- “Thank you, your Grace, and everyone, for your kind wishes. You've given us both a lovely 100th birthday.”
- ―Rheneas addressing the crowd
Very Old Engines is the twentieth book of the Railway Series.
One hundred years ago, when Skarloey and Rheneas first arrived on their Railway, they were young and silly. Skarloey was sulky and bouncy. He and Rheneas quarrelled.... But they learned sense, and the Owner has just given them a lovely 100th birthday.
Talyllyn and Dolgoch, at Towyn, are 100 too. How about going to wish them "Many Happy Returns"?
Nancy is polishing Skarloey, but Skarloey calls her a fusspot. Nancy replies by calling him a crosspatch. Skarloey remembers he once was a crosspatch, and tells Nancy the story...
Skarloey was built in 1864 and sent to Sodor on a ship the following year. After being lowered onto a flatbed using the ship's derricks, he was taken to Crovan's Gate by an ugly but kind engine named Neil. The people there weren't used to engines, and it was dark by the time he was on the rails. The next morning, he was told to take some trucks, but he wanted to pull coaches. The manager, Mr. Mack, and some workmen came and tried to make him steam, but he refused to do anything, day after day. Eventually, they got tired and covered him up with a tarpaulin.
Nancy says it served Skarloey right, but a crowd which has come to listen tells him to go on...
At last, Mr. Mack came and Skarloey said sorry. Mr. Mack told him that Mr. Bobbie, an engineer who helped build Skarloey, had come, and Skarloey worked hard to finish the line before the inspector arrived.
When Rheneas first arrived he was a sensible engine, unlike Skarloey, who was bouncy and excited. When Skarloey was told to pull the directors' train, Rheneas told him to be careful, but Skarloey scoffed at him and got the coaches. The coaches had never met him before, and their leader, Agnes, didn't trust him. When Skarloey began to bounce, Mr. Mack, who was riding on Skarloey, closed the regulator too quickly and the coaches bumped into each other. They bumped him back, and Mr. Mack was knocked into a bush. He rode in Beatrice for the remainder of the journey.
The directors were cross, and told Rheneas to pull the inspector's train instead. The inspector was satisfied, but told the directors to give Skarloey an extra set of wheels...
Rheneas starts telling the rest of the story. When Skarloey returned with another pair of wheels and a cab, Agnes, Ruth, Lucy, Jemima and Beatrice were impressed and Skarloey got conceited. When he told Rheneas he should get a cab, Rheneas disagreed. Skarloey called him a stick-in-the-mud, and the argument went on until the two fell out. Then, one morning, Skarloey was taking the workmen to the quarry in the rain. When Rheneas was warming up, the guard arrived and told them Skarloey was stuck in a landslide beyond the tunnel. Rheneas refused to help at first, but went when reminded of the workmen and crew. Afterwards, Skarloey apologised, and they burst out laughing when they realised Skarloey was the stick-in-the-mud after all.
Duck and Dukes
Duck tells Peter Sam that there are no Dukes, having all been scrapped. Peter Sam, who remembered the Thin Controller said the Duke of Sodor was coming to Skarloey and Rheneas' hundredth birthday, is horrified, and when he tells the others, they argue over who is right. (Peter Sam may have been thinking of Duke from the Mid Sodor Railway, but we don't know Sir Handel's reaction.) But the next day, the engines are happy when they wake up, for it's Skarloey and Rheneas' birthday. Later, Peter Sam takes the television train and films Rheneas. After Skarloey arrives and takes the Duke around the new loop line around the Lake, the Duke makes a speech, during which Peter Sam interrupts and asks him if he is real. The Duke tells him he is, and Rheneas makes a speech asking everyone to visit his and Skarloey's respective twin brothers, Dolgoch and Talyllyn.
- Peter Sam
- Neil (S&M#2)
- Agnes, Ruth, Lucy, Jemima and Beatrice
- Mr. Mack
- Richard Robert Norramby
- The Owner
- Sir Handel (does not speak)
- Rusty (does not speak)
- Talyllyn (does not speak)
- Dolgoch (does not speak)
- Mr. Bobbie (does not speak)
- The BBC Television Producers (does not speak)
- Douglas (cameo)
- Mabel (cameo)
- Sir Topham Hatt (mentioned)
- The Dukes (mentioned)
- The first three stories were inspired by events that actually happened on the Talyllyn Railway.
- Mr. Bobbie was actually a real-life engineer that worked for Fletcher, Jennings & Co.
- The Reverend acknowledged the help given by members of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in the preparation of this book.
- The book was published in 1965, yet Kaye and Ward editions from 1968 onward incorrectly state that it was published in 1961. Curiously, early copies of Branch Line Engines share this error, mixing up the same two years.
- This book marks the first and only appearance of Neil.
- The present day events of this book took place in the former half of 1965. The first two stories' events took place in 1865. "Stick-in-the-Mud" took place in 1867.
- The front cover of an early edition depicts the silhouette of Skarloey with no cab and a 0-4-2 wheel arrangement, but he received his trailing wheels at the same time as his cab.
- It is said in 'Bucking Bronco' that Agnes and Beatrice were heard talking, and that Jemima and Ruth sighed with relief. It is unknown why Lucy wasn't mentioned on the page featuring this text.
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