Thomas is a tank engine. He came to Sodor in May 1915 as a station pilot at Vicarstown until 1946, at which time he was transferred to Wellsworth following an incident with some trucks. Later that year, after rescuing James after his crash, he was given charge of the Knapford-Ffarquhar branch line and two coaches whom he named Annie and Clarabel.
Thomas the Tank Engine started his life on the Island of Sodor as a cheeky little engine who shunted coaches forthe Main Line engines, such as Henry and Gordon. He liked to play tricks on them, including Gordon, "the biggest and proudest engine of all". He was taught a lesson when Gordon tricked him into being coupled to him during his Express run. Tired out, he swore never to tease Gordon again, realizing he did not have to 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 realized 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 realizing how troublesome trucks could be. The trucks pushed him down Gordon's Hill into a siding, wherethe Fat Controller told him to practice so that one day he would become as good as Edward. Thomas soon proved himself when he rescued James after his accident with the trucks, using the Breakdown Train. As a reward for his quick and heroic action, the Fat Controller promised him his own branch line.
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. 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 realizing 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 the tractor, 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, a precocious little engine who quickly became Thomas' closest friend. Thomas also became friends with Toby the Tram Engine 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 Gordon 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 swore 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 his best friends, 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 harbor. Unfortunately, Thomas became ill a few months later, and had to be sent to the Works, while Duck looked after his branchline. 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, when a cleaner had accidentally started him up. He soon broke 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.
Thomas is rather cheeky, but is good at heart 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's that he's forgetful, and slightly impatient. However, he's also optimistic and idealistic.
Although their friendship has been turbulent at times, Percy is generally portrayed as Thomas' best friend.
Thomas is based on the Billinton 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 downsweeps at each end of 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.
Thomas is painted in the NWR'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.
In the first two seasons of the television series, Thomas also had red lining on the back of his bunker. However, when characters received new models in 1994, the lining had been excluded for unknown reasons.
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.
Be it a matter of taste or inaccuracy, the issue of the running-plate had to be settled: thus Thomas' excursion into the Stationmaster's house at Ffarquhar was arranged. After his repairs at Crovan's Gate, Thomas returned with a new running plate that was flat and level from smokebox to bunker.
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.
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 dealt with 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.
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 a LNER J50 or a Hudswell Clarke with smaller side tanks and splashers. He was painted blue with yellow lining, and carried the letters "NW" on its side tanks. 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.
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 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 started to receive recognition.
In 2000, Thomas made it to cinemas in the box-office flop Thomas and the Magic Railroad, in which he was voiced by Edward Glenn. He was the only engine from the television series to play a major role in the story, and even left Sodor briefly.
Despite the film's over-all failure, Thomas kept on puffing and later featured in straight-to-video features Calling All Engines!, The Great Discovery, Hero of the Rails, Misty Island Rescue, Day of the Diesels, and Blue Mountain Mystery.
It has been revealed that there is an upcoming theatrical film to take place in London during World War II. It is currently scheduled for a 2013/2014 release.
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 center 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, and temporary tattoos.
There are stage performances called Thomas the Tank Engine Live, where people get to see Thomas and his friends perform on stage. Two different plays have been made - "Thomas Saves the Day" and "A Circus Comes to Town".
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 license 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. One of of Thomas' models used in the TV Series is on display here in the "Discover Thomas and Friends" exhibition.