Tag Archives: thomas the tank engine

“Why does my tank engine…”

thomasworkWhen I was a small child, I absolutely loved Thomas the Tank Engine. It was my favouritest programme in the world ever. It wasn’t what got me interested in railways – that had more to do with the three or four generations of railwaymen in the family. But it certainly helped. I learnt to read through the books. Much later, I even wrote my dissertation on the original Railway Series books. So I still have a considerable nostalgic attachment to that little blue dock shunter.

Which is why I was intrigued by a new book in the popular Haynes manual series. The Thomas the Tank Engine Owners’ Workshop Manual (1945 onwards). The book promises to be a technical guide to how Thomas and his friends work and how the railways of Sodor operate (probably at a loss).

This is far from being the first technical guide to Thomas and friends, but it’s the first one to tie in with the television series (as opposed to the original books) and the first one to be aimed specifically at young children. The television series has long been criticised for moving further and further away from railway realism, so this would seem to be a return to the good old days.

The book features cutaway drawings of Thomas, Gordon, Percy and Mavis (illustrating a side tank engine, a tender engine, a saddle tank and a diesel-mechanical shunter respectively) plus Trevor the Traction Engine and Harold the Helicopter. There’s also a diagram of how steam engines work and an explanation of how an engine is built, driven and maintained, including a section on the time Henry was rebuilt. An article called ‘The Tracks of Sodor’ explains the basics of railway operation and ‘Old and New Engines’ gives a history of locomotive design (The First Steam Engines, Narrow-Gauge Engines, The First Express Trains, Newer Steam Engines and Diesel Engines) using characters from Sodor as reference points. One niggle here is that Fergus is used to illustrate the first steam engines when he is in fact an Aveling Porter traction engine locomotive – not the pinnacle of modernity, but hardly a pioneer of steam. Given that Rocket has appeared in the books, it would surely make more sense to use him/her/it for this section.

There are a few factual hiccups – for one thing, I’d seriously dispute the article on how an engine is built (the cab before the firebox?). From the point of view of the fictional Thomas universe, the manual includes a number of sometimes quite obscure factoids from the books hitherto ignored by the TV series (Henry was built as an experiment, Sodor has a bridge to the Mainland, there’s a rack-and-pinion railway up Culdee Fell), but ignores others (the existence of the little-seen electric railway to Peel Godred is denied). Rather than going with the idea that Henry was entirely rebuilt into a Black 5 following the story ‘The Flying Kipper’, this book states that he was simply given a larger firebox. This, I suppose, explains why the Henry in the TV series looks nothing like a Black 5.

All in all, despite a few nitpicks, I’d say this was a perfect present for a young Thomas fan. Older children might find it a little basic, but for the young ‘uns it’s a simple introduction to a complex subject, easy to understand and clearly illustrated and just generally Really Useful.

Further Reading

http://www.pegnsean.net/~railwayseries/ – Martin Clutterbuck’s site on the technical side of Thomas, with some contributions by Yours Truly.

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Ready-to-run Class 07… sort of

We seem to have reached the stage in OO scale modelling where there is no such thing as a stupid suggestion. Beattie well tanks, Southern Region multiple units, BR Clans and the Kestrel prototype diesel would all, not so long ago, have been considered a mildly insane prospect for the ready-to-run manufacturer. And all are either on the drawing board or in the run-up to release. We’ve actually got to the stage where the manufacturers are running out of diesel locomotives to make.

However, while we wait for the Class 14, 15, 03 and no doubt 23 and 28 in due course, there’s another class that’s been stealthily prepared with almost no attention from the model press, and is now not far from its release.

The prototype. Thanks, Wikipedia!

The prototype. Thanks, Wikipedia!

It’s a humble shunter with a relatively small area of operations, being based in BR days at Southampton Docks, replacing the old USA tanks. The class was also capable of shunting EMUs (three worked at Bournemouth doing just this). A number were sold into industry and seven survive to the present day. In many ways, it’s a better candidate for a ready-to-run model than some of the prototypes that are already being manufactured. It’s not surprising that Bachmann have snapped it up.

What is slightly surprising, and what accounts for the lack of attention in the modelling press, is that it’s to be made for the American market. It will only be available in the UK via import. No word on price, but it’ll probably be between £30 and £40. It will only be available in one livery, which will be non-prototypical. Here’s a photo.

Ta-daaaaa!

Ta-daaaaa!

Yep, that’s the catch. It’s a Thomas the Tank Engine character. See, the great thing about Thomas and Friends is that the engines are, with a few notable exceptions, based on real life prototypes. Our man Salty here is a character invented for the TV series rather than the original books who is, yes, a dock shunter. By coincidence, shunter number 2991 is one of the survivors, currently based at Eastleigh (it’s the one in the photo up there).

The model isn’t perfect – some compromises have clearly been made for the sake of producing a model robust enough for children’s use, and the bonnets look a little low compared to the cab. But with a repaint and detailing, it would make an interesting addition to an industrial, dockside or depot scene. You might have to remove the face – I’m not sure whether this was a feature of the prototype or not.

If you’d prefer something more detailed

http://www.silverfoxmodels.co.uk/st/st.htm – Silver Fox produce a resin kit that uses a Bachmann chassis.

See also

http://www.semgonline.com/diesel/class07.html – A nice photo of the prototype.

http://www.pegnsean.net/~railwayseries/salty.htm – About Salty (more photos)

http://www.wnxx.com/disposals/disposals07.htm – Withdrawals.