Details of Thomas' arrival on the North Western Railway in 1915 are more or less undocumented. There is no official explanation to how he arrived on the island. However, the most popular rumour (according to Sodor: Reading Between the Lines) is that he was sent to Sodor due to a war-time mix up. Instead of returning to the south coast of England when the problem was sorted, both his driver and fireman married local girls and decided to stay. Sir Topham Hatt purchased Thomas for a "nominal fee".
According to The Adventure Begins, Thomas arrived on Sodor some time after James. Initially, he was painted teal and numbered 70. He was brought to Sodor to shunt coaches for the Main Line engines, such as Henry and Gordon. The first engine he befriended on Sodor was Edward. He liked to play tricks on Gordon, the biggest and proudest engine on the railway. He was taught a lesson when Gordon tricked him into being coupled to him during his express run. Tired out, he vowed never to tease Gordon again, realising he did not have to do so to be important. Soon, he desired to pull his own passenger train too, much to the bemusement of the other engines. He got his chance when Henry became ill, and no one could pull the passenger train. However, Thomas was so excited that he accidentally left his train and his passengers behind, believing he was pulling it easily. He soon realised his mistake and returned to pull the train. The engines laughed at him, though, and soon Thomas wanted to get out of the shunting yards and see the world. Edward offered him a chance to pull trucks, and Thomas excitedly took the job, not realising how troublesome trucks could be. The trucks pushed him down Gordon's Hill into a siding, where the Fat Controller told him to practice so that one day he would become as good as Edward. Thomas soon proved himself to the other engines when he saved James from a crash. James was pulling a train of trucks who were pushing him too fast, and when he tried to stop his brake blocks caught fire. Thomas chased after him and tried to couple to the back of the train to slow James down, but he failed and James and his trucks derailed. After fetching Jerome and Judy, who lifted him back onto the tracks, he was given James' coaches, Annie and Clarabel, and his own branch line, which had previously been run by Glynn the "coffee pot".
Thrilled, Thomas soon began running his branch line with his two new coaches, Annie and Clarabel, who he grew to love very much. He soon considered his branch line to be the most important part of the entire railway, a fact he would constantly remind the other engines of. However, he continued to make mistakes and dream big, and sometimes this got him into trouble, such as when he was so impatient that he left his guard behind at Elsbridge or when he wanted to fish, not realising the implications of a fish being in his boiler. His greatest mistake was when he got his snowplough broken in the winter and ended up stuck in a snow drift, having to be rescued by Terence, whom he had insulted earlier for not having "real" wheels. He soon proved himself again, though, when he beat Bertie the bus in a great race. He quickly became friends with both Terence and Bertie, despite their differences.
Although Thomas' branch line was indeed the pride of the line, on the main line, things were not going well for the Fat Controller, who was having to deal with Gordon, Henry, and James' sulking, refusing to do Thomas' former work of shunting themselves. After they went on strike, Thomas was brought back to help alongside Edward and their new friend, Percy, who quickly became Thomas' closest friend. Thomas also became friends with Toby after he was asked by the Fat Controller to help their railway avoid a lawsuit from a rude policeman. But Thomas still had some cheekiness in him, returning to teasing Gordon after he slid into a ditch. He soon needed Gordon's help after he blatantly went past a danger sign and fell down a mine. They soon became friends after that and promised never to tease each other again. Thomas and Toby later helped Mrs. Kyndley at her cottage after she was snowed in and helped her celebrate Christmas with a very special Christmas party.
The following year, Thomas shared a shed on his branch line with Percy and Toby. However, he became conceited about his brilliant blue paint and soon paid the price when Percy accidentally caused a coal hopper to pour coal all over him. Thomas was angry at Percy, but the two friends soon made up after Percy had an accident with some coal trucks. Thomas soon met Trevor, a friend of Edward's, who proved his usefulness when he helped Thomas at the newly constructed harbour. Unfortunately, Thomas became ill a few months later and had to be sent to the Works, while Duck looked after his branch line. When Thomas came back, his brakes were stiff, and made it seem as if they were hard on. As a result, one day, when his fireman was ill, a substitute accidentally caused Thomas to run away, and Harold had to help stop him. Later, when the Viaduct needed to be repaired, the main line engines became late to drop off Thomas' passengers and, as a result, made him late for Bertie. Thomas continued to be of great service to Sir Topham Hatt's railway, although he still remained a cheeky little engine.
Thomas later became conceited again when he took his driver's compliment to heart and believed he no longer needed him to work his branch line. This was untrue, but Thomas was too puffed up with himself to not believe it, and one morning, found himself rolling along the line outside the sheds, when a cleaner had accidentally started him up by messing with his controls. He soon crashed into a stationmaster's house and ruined the family's breakfast. He had to be rescued by Donald and Douglas. As a result, the Fat Controller angrily sent him to the works again. He arrived back a few weeks later just in time to take over for a battered Percy, who just had a predicament with some trucks. The following Christmas, Thomas was eager to sing carols with the other engines, but had to pick up a Christmas tree for the Fat Controller. Unfortunately, on his way back, he was caught in a snow drift and was lost. Donald and Douglas soon rescued him in time to sing carols with all his friends.
Sir Topham Hatt once sent Thomas to the mainland to collect special wood for the new Search and Rescue centre. Traveling via sea, he got lost in a storm and ended up on Misty Island. He befriended three engines there and discovered wood perfect for the search and rescue centre. He eventually found an old tunnel that went to Sodor, but got trapped in it as it collapsed. Percy and Whiff were able to save him by entering the Misty Island Tunnel from Sodor.
He still has the occasional annoyance with wearing his snowplough during wintertime, but always learns his lesson afterwards, such as in the seventeenth season, when he hid it on a siding so he could stay in the shed, but when Emily took Annie and Clarabel out, he tried to go find it and got stuck in the snow, leading to Emily rescuing him and earning another stern reprimand from The Fat Controller.
He once had an accident at Brendam Docks, but instead of owning up to it, he blamed it on a made up engine called Geoffrey, which made everyone curious about who Geoffrey was. He hid in Henry's tunnel and pretended to be Geoffrey in order to trick the Fat Controller, but after Spencer nearly ran into him, Thomas was caught out and apologised. He was also chosen to be the first engine to be inspected by two railway inspectors. After their journey, a gold watch belonging to one of the inspectors was found inside Annie, and Thomas gave it back to him. Later, he became covered in spots after Butch sprayed him with mud by accident, which made Henry think Thomas had chicken pox.
In Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, Thomas once again began to get conceited, believing his branch line to be the most important. But after an accident with Gordon's express coaches, he was sent to help with the construction of the Harwick Branch Line as punishment. But he was still being boastful, and accidentally fell into a deep cavern, where he found a pirate ship. Once he returned after having his wheels mended, he found Sailor John and Skiff wandering around the hole he fell into, and befriended them. However he later discovered that Sailor John was only looking for the treasure that Marion had found, claiming it as his own. When John stole the treasure from Knapford, he tried to escape on Skiff while Thomas gave chase. Despite receiving help from Mike, Rex, Bert and Ryan, Thomas couldn't catch them, and John and Skiff made it back to sea with the treasure. However Skiff capsized due to the rough water, and John was arrested. Thomas was later fully repaired and was given the honor of cutting the ribbon, opening the Arlesburgh-Harwick line and leading Duck, Rocky, Oliver, Toad, Ryan, Daisy, Donald and Douglas down the line.
Thomas is a rather cheeky, but good hearted engine and generally behaves well, except when he is getting into mishap. He loves teasing the others and, on occasion, brags about his superiority, but is always brought down to earth in due course. If Thomas has one major character flaw, it is that he is forgetful, and slightly impatient. However, he is also optimistic and idealistic.
Although their friendship has been turbulent at times, Percy is generally portrayed as Thomas' best friend, especially in the television series.
Thomas is based on the Billington E2-Class 0-6-0T locomotives built for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway between 1913 and 1916. He is apparently one of the last batch built as only these engines featured his distinctive extended side-tanks, projecting forward over the leading wheels and little down sweeps at each end of the footplate. The E2s were introduced in 1915 to replace earlier members of the E1 class, which had been scrapped. The last five in the ten strong class had extended side tanks to give a greater water capacity, but all engines had two inside cylinders and driving wheels 4'6" in diameter.
After many years of service, all of the Billington E2s, both original and modified, spent their last working years at Southampton Docks and they were all scrapped by 1963, the very last pair being numbers 31204 and 31209, the latter being amongst the last batch. There is, however, a campaign with the aim to build a new E2, and number it 110.
Thomas has a slight modification of having wheel splashers over his front wheels whereas the original E2s did not.
Thomas is painted in the North Western Railway's standard blue livery with red-and-yellow lining and the number "1" painted on his tank sides in yellow with a red border. In the Railway Series, he carries two builder's plates on the sides of his cab.
When Thomas first arrived on Sodor in The Adventure Begins, he was painted teal-green with white lining. He had LBSC lettering painted on his tanks in yellow with a red border and had the number "70" painted in the same colours on the sides of his bunker. Upon his first visit to the Steamworks for a repaint, his metal frame devoid of paint is seen before being applied with a pink undercoat to keep water out from him, which would cause permanent rust damage.
In the first three seasons of the television series, Thomas had red lining on the back of his bunker. However, during the filming of All at Sea, the lining was removed for unknown reasons. Sam Wilkinson, the current railway consultant was responsible for bringing back the red lining on Thomas' coal bunker as of The Adventure Begins, and it will carry through into future seasons and specials.
Thomas's running-plate was allegedly a source of some contention to the Reverend W. Awdry during the course of the Railway Series. As originally drawn, it had a distinctive dip at the front, but none at the back. The story goes that to Awdry's eyes, this meant that Thomas' buffers would be at different levels, an operational inaccuracy and impossibility. This seems curious on Awdry's part, as all the artists had drawn Thomas as having an extra-deep rear bufferbeam to compensate, thus putting the front and rear buffers at the same level.
The E2's on which Thomas was based had dipped running-plates at both front and rear and the Hornby Thomas model displays these features, having been retooled from a set of moulds formerly used by Hornby to make E2 models. His television counterpart, however, retains the unique forward-dipped running plate.
Too Much Thomas?
While he may seem innocent enough, poor Thomas created a fair bit of trouble for Christopher Awdry and Egmont Books, publishers of the Railway Series, when the latter started asking for more books about the happy little tank engine. Granted, Thomas was the most popular character in the original Railway Series books, but Egmont went too far and thus the problem continues. With the advent of the television series, Egmont started asking for more Thomas and to this day Thomas has eight Railway Series volumes under his undercarriage. Two of the titles actually have very little to do with Thomas - Thomas Comes Home focuses on the adventures of the branch line engines during Thomas' visit to York, while Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines only featured one story about Thomas, although he did appear in two of the other three stories. As a result of Thomas' fame, classic characters like Oliver and Bear have become largely neglected.
Thomas and the Toddler
When the Reverend W. Awdry created Thomas, he existed only as a wooden toy made for his son, Christopher. This engine looked rather different from the character in the books and television series, and was based on an LNER J50 or a Hudswell Clarke with smaller side tanks and splashers. He was painted teal-green with yellow lining, and carried the number 1 on his bunker on both sides in yellow and also carried the letters "NW" on his side tanks in yellow. Awdry claimed that this stood for "No Where", but later works would identify the railway Thomas and his friends worked on as the North Western Railway.
Oh, the Payne
For the illustrations of Thomas the Tank Engine, Edmund Ward, then-publisher of the Railway Series, hired illustrator Reginald Payne, who decided to base Thomas on the LB&SCR E2 Class. (Awdry was annoyed that Thomas was obviously not the tank engine he had first drawn, but he was satisfied when Payne explained that he was drawn after a real prototype). Unfortunately, Payne did not receive any credit for his work; it is only since the publication of Brian Sibley's The Thomas the Tank Engine Man that he has received recognition.
Thomas on the Big Screen
In 2000, Thomas made it to cinemas in the box-office flop Thomas and the Magic Railroad, in which he was voiced by Edward Glen. He was the only engine from the television series to play a major role in the story, and even left Sodor briefly.
It has been revealed that there is an upcoming theatrical film to take place in London during World War II. In April 2013, Josh Klausner stated that he does not know if the movie is still going ahead.
Thomas in Popular Culture
The Nene Valley Railway at Peterborough, England, was the first railway in the world to possess a full-scale replica "Thomas", an industrial tank engine built by Hudswell Clarke so nicknamed for its blue livery and resemblance to the famous tank engine. In 1971 the name was made official by the Reverend W. Awdry. Other tank engines the world over have since been dressed up as Thomas. Some railways have even gone so far as to rebuild locomotives to produce a better replica. Unfortunately this has created a divide between preservationists: some claim it disfigures historic locomotives and trivializes the preservation movement, others say it attracts visitors and can potentially spark an interest in railways amongst young children.
A "real Thomas" (built for The All Aboard Live Tour) was used in a special play staged to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, starring beloved characters from children's literature. In the play, Thomas was used to convey Sophie Dahl, the granddaughter of the late Roald Dahl, to centre stage, and was greeted by thunderous applause and cheers from the audience of two thousand children and their parents.
Another "Real Thomas" is used during "A Day Out With Thomas" events where people actually ride in his passenger coaches and get their pictures taken with Sir Topham Hatt. Additional attractions include petting zoos, pony rides, story telling, viewing of "Thomas and Friends" videos, temporary tattoos and a gift shop.
There are stage performances called Thomas the Tank Engine Live, where people get to see Thomas and his friends perform on stage. Three different plays have been made - "Thomas Saves the Day", "A Circus Comes to Town", and "Thomas and the Hidden Treasure".
Thomas has also been known to be seen in amusement parks. In America, Thomas was usually found in "Six Flags" parks until 2010 when the licence was not renewed. In Drusilla's Zoo Park near Alfriston, Sussex, England, a special attraction was opened where Thomas carried passengers through the zoo; it also featured James, Diesel, Cranky, and the Fat Controller. At the United Kingdom's Drayton Manor theme park, a special place called "Thomas Land" is dedicated to fans to ride on multiple rides based on Thomas and Friends. The park opened on March 15th, 2008. One of Thomas' models used in the television series is on display there in the "Discover Thomas and Friends" exhibition. Another park opened at the Edaville Railroad in Carver, Massachusetts in the summer of 2015, adopting a phase similar to Drayton Manor.
Thomas Land in Japan was the world's first Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends theme park. It opened in 1998, and located at the Fuji-Q Highland, an amusement park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan. Like the UK's Thomas Land, it has multiple rides based on the series. A few of the rides, displays, play house areas, and exhibits try to recreate scenes from the television series. Another one of Thomas' models from the television series is on display there.
Thomas and Henry window stickers have been shown to make various appearances in the hospital drama Children's Ward, which aired on ITV (which also aired Thomas and Friends and the classic series).
Thomas' Bachmann HO model (along with HO models of Annie, Clarabel, and Emily's coaches) makes an appearance in the 2015 Marvel movie, Ant-Man. His large scale Bachmann model is also used in some scenes, although the model's face is different.
Thomas also appeared as a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in 2014. He also appeared in the Toronto Santa Claus parade alongside Rosie and Percy on November 15th, 2015.
Thomas was recently mentioned on Disney XD's Lab Rats vs Mighty Med crossover special.
In the Railway Series, Thomas was the first engine to have a number. However, in The Adventure Begins, he is made number 1 to replace his predecessor Glynn, a "Coffee Pot" engine from Sodor's branch lines.
According to Brian Sibley, Wilbert used that number because it was the easiest to draw.
Four Thomas models are currently on display: one at Drayton Manor in the UK, one in Japan at the Hara Railway Museum (previously on display at Nitrogen Studios), the large scale Thomas model used in the spin-off series, The Pack, in Japan at Thomas Land, and one for the touring Thomas and Friends: Explore the Rails exhibit, currently at the Minnesota Children's Museum.
Thomas appeared in BBC's Children in Need charity single. He was voiced by Ringo Starr.
Christopher Awdry lost the original Thomas model when he was in the US, although it was recently recreated for a sizzle promo for the 70th Anniversary.
In Day of the Diesels, it was revealed that Thomas' driver is named Bob.
Thomas was the first character introduced in the television series, unlike the Railway Series.
As the series progressed, Thomas' eyebrows became larger and thicker.
In Jack and the Sodor Construction Co., Thomas' running plate on his left side has a hole. His face masks were modified after the sixth season.
Throughout the twelfth season, Thomas' chassis was open, revealing the mechanisms on the model.
A promotional image of Thomas regularly appears in a photo frame on the children's program "Giggle and Hoot."
In 2014, when artist Jenny Bell decided to paint a mural of the nativity at Nottingham railway station for Christmas, she added a golden model of Thomas into the picture. She used a wind-up model of Thomas from Hornby as a guide.
2015 marks Thomas' 100th year on the North Western Railway, and his base prototype will be turning 100 years old as being the first of his second batch of LB&SCR E2 Locomotives modified with extended side tanks.
A Hornby model of Thomas made a cameo in the 2003 Comic Relief.
An ERTL model of Thomas made a cameo in GoodTimes Entertainment's home video "All About Fast Moving Trains".
Thomas' LB&SCR number (No.70) actually belonged to an LB&SCR A1 named Poplar, a member of Stepney's and Boxhill's class. The engine containing this number is currently preserved at the Kent & East Sussex Railway. The number 70 also represents the 70th anniversary of the Thomas & Friends franchise.
Awdry's original model of Thomas depicts him as an LNER J50 0-6-0T with an extended coal bunker.
Thomas went through several changes in the television series:
He gained a smaller brake pipe.
His footsteps got smaller.
After Trust Thomas, the lining on the back of his bunker disappeared.
Hero of the Rails:
His pistons and valve gear become visible.
The Adventure Begins:
The lining on the back of his bunker returned.
His side-rods become silver.
ERTL (normal, silver, gold, metallic, remote controlled, motorized, miniature, Gold Rail, in multipacks and Santa hat; all versions discontinued)
Wooden Railway (normal, gold, motorized, metallic, and in multi-packs)
Take Along (normal, silver, metallic, talking roll and whistle, and in multi-packs; all versions discontinued)