Gordon was built experimentally by Sir Nigel Gresley at Doncaster Works between 1920 and 1922 as an "A0" Pacific. When Gresley was finished using Gordon for designing his A1 Pacifics, he sold Gordon, along with a spare boiler and firebox, to the North Western Railway.
Gordon is mainly used for passenger duties, pulling the North Western Railway's express, the "Wild Nor' Wester", but has occasionally pulled goods trains. He has been known to run into ditches and stop on hills to get out of doing these jobs, as he believes that these are below him.
In 1939, Gordon went to Crovan's Gate for a rebuild. His conjugated valve gear was replaced by a two-cylinder design, he received a smoother running plate (designed by the Fat Controller), Stanier underframes, "Black-5" wheels, cylinders, squared-off side windows, rectangular buffers, and a Fowler tender.
Gordon has become famous after his adventures: in 1953 he pulled Queen Elizabeth II's royal train and in 1956 he traveled to London, where he was lauded by a large crowd. Gordon did not like the visit, however, as he discovered that London's big station was St. Pancras.
In 1986, Gordon got to visit Carlisle when a Diesel taking a Railtour failed.
In 2010, he was demoted from pulling the express regularly to Barrow due to the purchase of Pip and Emma.
Gordon's important position as the engine who usually pulls the Express has made him proud, pompous and arrogant, with good reason, too; he is the strongest engine on Sodor after all. Gordon's philosophy "tender engines don't shunt" meant that he looked down on tank engines and tender engines who do shunt, but after being locked in the shed with Henry and James after going on strike he seems to have abandoned this philosophy.
Because of his rank in the social order of the North Western Railway, Gordon expects to get the important jobs and either sulks when he does not, or gets jealous of those who do. Sometimes, Gordon acts as a bully, particularly towards Edward, but following mis-adventures where Edward had to help him, Gordon had to acknowledge that despite being old, Edward is still a very useful engine.
Sometimes Gordon shows a kinder side and gives the younger engines advice, usually after he has had some mishap as a result of his foolhardiness. Some of his advice isn't exactly honest, though, as James and Sir Handelhave discovered.
According to Sodor "historian" Martin Clutterbuck, Gordon is supposed to be an experimental prototype for Sir Nigel Gresley's A1 "Pacific" design for the GNR - the so called "A0". Gordon was then built at Doncaster Works, Yorkshire, and tested against a similar NER Pacific in 1923. Gordon, being an experimental engine, never received a number, and was later rebuilt at Crewe with LMS underparts and a six-wheel tender, owning to various problems. Gordon has since been rebuilt below the footplate according to Stanier designs, his running plate being Sir Topham Hatt's own design.
Gordon is painted NWR blue with NWR red-and-yellow lining and the number "4" painted on his tender sides in yellow. Before arriving on Sodor, he was painted Doncaster green with white and black lining.