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- “Toad's right. It's really my fault. I must put this trouble right!”
- ―Oliver about the Troublesome Trucks
Oliver was built by the Great Western Railway at Swindon Works and was "push-pull" fitted for branch line work. He was originally numbered in the 48xx series, but along with the rest of his class was renumbered into the 14xx series in 1946, eventually becoming 1436. He worked as a passenger engine on a branch line in the West Country.
Oliver reached Sodor in 1967. With the rapid closure of West of England branch lines, Oliver’s crew were appalled at the prospect of their engine being scrapped, or left to rust away at Barry Scrapyard. Both were bachelors with no local ties, so they determined to take a chance and try to save their engine, along with his coach and brake van. An escape route was carefully worked out with the help of a chain of sympathetic signalmen. It was necessary to travel at night - often over ”goods only” lines - and lie hidden by day. They had many narrow escapes, and the journey took longer than planned.
When control got wind of the runaways, they hid in an old quarry branch and had the cutting blocked by rubbish to avoid being spotted by the diesels outside. The runaways decided it was safe to leave at some point, but before they could reach the greener pastures of Sodor, Oliver ran out of coal in Barrow Yard. Luckily, Douglas was able to rescue Oliver and took him to Sodor, taking him to Crovan's Gate Works. The Fat Controller soon found out and arranged for the three to be repaired and painted in Great Western colours. Toad decided to be Douglas' brake van to thank him and the Fat Controller rescued another auto coach named Dulcie and gave her to Oliver.
Oliver was then sent to work on the Tidmouth-Arlesburgh branch line, but became conceited after the big engines gave him their respect in recognition of his adventures and pushed his weight around, prompting several ballast trucks to push him into a turntable well. Oliver received little respect from the trucks after the incident, but got his own back by pulling the ringleader, S.C. Ruffey, apart. Oliver is now well-respected by the trucks, out of fear they will be pulled apart too.
Oliver and Toad were escaping from scrap when Douglas found, saved and brought them to the North Western Railway. The other engines were impressed by his adventures and the attention soon went to Oliver's smoke-box. He was so conceited that he ignored Duck and Donald's advice about trucks and several pushed him into the turntable well. Upon his return from the Works, Oliver regained his respect after pulling the ringleader of the trucks, S.C. Ruffey, apart.
Since then, (with the exception of running Thomas' Branch Line during the engines' trip to England) Oliver has worked at Callan Yard, also known as Oliver's Yard, and the trucks have feared him, considering him to be dangerous and preferring Percy. Oliver missed the long runs and wanted to do more than simply push trucks onto the turntable, but he remained tight-lipped about his problem and grew unhappy as a result. He ended up roughly biffing the trucks into the turntable well, damaging it. The Fat Controller transferred him to the mail train so the night air can clear his smokebox, but Oliver ended up getting lost, discovering an abandoned house (which was later turned into a tea-house) in the process. When Harold found him, Oliver concluded that being found is much nicer than being lost. His brakevan Toad started feeling a similar problem when he was glum about always going backwards. Oliver tried to cheer him up by reminding him of his usefulness. When the trucks broke away from Oliver on the hill, taking Toad with them, Oliver determinedly chased after the runaway through Wellsworth and Crosby and all the way to the Old Stone Bridge. Oliver could not help teasing Toad when all was said and done and assured him no harm done in case of Toad causing Oliver an embarrassment.
In the eighteenth season, Oliver started repeatedly telling everyone about his "escape" from the scrapyard, even to the point of annoying Toad. After his brake van had an adventure without him, James told Oliver to listen to Toad's story for once. During a flood, he collided with Rocky and James who were rescuing Duck, who had stalled underwater. He also nearly collided with Duck after the latter ran a red signal by mistake. Later, he broke down whilst on his way to the docks to deliver some trucks. When Gator arrived to take the train, Oliver was surprised by his unusual shape and wondered where Gator's lamp was, unaware it was not working properly.
In the nineteenth season, he began to get fed up of Toad singing during their journeys and explained to Duck that Toad is always like this when he is in a good mood. Later Toad told Oliver that he saw a whale and he did not believe him at first until he saw the whale for himself. He then helped with rescuing the whale.
In Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, Oliver helped to build the new Harwick Branch Line. Marion believed that he had made a wish to turn himself into a digger and the Arlesdale engines had granted his wish. It was not until the branch line's opening ceremony that Marion discovered there were in fact two Olivers.
In the twentieth season, he and Duck were responsible for taking people safely home when a storm struck the Island. At Arlesburgh, the two met Skiff and warned him to get to safety, upsetting the rail boat. When he had finished his jobs, Oliver picked up Toad and headed for home, however they nor Duck, who was travelling to Tidmouth on the opposite track, were aware that a lightning strike had caused a tree to fall on the line. Thankfully, Skiff, who had been blown away by the storm, was able to warn them just in time. Oliver proclaimed him the bravest rail boat he had ever known. Another time, he found Judy and Jerome, the Breakdown Train, in Arlesburgh Harbour. He agreed to take the two to the countryside. He later informed Ryan that Duck had moved them again.
Oliver escaped the dreaded scrapyards of the Mainland, mainly thanks to Douglas, but also as the result of sympathetic signalmen, luck and using "goods only" routes under cover of darkness, with some close calls along the way. Despite his previous heroism and daring feats, Oliver is an engine who is willing to admit every day is a learning curve. When he was still new to Sodor, he let the other engines' responses to his courage, resource and sagacity from his amazing recounts of daring escapes and adventures get to his smoke-box and he became conceited. However, when the Troublesome Trucks pushed him into the turntable well, he grew into a much more humble, settled engine and was far warier of trucks. But later, with some help from his brakevan Toad, he did gain much respect and authority among the trucks when he showed his strength with the ringleader of the trucks, S.C. Ruffey, a little more than he had perhaps been intending. Oliver still has gumption, but is now a more obedient, sensible engine. He feels his responsibility on the railway deeply, is ever thankful for being aided in his escape from scrap by Douglas and is a trustworthy, tenacious, plucky engine. However, he can still be occasionally boastful, or temperamental; but despite this setback, Oliver is still one of the more really useful and well-behaved engines on Sodor.
Oliver is based on a GWR 14xx Class 0-4-2T. These engines were fitted with a mechanical system allowing the driver to control the locomotive remotely from the cab of an 'Autocoach', such as Isabel. They were originally assigned numbers in the 48xx series, but were renumbered into the 14xx series in 1946. Oliver's number comes from a real 14xx, No. 1436, which was built at Swindon Works in August 1934 as No. 4836 and worked in the West of England until it was withdrawn in October 1958. It was scrapped at Morkot Ltd., Caerphilly on the 30th of April, 1959. According to The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways and Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, "It is doubtful whether this (1436) was the number actually allotted to him in 1946". Four engines of this class survive in preservation.
In the Railway Series, Oliver is painted in the Great Western Railway's Brunswick green livery with yellow lining, black wheels, brass GWR numberplates on the sides of his cab and a brass safety valve bonnet. Before he came to Sodor, he was painted in the British Railways Brunswick green livery, with a BR crest painted on the sides of his tanks.
In the television series, his paint had faded by the time he was rescued, leaving him in a rusty red colour. After his rescue, he was repainted in the North Western Railway's green livery with the 1934 GWR crest painted on the sides of his tanks and the number "11" painted on the sides of his cab in yellow and has remained like this ever since, from Tale of the Brave onwards, he is painted in a slightly brighter shade of green.
In the Railway Series, he carries two builder's plates on the sides of his cab.
- Enterprising Engines - Escape and Little Western (does not speak)
- Oliver the Western Engine - Resource and Sagacity, Toad Stands By and Bulgy
- Duke the Lost Engine - Sleeping Beauty (cameo)
- Jock the New Engine - (mentioned in foreword)
- Henry and the Express - Sliding Scales (cameo) and Henry Sees Red (cameo)
- Wilbert the Forest Engine - Wired-Up (does not speak)
- Oliver is named after Oliver Wicks, who was a much respected member of Stroud Baptist Church. He was the Rev. W. Awdry's next door neighbour in Rodborough, Stroud.
- Oliver speaks with a Cornish accent.
- Oliver's original third season whistle sound is Gordon's at two whole steps higher in pitch, and in some episodes, he shared the same whistle sound as Edward.
- One of Oliver's models was on display at Nitrogen Studios but is now on display at the Hara Model Railway Museum in Japan.
- Oliver's theme first heard in the third season is a musical variation on the theme from the 1963 film, The Great Escape. It's also reminiscent to a portion of the TUGS Danger theme.
- Ironically, Oliver’s first appearance involved him escaping from somewhere.
- Some of Oliver's earlier merchandise had black wheels, indicating he was based off how he looked in the Railway Series. This was later fixed so it resembles how he looks like in the television series.
- In the French version from Seasons 3 to 7, Oliver is called Olivier.
- Oliver has had many modifications throughout the television series. These include:
- Season 4:
- His whistle sound changed to Duck's at a whole step lower in pitch.
- Season 6:
- He gained a coupling hook base.
- Season 12:
- He has slightly thicker eyebrows.
- Season 18:
- He is now painted in a brighter shade of green.
- He has black side-rods and lamp irons.
- He has more hand rails.
- His boiler and cab windows are slightly smaller.
- His back cab windows gained yellow lining to match his front windows.
- His whistle guard became slightly taller.
- The 'GWR' logo, his number and his trailing wheels are slightly bigger.
- His driving wheels are slightly further away from each other.
- His buffer-beam is significantly smaller.
- His running board was painted black, like it was in the Railway Series and is also thicker than on his basis.
- The frame around his coupling hook changed to black.
- He lost his guard irons on his cab windows, the counterweights on his wheels, his middle lamp iron and the lamp iron on top of his smoke-box.
- The four rods (one on the top currently holding his tail lamp) on the back of his coal bunker became black.
- His smoke-box saddle is narrower.
- His top feed has moved forward slightly.
- He is slightly taller, but is also noticeably scaled down compared to his model form and his basis.
- His dome is taller and thinner.
- His funnel is thinner and less detailed compared to his model form and his basis.
- He gained rivets on his smoke-box and on the sides of his buffer-beams.
- He gained a permanent headlamp and tail-lamp.
- His whistle design is the same as Thomas', but his whistle sound stayed the same. His current whistle design is also the same as Duck's current one.
- Season 19:
- His side-rods became grey again.
- The rivets on the sides of his buffer-beams changed to red.
- The frame around his coupling hook became red again.
- Season 4:
- “'You's an enterprising engine, I won away here with Donald; but I've been feared to do it on my own.”
- ―Douglas, Enterprising Engines
- “Oliver's no use at all; thinks he's very clever
Says that he can manage us; that's the best joke ever
When he orders us about, with the greatest folly,
We just push him down the well...Pop goes old Ollie!”
- ―The Troublesome Trucks and S.C. Ruffey teasing Oliver with a song, Oliver the Western Engine
- “I'm a Great Western engine, I shouldn't have to shiver!”
- ―Oliver, Snow Engine, seventh season