Thomas the Train is an animated train engine appearing in books, TV and videos. He and his friends live stories of fun and adventure of being a “Really Useful Engine!”
Animated train engines were the idea of Reverend Wilbert Awdry, an Anglican clergyman and a train enthusiast. He was born in 1911 at the town of Romsey in Hampshire. His father was the Vicar of Ampfield, near Romsey, who practically grew up with railways. Rev. Awdry’s father keenly passed on the train enthusiasm to his sons George and Wilbert. When the family moved to Box, Wiltshire, in 1917, the lived very near a train line that they could see and hear the trains from out the window. Here, Wilbert’s love for trains sparked his imagination and while lying in bed at night, he would imagine the trains were talking to themselves.
Such stories would be left to his imagination, until Wilbert had his own son, Christopher. At the tender age of two, Christopher became sick with measles. To inspire his son’s recovery and ease the child’s isolation, Wilbert would tell stories of trains that did good deeds, in the hopes of becoming a “Really Useful Engine”, the ultimate train praise. One Christmas, Rev. Awdry made a small wooden model of a train engine, and named it Thomas. Stories of Thomas the Train Engine began.
To liven up the storytelling, Rev. Awdry drew human faces on the train engine’s smoke box showing human expressions of happiness, sadness and pride. Most of the stories were written and drawn on scrap paper because the Reverend never imagined his creations to become a legend someday. At the influence of his wife, Margaret Wale, a teacher he met in Palestine, and later on married and brought to Birmingham, he hooked up with a cousin publisher to publish the train stories. It was then known as the Railway Stories, meant to amuse the invalid, as Rev. Awdry once did for his son.
The first series of the railway stories did not feature Thomas; instead, it featured "Edward, Gordon and Henry". Thomas the Tank Engine appeared only on the second book, which followed a year after the first was published. New books came out almost every year until 1972. Christopher penned the more recently released books, after his father retired from writing. The original illustrator was C. Reginald Dalby, who based the basic look of each locomotive from the Rev. Awdry's sketches as well as real steam engines in use in Britain. The famous face of Thomas is based on an obscure 0-6-0 Class E2 engine built in the Victorian era for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.
In the story, he first came to Sodor on loan from the South of England Line. The Fat Controller, Sir Topham Hatt, gave him a branch line of his own because he had proven himself to be a really useful engine, of which he is really proud. Thomas stayed there and worked happily ever after, never to return to England. His voyage runs from Tidmouth to Ffarquhar, where he lives. He has two coaches called Annie and Clarabel.
In 1984, the first T.V. series about Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends appeared to millions of children in the United Kingdom. The series showed Thomas’ Journey through the Island of Sodor as an animated train, but amidst live background of lush country side and rolling landscapes in bright daylight, which really captured a lot of audiences, young and old alike. The series narrator was the Beatle Ringo Starr.
In 1989, Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends made their debut in North America through the television series called Shining Time Station. Schemer, the Jukebox conductor in the Shining Time Railway Station entertains station visitors, Becky, Dan and Kara about stories of Thomas and Friends' journey through the Island of Sodor.
Today, Thomas and Friends’ journey continues: better animation through computers, variations in show length and format and broadcasting in multiple languages worldwide. Though one thing though has not changed: the Thomas the Train story continues to teach good manners, hard work and the desire to be a Really Useful Engine!