstone in July 2007 (actually Hudswell Clarke No. 630 of 1903 'Gothenburg').

Battlefield Line, 2008

In the early part of the season, 'Coventry No. 1' (North British Works No. 24564) posed as 'Thomas'. In July 2008, I had a couple of days driving 'Thomas' at the Battlefield Line and one day in 'Daisy', the diesel multiple unit. There's a report on the 'Thomas events here and there are pictures here.

Between August and October, 'Thomas' had 'morphed again'. A Hunslet Engine Co. Ltd. six-coupled industrial (No. 1873 of 1937) had been very effectively converted from a saddle tank to a side tank (with extended side tanks, just like Thomas). Two 'splashers' had been fitted over the leading wheels (again, just like 'Thomas') but they were purely cosmetic because the small coupled wheels were well clear of the foot framing.

'Thomas' (Hunslet No. 1873 of 1937).

In theory, the extended tanks help to maintain a useful water capacity whilst allowing the driver more space to clamber into the motion for oiling. Despite my smile in the picture below, I found it very cramped and uncomfortable.

Preparing 'Thomas'.

There's a report on the October events in a short post here (which includes a video) and there are pictures here and here.

Battlefield Line, 2009

During June 'Thomas' was played by '47327', an ex-L.M.S. 'Standard Shunt' from Midland Railway Centre and during October by Hunslet No. 1873 of 1937 (as in the previous year). There's a report here.

Battlefield Line, 2010

This time, 'Thomas' was celebrating his 65th Anniversary. Once again, ex-L.M.S. 'Standard Shunt' 47327 performed the role of 'Thomas' as shown in the reports here and here. There are pictures here and here.

'Thomas' at Shenton, ready to return to Shackerstone on 3rd May 2010.

Battlefield Line, 2011

'Standard Shunt' '47327' returned as 'Thomas' for four days in June offering 'Day Out with Thomas' events. There's a report here and pictures here.

'Thomas' at Shenton, ready to return bunker-first to Shackerstone on 25th June 2011.

Museum of Science and Industry September 2011

MOSI first ran 'A Day Out with Thomas' events in 2010, whilst I was overseas. It was repeated in 2011 over four consecutive days, using 'Gothenburg' as 'Thomas'. I was the driver on 1st September 2011 and there's a report here with pictures here.

'Thomas' at MOSI in September 2011.

Battlefield Line October 2011

This time, 'Standard Shunt' '7298' returned as 'Thomas' for four days. I had one day driving 'Daisy' the Diesel Multiple Unit and one day driving 'Thomas'. There's a description in the post Day Out with Thomas: October 2011 and pictures are here.

'Thomas' "head-to-head" with 3803 during shunting on 16th October 2011.

Battlefield Line May 2012

'Standard Shunt' '7298' was with us for the four days of the 'Thomas' event in April. On Sunday 22nd April I was on 'Daisy', on Saturday 28th April I was on 'Thomas' and on Sunday 29th April I was back on 'Daisy'. There are more details in the post 'Thomas' at the Battlefield Line.

'Thomas' stands at the water column on platform 2 at Shackerstone.

Museum of Science and Industry August 2012

'Standard Shunt' '7298' visited MOSI as 'Thomas' for a four-day event. There's a report here and there are pictures here. I think that was the last 'Thomas' event at MOSI and recently I believe all railway operations here have been suspended.

'Thomas' with his 2-coach train.


There's an 'Austerity' 0-6-0 saddle tank called 'Wilbert' after the Reverend Awdry who created the 'Thomas' stories. I drove this locomotive at Peak Rail's 'Balzing Saddles' event described here. There's more information about 'Austerity' 0-6-0ST locomotives and 'Wilbert' here.

Summary of posts of 'Thomas' events on this website

You can find all my reports about 'Thomas' events here but I've listed these reports individually below:-

Day Out With Thomas 2008.
Day Out with Thomas.
Day out with Thomas: 2009 Battlefield Line, October 2009.
Happy Birthday, Thomas! Battlefield Line, April 2010.
Happy Birthday Thomas! (part 2) Battlefield Line, June 2010.
Day Out With Thomas - June 2011 Battlefield Line, June 2011.
'Thomas' visits MOSI MOSI, September 2011.
Day Out with Thomas: October 2011 Battlefield Line, October 2011.
'Thomas' at the Battlefield Line Battlefield Line, May 2012.
Day out with Thomas at MOSI MOSI, August 2012.

Summary of my albums of pictures of 'Thomas' events

Thomas, Shackerstone, February 2004.
Thomas, Shackerstone, 2005.
Day out with Thomas, October 2008.
Hunslet Works Number 1873 (as 'Thomas'.
2009-10-10 Thomas and Friends: 2009 (Oct 2009).
Thomas at 65 (Battlefield Line May 2010).
Thomas, Shackerstone, October 2010 (Battlefield Line).
'Thomas' - June 2011 (Battlefield Line).
'Thomas' 2011 (Battlefield Line).
Thomas at MOSI (2011).
Day Out With Thomas: October 2011 (Battlefield Line).
Day Out With Thomas: April 2012 (Battlefield Line).
Thomas at MOSI (2012).