I was reading the Railway Series No. 1 to my kids the other night. This inspired some thoughts on The Three Railway Engines.

Engines, not Trains!

Let’s state the obvious, Thomas was a tank engine, not a tank train. Henry, Edward, Gordon (the three characters to appear in this first story by Rev. W. Awdry) were all steam engines or steam locomotives not steam trains. Other characters in the Rev. W. Awdry’s later railway stories also steam engines but some were also diesel engines like Diesel and  Mavis. There was also a railcar – Daisy – with an engine integrated. She was not a carriage. Even Toby was not a ‘train’, he was a ‘steam tram’.

Being an engine was not essential to afford you a personality since many a carriage and truck, from Toad to Henrietta, and of course Annie and Clarabel, had supporting roles and names and personalities of their own. Coaches tended to be good and compliant, trucks were mean and untrustworthy. The railway stories also feature lots of non-railway transportation, from Bertie and Bulgy (both buses) to Trevor (traction engine), Terence (tractor… with caterpillars) and Harold (helicopter). Still, my point remains that locomotives are not trains, they are engines! Mark the difference people, mark it!

Henry’s Tunnel

Engines could aspire to be ‘really useful engines’. However, sometimes steam engines did silly and naughty things. One such example is found in the first of the Rev. W. Awdry’s railway series. In The Sad Story of Henry we find out what happens when an engine refuses to move for fear of the weather affecting his appearance:

Once, an engine attached to a train

Was afraid of a few drops of rain

Henry becomes the antithesis of a ‘really useful engine’ through his refusal to participate in gainful employment (paid or voluntary). Why? A mixture of stupidity and vanity is why. Henry doesn’t want his green paint with red stripes damaged by the rain so he hides in a tunnel and refuses to come out. Even when it is sunny, he fears the rain will come again.

The Fat Controller cannot persuade him and the passengers cannot pull or push him (the Fat Controller does neither, his Doctor has forbidden him to push or pull). So they give up and he stays put. They wall him up in the tunnel, cut a new tunnel and Henry is left to rust and watch the other trains to go by happily. Without an engine, the train cannot run and the railway must abandon the vain loco to a fate of slow decline within sight of happy engines doing their job.

Henry is joining the archaeological record.

Still, when Gordon breaks down, Henry is let out and helps Edward pull the Express. He is plucked from the hell-mouth of damnation and given a new lease of life and new coat of paint! Amen! Henry redeems himself and becomes a really useful engine. Joining the industrial archaeological record can wait until later; Henry is free!

Concluding Remarks

I was going to make this blog about the need to understand the difference between engines and trains, as this simply bugs me that people don’t know. The people who write the Chuggington children’s books don’t know, as they call ‘Harrison’ a ‘train’. Shame!


I then thought it would be a useful way of introducing the importance of steam-driven arguments, rather than simply trains of thought in academic argumentation. Engines should drive trains of thought. Trains of thought without an engine are simply a series of interconnected points going nowhere fast.

Then I was also musing over whether to talk about Henry’s fear, his self-enforced subterranean imprisonment, and his redemption, as an allegory for academics trying to write articles and finding it easier to hide in a tunnel than face the rain of peer-review. Confidence is an issue for us all and I often feel like poor Henry…

Now I’m not sure any of this is necessary or relevant at all. So I shall leave it simply as it is, as two points about the railway stories; engines are not ‘trains’ and isn’t it a sad story about poor old Henry.