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- “Look here, Percy. Whatever is that dirty object?"
"That's James, didn't you know?"
"It's James' shape, but James is a splendid red engine, and you never see his paint dirty!”
- ―Toby and Percy teasing James
Dirty Objects, retitled James in a Mess in American releases, is the twenty-third episode of the first season. In the US, it aired on the Shining Time Station episodes Finders Keepers in 1989 and A Dog's Life in 1991.
Toby and Henrietta are settling into their new lives on the Island of Sodor, though they still look very old-fashioned and could use new paint. Due to their bad paintwork, the two become a subject of scorn for James who calls them "dirty objects." When Toby asks why James is red, James says that it is because he is a splendid engine who is never dirty and ready for anything. Toby then reminds James of the bootlace incident, causing James to become angry.
Later, James leaves his coaches and picks up a line of trucks for a slow goods train. James' bad mood is made even worse due to his hate of slow goods trains. Although the trucks start off behaving well, James is so rough with them that they vow to pay him out. As he climbs Gordon's Hill, James is supposed to stop and have his brakes pinned down. James, who had an accident with trucks before, should have remembered this, but forgets as he is too busy thinking of what he will say to Toby next time they meet. Seizing their chance, the trucks push James down the hill. Unable to stop, James runs through the station and crashes into some tar tankers.
Although James is not badly hurt, he is covered from smoke box to cab in tar, leaving him looking very dirty. Percy and Toby come to help clean up the mess and Toby makes fun of James reminding him that, as a red engine, he is supposed to look splendid and ready for anything. Percy and Toby take James back to the sheds where the Fat Controller is waiting. He thanks Percy and Toby for their hard work and tells James that he needs to be cleaned.
The Fat Controller awards Toby a new coat of paint and agrees when Toby requests one for Henrietta too. Toby happily runs off to tell his coach the good news while James remains silent, knowing full well that today he is the "dirty object."
- Tidmouth Sheds
- Gordon's Hill
- The Cow Field
- The Main Line
- The Viaduct (deleted scene)
- This episode is based on the story of the same name from The Railway Series book, Toby the Tram Engine.
- When James races down the hill, the footage is sped up.
- A deleted scene of James crashing into the tar tankers is used in the song, Troublesome Trucks.
- Stock footage from Troublesome Trucks is used.
- On its original broadcast, this episode was paired with Thomas' Christmas Party. However, early VHS releases have it paired with Off the Rails, as do Norwegian and Swedish broadcasts.
- In the Shining Time Station episode, "A Dog's Life," a few seconds of the beginning got cut.
- When James crashes into the tar wagons, the crash sound in the Ringo Starr version is the loudest out of all the other versions.
- In George Carlin's narration, the narrator does not say that James is thundering through the station. Also in all of the other narrations, Percy whistles after Toby's bell. It is absent in both of the Ringo Starr narrations.
- This episode marks the last appearance of Maron station until the sixth season episode, Percy and the Haunted Mine.
- When James leaves Elsbridge, his brake coach is at the rear of his train, but when he arrives at Knapford, his brake coach has moved to the middle of his train, and his whistle is crooked.
- During the stock footage, when James is on Gordon's Hill with the trucks, a piece of string can be seen pulling him up.
- When James races through Maron, his brake van becomes brown.
- In the shot of the tar wagons, James cannot be seen racing through the station.
- When James crashes, the truck at the front is missing its buffers and face and a crew member’s hand can be seen pushing James.
- In a deleted scene, the coupler that attaches James to his tender appear to be some wires.
- In the scene prior to James rushing through the station, a signal tower can be seen showing "all clear," even though the train of tar wagons is on the line ahead. The signal before Maron also shows "all clear."
- In the Latin American version, when the narrator says "they run into their buffers and pushed him down off the hill," James is incorrectly referred to as Henry.
- The covered object in James' first truck is replaced with coal.
- When James crashes into the tar wagons, he comes off the rails. When Toby and Percy come to help, his position of derailment changes.
- When Toby says "...and you never see his paint dirty!" the edge of the set is visible.
- When James, Percy and Toby arrive at the yards, the man next to the Fat Controller has blu-tak on his feet.
- When Toby asks James why he is red, he is missing his eyebrows.
- When James says "Dirty trucks/cars from dirty sidings!" his eyes are wonky.
- In a picture of Percy and Toby teasing James, one of the workmen can be seen laying on the ground.
- When James is ready to pull the trucks, chuffing sounds are heard before he moves and the tracks next to him come to an end.
- In the close-up of James going down Gordon's hill, his tender is missing.
- When James arrives at Elsbridge, his eyes jump up before he stops in the station.
- The narrator says, "He had ran into two tar wagons," but that's not true as there were four tar wagons in the previous shot.
- In the close-up of Sir Topham Hatt, he has a hole in his chin.
- Buzz Books - James and the Tar Wagons
- Ladybird Books - Thomas and Terence and James and the Tar Wagons
In Other Languages
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