James is a mixed-traffic tender engine who works on the North Western Railway, usually working along the the Main Line. He can be vain and sometimes boastful, but means well and is a hard worker.
The Railway Series
James was designed by George Hughes and built by Horwich Works in 1912/13. He was designed as an experiment of the Class 28 locomotives, with a front pony truck installed at the front and 5'6” sized driving wheels instead of the class' usual 5'1”; these were added in an attempt to cure the “nose-diving” the class experienced when travelling at high speed. The experiment did not entirely produce the results hoped for, and in 1924/25, James was sold to the North Western Railway. However, when he first arrived on the Island of Sodor, James was damaged in a crash after his trucks pushed him down the line and his wooden brake blocks caught on fire. After being recovered from the wreck, James was sent to Crovan's Gate Works, where he was repaired, repainted into a new red livery and gained proper brakes; he presumably gained his Fowler tender around this time too.
When James returned from the Works, he became vain and troublesome; while double-heading a passenger train with Edward, he accidentally showered water over the Fat Controller's new top hat, almost forgot to stop at the station and disturbed an elderly lady with his hiccups. After being threatened by the Fat Controller with a coat of blue paint, James became grumpy and began bumping the coaches around aggressively, though this backfired on him when one of the brake-pipes began leaking and needed to be mended with a bootlace and some newspapers. Following this incident, James was shut up in the shed until he could learn his lesson. When he was finally let out by the Fat Controller, James was assigned to pulling a goods train to Killdane. Although he had some trouble when some of the trucks broke away, James managed to keep the train under control and deliver it to the station, and was allowed to keep his red paint after the Fat Controller had seen everything.
Even though he had proven to be useful, James was still teased by Gordon and Henry, who mocked him for his past mistakes. However, after Gordon got lost and wound up at Tidmouth, James was allowed to take the express in his place. He did so successfully, and he and Gordon became firm friends.
When Thomas left Tidmouth to run the Ffarquhar Branch Line, James, Gordon and Henry became irritated, as they now had to fetch their own trains. After an incident on the turntable that left him humiliated, James, along with Gordon and Henry, decided to go on strike, refusing to leave the shed and behaving badly when they had to work. The Fat Controller eventually shut them up in the shed and made Thomas and Edward pull their trains, though he allowed them to come out when they were sorry.
When Diesel arrived on trial, James gained the nickname "Rusty Red Scrap-Iron". Believing that Duck was behind the insults, James, along with Gordon and Henry, turned against him. However, when Diesel was exposed and Duck was proven innocent, James and the other engines were sorry and welcomed him back. James later recalled the events of Diesel's visit to Duncan, though he greatly exaggerated certain parts of the tale, making it seem as though he was the one who sent him packing.
James continued to treat diesel engines with hostility, long after the other steam engines had already accepted them. Although he liked BoCo and Bear, James was openly nasty to other diesels, believing them to be inferior. However, when his injector froze one wintry day and he had to be rescued by the Works Diesel, James decided to give up his prejudiced views, as the diesel had been friendly to him.
In 2011, James was chosen by the Fat Controller to go to the Mainland to collect a bust of the Thin Clergyman and deliver it to Tidmouth. James did so, but on the way back the entrance to Henry's Tunnel collapsed. Thankfully, James had gone through the tunnel before it collapsed and made it to Tidmouth with the bust. He attended its unveiling alongside the other engines.
Thomas & Friends
James arrived on the North Western Railway sometime before Thomas' arrival, and was originally painted black and wore wooden brake blocks, which were prone to burning up and emitting smoke when stopping. He originally owned Annie and Clarabel and believed that he would be given his own branch line, although the other engines doubted this.
When Thomas came to Sodor, James teased him on several occasions for making mistakes, often joining in with Gordon to make fun of him. However, one day, James ran out of control with a goods train and was unable to stop due to his brake blocks being on fire. Thomas chased after the train and tried to slow it down, but James flew off a bend and crashed in a field, the crash badly damaging him. Thomas rushed back to Knapford and retrieved Jerome and Judy, who helped to clear away the wreckage and placed James back on the rails. James was sent to the Steamworks to be mended, where he received his new red livery. Upon returning from the Steamworks, James found out that Annie and Clarabel now belonged to Thomas, who had been given the responsibility of running the Ffarquhar Branch Line.
Thomas & the Magic Railroad
In the film, Thomas met James at Tidmouth Sheds until Diesel 10 first arrived and told them his plans to destroy the lost engine named Lady. James and Thomas rebel against Diesel 10. Later on, Thomas, James and Gordon argue about who should have collected Mr. Conductor. After Mr. Conductor is helping to make James' itch go away, James is sad, so Mr. Conductor happily says his red paint is bright and cheerful just like the gold dust and sends him off to work. Sometime afterwards, James appears at the Smelter's Yard when Diesel 10 arrived with Junior. Junior lands onto James' cab, and the two almost got thrown into the smelting pit by Diesel 10. Luckily, Junior used his gold dust to teleport them to a spot near the magic buffers, where Mr. Conductor was waiting. James departs and thanks Junior for his help.
James is very proud of his splendid red paintwork. He dislikes pulling trucks and believes that he should only pull coaches. He thinks himself superior to the others and can be shallow, boastful, overconfident, naughty, and vain, particularly to those who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow, or dirty. This has caused him to have somewhat of a rivalry with Edward, Percy, Toby and Duck. However, on a number of occasions, he has found himself in need of help from those whom he has insulted and is, in the end, apologetic. Even before he was repainted red he was rather boastful.
James was the last of the steam engines to retain a prejudice against diesels. However, after stalling on a cold day, he was rescued by the Works Diesel and James had to admit that nothing was wrong with diesels. This appears to be one of the few lessons that has stuck.
Since the seventeenth season, James has also been portrayed as a prankster, often tricking or scaring the other engines for fun, or to get out of jobs he dislikes doing. Following a particularly mean-spirited prank he played on Percy in Tale of the Brave, this gimmick seems to have died down.
Despite everything else, James has shown a caring side, is normally hard-working and like every other engine, wants to be responsible, reliable and really useful on Sir Topham Hatt's railway.
James is based on the L&YR Class 28, a class of 0-6-0 mixed-traffic tender locomotive designed by George Hughes for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and built by Horwich Works between 1909 and 1912. It was a rebuild of Aspinall's Class 27, with the addition of a Belpaire firebox, a Schmidt/"twin-plug" superheater, and the extension of the footplate and front sandboxes.
According to The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, James is an experimental member of the Class 28s; he is fitted with a front pony truck (thus making him a 2-6-0 instead of an 0-6-0), 5'6" driving wheels instead of the class' original 5'1" ones and a Fowler tender. His front sandboxes also appear to be mounted underneath his footplate rather than his splashers.
James is painted in the North Western Railway's red livery with black lining and gold boiler bands. His dome is brass, and his number is painted on the sides of his tender in yellow with black lining. In the Railway Series, James' black lining became blue after Main Line Engines. His roof colour was also inconsistently illustrated as either black or red; since Clive Spong became illustrator, James has been consistently illustrated with a red cab roof.
James has also been seen in several other liveries aside from his red one:
In the Railway Series, James was originally painted in the L&YR's mixed-traffic black livery. In the television series, James was always painted red, even when he was a new engine, but did have his black livery in The Adventure Begins. He also had red lining on the back of his tender, which was removed after his repaint.
In The Green Controller, James was mistakenly painted in yellow and black stripes on Percy's orders. He was quickly repainted back into his original livery when the problem was noticed.
In Tickled Pink, James was painted in a pink undercoat before his red paint could be applied. Although he was said to be in an undercoat, James still retained his lining, number and black wheels and smokebox.
In The Great Race, James was painted in golden floral patterns for the Great Railway Show. He was repainted back into his original livery when he returned to Sodor.
In the magazine story, An Important Visitor, James was incorrectly illustrated with a blue livery. Ironically, Sir Topham Hatt once threatened to paint James blue due to his bad behaviour.
In the learning segment, Painting James, James was painted with a green livery and a blue livery, and had a white undercoat. In the learning segment, Being Repainted, he was also painted with a green livery and had a cream undercoat.
In other media, James has been incorrectly depicted with red wheels or a red dome.
2013 Holiday Annual - The Biggest Present of All (cameo)
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A large scale working replica of James was built by BBC Visual Effects for a tour in 2003, along with Thomas, Percy, Harold and Jack. The battery powered locomotive is listed in the 2004 Guinness Book of Records as the largest model railway engine ever built, at 2.64 x 1.5 x 6.52 metres.
James is named after James Furze, a friend of the son of the man who published the second book in the Railway Series.
James was illustrated into The Three Railway Engines as the red engine who tried to push Henry out of the tunnel. However, children began sending letters to Awdry asking why James was painted red prior to the events of Thomas the Tank Engine. Awdry then decided to make the Red Engine a new character altogether.
In the first season, James was formally introduced in Thomas and the Breakdown Train, which was said to have been his first day on the railway. However, he had appeared in every prior episode as a background character. This may have been done to populate the sets, similar to how the Märklin Engine was used in later episodes.
James has been painted in more liveries than any other engine in the television series, with a total of four.
In Toby's New Whistle, James revealed that he once had a three-chime steam whistle.
Although he is now has the same voice actor in both dubs, James speaks with a different accent in each; he speaks with an American accent in the US dub, but speaks with an English accent in the UK dub. He is the second character in the show to be in this situation, the first being Belle.