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Thomas, a thinly veiled portrait of rail in England

When I first came to England, I went into the HMV store and my son, trying to find something familiar immediately glommed onto Thomas the Tank Engine (he had a Thomas train in Minnesota, but it really wasn’t a big deal for him then). I bought the DVD which he became obsessed with for a time. Having not seen Thomas in detail before, I was surprised he is thought of as an icon for railfans. Almost every episode has some kind of disaster. I suppose this realistically portrays the state of surface rail in England, but it is hardly a positive spin on things, even if it works out in the end. The 26 episodes on the first season DVD follow, with a brief description of the maladies befalling The Isle of Sodor.

episode issue

1 Thomas and Gordon - Thomas doesn’t get uncoupled soon enough and is pulled by Gordon

2 Edward and Gordon - Edward gets picked to work, but isn’t thanked by Gordon

3 The Sad Story of Henry - Henry refuses to leave tunnel

4 Edward, Gordon and Henry - Gordon blows safety valve, Henry & Thomas save train

5 Thomas’ Train - Thomas leaves train’s coaches behind (as they were not coupled)

6 Thomas and the Trucks - Thomas pulls trucks, trucks willfully push him too fast, bump into each other, and as a consequence overshoots station

7 Thomas and the Breakdown Train - James derailed because trucks push him too fast. Thomas moves broken trucks and rights James. Thomas gets own branch lline

8 James and the Coaches - James steams controllers hat, overshopts stations, bumps coaches, passengers mend the brakepipe with bootlace and newspaper.

9 Troublesome Trucks - James pulls trucks (brakes would stick on or axles run hot) coupling snaps

10 James and the Express - Gordon switched off mainline onto loop, so James pulls

11 Thomas and the Guard - Henry’s system out of order, Thomas leaves guard behind

12 Thomas goes Fishing - Thomas needs water, draws water from river, Thomas gets fish in boiler, blocks pipes

13 Thomas, Terrance, and the Snow - Thomas bangs snowplow attachment, Thomas runs into a snow bank, Terrance the tractor pulls him out.

14 Thomas and Bertie - Thomas and Bertie the Bus get into race. Bertie has better acceleration, but a circuitous route and the railway has Right-of-way, Thomas wins, but racing is officially discouraged.

15 Tenders and Turntables - Turntables spins James around because of wind. Indignation meeting Gordon, James, and Henry

16 Trouble in the Shed - Thomas and Edward pick up slack from still sulking engines. Brings in Percy

17 Percy runs Away - Gordon almost crashes into Percy (Percy was on the wrong track), Percy runs away with no driver to pull brakes, and crashes into an earthbank.

18 Coal - Henry not operating well, bad coal

19 The Flying Kipper - Points frozen, danger sign not set. Crash. Henry derailed and remodeled.

20 Whistles and Sneezes - Gordon’s whistle stuck. Boys on bridge vandalize Henry’s Coaches. Henry “sneezes? ashes at boys.

21 Toby and the Stout Gentleman - Toby, a tram engine, moves trucks from farms to market, business dries up.

22 Thomas in Trouble - Police writes up Thomas for wheel sidings and cowcatchers. James runs into tar trucks.

23 Dirty Objects - James is pushed into tar wagons by his trucks

24 Off the Rails - Gordon’s plan for revenge misfiles and he slides into a ditch

25 Down the Mine - Thomas falls down the mine, is rescued by Gordon

26 Thomas Christmas Party - who knew trains were religious. Was a locomotive risen from the dead 2000 years ago?

The trains clearly have some major sins (the series was written by Reverend Awdry after all, there must be a moral), they seem largely to be a variant of Pride:

* Express is better than Pulling Coaches is better than Pulling Freight is better than Shunting
* Trains get “cheeky? with each other.
* Engines Want shiny coaches, shiny paint.

The system is strangely personified, trucks (freight cars) play tricks, and engines have personalities, yet are subservient to humans, still Drivers and Firemen and Fat Controller must negotiate with engines

Interestingly, the Engines recognizes intelligence is in the tracks (though one says “I seem to know the right line by instinct“)

Apparently later seasons tone down the carnage on the tracks, though it still remains, and Season 5 is quite dark and forboding, an Empire Strikes Back to Season 1's Star Wars.

More on Thomas here: Thomas and Friends - Season 1 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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