Like with many authors, Awdry had to draw
from other sources whilst writing the Railway Series for inspiration. Here's background to a few...
In 2011, in the run up to the publication of Railway Series Book 42, Thomas
& HisFriends, Trevor Timpson researched and wrote an article for BBC News about the Rev. Awdry's influences
for the Island of Sodor. Trevor's writings are both accurate, informative and for those of us interested in slightly
more grey areas of Awdry's development of Sodor, intriguing...
Well worth a read for anyone interested in finding out
more about how the Island of Sodor, and Thomas himself, came to be!
Dr. Rudi Newman discusses
the historical reality
behind Thomas the Tank Engine and the Railway Series itself – and how it has
lended itself so beautifully to the longevity of the characters and the series
as a whole!
The Talyllyn Railway is one of the most important bonds between The Island of Sodor and the real world.It is the direct inspiration behind the Skarloey Railway, first appearing in 1955,
after being suggested by Talyllyn Railway Society founder – Tom Rolt.The
Reverend Awdry was an early member of the society and he and his family spent many a happy summer working on the railway –
a tradition which carries on to this day, with son Christopher having held the role of Society President, his wife Diana a
blockwoman and son Richard, a Guard, much like his Grandfather before him.
Built in 1864 to carry slate from the Bryn Egwlys Quarry at Abergynowlyn, the railway
was one of the first narrow gauge railways in the world to use steam locomotion from the beginning. The mainstay of
the railway until 1950, when the Preservation Society took over, were two tank engines built by Fletcher Jennings & Co.
in Whitehaven, Cumbria. The first, Talyllyn, was built in 1864, and the latter, Dolgoch, in 1866.
Existing with the same stock, the line was rocked by particularly difficutl
times in the 1940s. Talyllyn, who had been the mainstay of the two engines and the preferred engine to run, was completely worn
out and laid up in a hay barn, leaving Dolgoch to manage on her own. Later, the Abergynolwyn Quarry collapsed and cost
the railway a valuable source of income, putting survival in peril. However, the owner, Sir Haydn Jones was defiant
against closure and promised to keep the line running so long as he was alive.
However, Sir Haydn died in 1950, and his widow found herself
with a failing railway, which had little prospect of recovery. The engines, rolling stock and track were in a perilous
condition, and the future of the Talyllyn Railway looked very bleak.
It was around this time, LTC Rolt, held a meeting in Birmingham to try
and club together with other enthusiasts to try and save the line from closure. Mr Rolt went on to convince Mrs Jones
to lease the Railway to them over a period of 2 years, by which time if the Railway was NOT a commerical
success, the society would pay the cost to scrap the line.
However, LTC Rolt's plans worked out and the Railway became a viable
success story. Buying the remaining two locomotives from the defunct Corris Railway further up the road, it gave a chance
for Dolgoch, who had been running the entire early season alone to have a break and be sent for extensive repairs along with
sister engine, Talyllyn, who had been stored in a barn for several years prior to her repatriation!
In the early 1951, the Awdry family began taking seaside trips to the
village of Tywyn in Gwynedd, to visit this little railway, following Wilbert being sent a newspaper article advertising membership
on the Talyllyn. Mr Awdry was the 79th member to join the society, ranking him well within the first 100 to join the
society, which had swelled to 660 by May 1951.
And so in 1952, the Awdry family began their first holiday in Tywyn and
Wilbert took up the role of a Guard on the Railway. This made for the inspiration of a well known story that
was to make it into his tenth Railway Series book, and one of the few stories that involved the author himself! Wilbert
was concerned about making good time on his journey, and in doing so, gave the Driver the Right Away to leave the station.
In doing so he forgot all about the Refreshment Lady, who was running after them, frantic at being left behind! To get
the Driver's attention, Awdry had to screw on the brake, which had the desired effect and made him take the train back.
However, it was excusable really, the Refreshment Lady happened to be the Driver's mother-in-law, so he had a good reason
to leave her behind!
Once again with the help of George Awdry, Wilbert began writing
about the Talyllyn in the Railway Series, using the line as a basis for his new venture, The
Skarloey Railway. Not only did Awdry make the distinctions clear between the twinning of the Railways
through his locomotives, he also did it through the people too. Whilst the Talyllyn had Sir Haydn Jones, the
Skarloey had Sir Handel Brown; Tom Rolt became the basis for Mr Peter Sam, the Thin Controller;
and Hugh Jones, became known as Ivo Hugh, the Chief Engineer.
Incidently, it was the suggestion of Rolt that got the Skarloey Engines
involved in the Railway Series to begin with. A writer himself, he wrote Railway Adventure, a book based on the life
and times of the Talyllyn Railway and stories surrounding it's history and it's adaption to becoming the world's first Railway
run by volunteers. Agreeing with the general feeling that it would be good publicity for the line, Awdry obliged
and the Talyllyn soon became affiliated with the Skarloey line on Sodor. Although it would be unfair to say that Awdry's
works were fully responsible for the success of the Talyllyn, they did have a big impact on people wishing to visit the
line on account of his writings.
A true Talyllyn hero, in 1991, many years following Rolt's death,
his name was to live on as the railway dedicated their new steam engine to him, christening it TOM ROLT,
with the naming being performed by his widow Sonia. Rebuilt from an Irish Peat loco of 3ft Gauge, the engine was
aptly called a "Frog Prince transformation" by Sonia and had been in production on and off since the 1970s. The
new locomotive is stronger than the others and was needed for the influx in passenger numbers carried on the Railway.
It was featured in the 40th Railway Series book as Ivo Hugh, but as yet, no personality has been struck for the new character
following the discontinuation of the books.
The association between the Talyllyn and Skarloey
still runs to this day. Although threatened by a copyright dispute between the Talyllyn and copyright holders Britt
Allcroft Co. who weren't happy about the Talyllyn engines being guised as engines from the Thomas series. They retaliated
by saying that the Reverend Awdry gave the Railway his permission during his life that the railway could use the identity
of the characters when they wished to, it being that they are in the guise of Railway Series characters and not
the TV series colours. The railway continues the practice of dressing the engines in such a fashion and has done since
the days when they ran Sir Haydn as Sir Handel in the
1980s, Edward Thomas for several years as Peter Sam
and currently Douglas as Duncan!
In North Wales, the Snowdon Mountain Railway provided yet another source
of storytelling for the Rev Awdry to draw upon for his 19th book, Mountain Engines.
The book's main focus was on engines 4 and 6, respectively, Snowdon and Padarn, formerly,
Sir Harmood, but also drew upon the incident on the opening day which saw the demise of No.1 - Ladas.
Opened in April 1896, the Snowdon Mountain Tramway and Hotel
Company's original opening ended in an utter disaster involving locomotive number 1, LADAS.
Problems on the track led to the locomotive overturning and injuring the crew, and when a passenger jumped clear, suspecting
danger, he hit his head on the rocks and died as a result. The locomotive was not put back into service following the
unfortunate accident, and instead was used for parts for the other locomotives. There has never been another number
one on the Snowdon Mountain Railway following the loss of LADAS.
The following year, the line reopened and has operated with little or
no difficulty since the accident on the first day. Snowdon Mountain Railway is the only Mountain Rack
Railway in the British Isles. It is still run privately as it always has been to ferry tourists up Mount Snowdon.
In more recent years it has taken the modern view of employing Electric Railcars to ferry passengers up to the summit, following
the implementation of Diesel traction in the 1980s. All four of the remaining original locomotives still run (Nos.
2 to 6), whilst two of the three newer motive power from the 1920s (being locos 7 and 8) have been
withdrawn due to not being "steam tight" any longer.
Largely, this is NOT a Heritage Railway, but
a privately run company built to ferry passengers to the Summit of Mount Snowdon in perfect safety. The volume of traffic
is usually handled by Diesel locomotives with the occasional steam loco running when weather conditions are suitable and possibly
tourist demand is high. The possible reason why there has been no successor to the book Mountain
Engines is very much because of the Railway's safety record and aims and ability to maintain it!
Opened originally as a 3ft gauge railway, the Ravenglass and Eskdale
Railway did not prosper for very long in it's original form before being closed down. The Railway was originally opened
to serve the Whitehaven Mining Co in 1875, consisting of two engines - Nab Gill and Devon. However, the Railway was
never profitable and nor was the mine, as a consequence, the Whitehaven Mining Co went bankrupt and in turn, the Railway was
run by a newly set up company to run it. The line survived on weekend tourists and general goods up until 1908
when it was brought into disrepute concerning the poor track, which in turn caused passenger traffic to close in November
of that year. Moves were made to try and electrify the line, but this was unsuccessful and the line closed in 1913.
In 1915, WJ Basset-Lowke of Narrow Gauge Railways Ltd, reopened the line
in a regauged form of 15in gauge. The reconstitued line was soon carrying stone from the Beckfoot quarries and passengers
as well to subsidise the running of the railway. After World War 2, the lines was sold again to Keswick Granite Co.
who closed the quarries. In 1960, the entire railway was put up for sale at auction. It was saved by a group of
enthusiasts who wished to operate it themselves.
The new company set about creating new locomotives
and doing all they could to improve the running of the line. The La'al Ratty as we know it today was born. There
are a great number of engines running on the Ravenglass and Eskdale line, however, only a handful of them have made it into
the Awdry books. River Irt, converted from a locomotive from the 1890s Muriel, was given the guise of Bert
on the Arlesdale Railway on Sodor. River Esk, was given the role of Rex
on the new small Railway and newly built locomotive in 1967, River Mite was given the role
of Mike. These three engines appeared for the first time in 1967's Small Railway Engines,
and again later on in 1971's Duke The Lost Engine, where they assisted the Thin and Fat Clergyman as well
as the other explorers in finding Duke who was stranded in the hills above their line.
It will come as no surprise to readers that Awdry had based the fictional
version of the Ravenglass Railway on the real one, being that the Arlesdale Railway was built on the trackbed of a previous
railway, this being the Mid-Sodor Railway, where Duke, Sir Handel and Peter Sam ran previously to being moved to
the Skarloey Railway. And much like the original, did not run into the hills the same way as the previous railway due
to problems with gradients.
Opened in 1859 as a horse-drawn tramway, the Corris Railway converted
to steam in 1878 with the introduction of three locomotives built by Hughes of Loughbrough. The Railway ran from the
town of Machynlleth to the quarries in Aberllefenni, where much of the railway's traffic came from. The Railway began
the practice of carrying passengers in 1883 follwoing an act of Parliament, and in 1921, employed the extra motive power of
a fourth locomotive, built by Kerr Stuart. The locomotive was of a Tattoo design, and like the others, an 0-4-2.
However, the comfort and performance of the newcomer did not impress the crews of the Corris Railway.
In 1931, the Railway was bought by the Great Western who closed the Railway
to passenger traffic, instead employing a bus service in the area. The Railway prospered for a few years more, this
time only using locos 3 and 4. Locos 1 and 2 from Falcon Works were scrapped prior to the buying up by the
GWR, as there appeared to be little need for them. The two were completely worn out by this point, however, No.2 was
used for parts to make a better engine of the remaining No.3, which remained in service alongside the Kerr Stuart, No.4.
Following the nationalisation of the Railways in 1948, the Corris became
the first casualty and fatality of the new grouping. The Railway closed in August 1948 following a flooding on the River
Dyfi which damaged part of the railway, and made part of the line inoperable. Had it not been for this, the railway
made have stood a chance of running on. The two locomotives were sheeted and left at Machynlleth sheds with the writing
on the side - Not to Be.
The locomotives, like that of their Sodor counterparts, were taken to
the sanctuary of the nearby Talyllyn Railway to be put to good use again. They have remained there since 1951 and proved
vital to prosperity of the railway in the early days of preservation. The Railway has now officially reopened
with Christopher Awdry himself heading the association's operations, and being operated by Diesel locomotives until the time
when Tattoo locomotive No.7 is completed in 2006, which is a replica of the Kerr Stuart locomotive who left in 1951
to run on the Talyllyn.
The Ffestiniog Railway in Wales was the first
narrow gauge railway in the world, built in 1836 as a horse-drawn tramway to carry slate from the mines in Blaenau Ffestiniog
down to the Harbour at Portmadoc (now Porthmadog). The practice for the railway was to use
gravity slate trains to escort their loaded wagons and horses back down to Portmadoc in the days of frieght operations.
Working out of the biggest slate mine in the world, the railway was also the first narrow gauge line in the world to use such
small steam locomotives. Although by the time they converted in 1863 the practice was common on Standard Gauge lines,
it had not yet been a tried and tested method on such a small railway.
The Railway ordered four locomotives from George England works and these
became the early main-stay for the railway. One of these locomotives, Prince, is not only the longest serving narrow
gauge locomotive in history, but also the inspiration behind another Sodor legend - Duke. At the time of closure in
1946, following the Second World War, Prince was waiting to be fitted with a new boiler. Sadly, the locomotive may never
have seen the chance to be fitted with it had it not been for the dedication and hard work of Ffestiniog
Railway volunteers. Due to the line being in a bad state of decay, it was required that the line had
to be rebuilt completely to return to full power. It took roughly thirty years to rebuild the line's 13.5 mile route,
with more than a few potholes along the way, but it has proved it's worth and seen every problem through with grace
and dignity to become one of the world's premier Heritage Railways.
The Railway's rich and colourful history proved invaluable along with
the Corris Railway in preparations for the 25th Railway Series book - Duke The Lost Engine. Awdry was
even found to use material from the latter day Ffestiniog too, using the event of "Linda's Leap", as it is affectionately
known and remembered by enthusiasts, for the basis of his Bulldog story. But from the history of the Ffestiniog,
there was no truer representation of the locomotive than the steely determination of Duke. Once rebuilt in 1955 by the
society, Prince worked the two early seasons of the line completely alone and despite being "retired" in 1969, the old dog
is still found to be hard at work on the Ffestiniog Railway alongside his fellow locomotives.
Home to a friend of Sodor, Stepney the Bluebell Engine, the Bluebell
Railway in East Sussex has flourished in the years from 1960 when it was first established and opened as the UK's second Standard
Gauge Heritage Railway. Since those early days, the Railway has gone on to become one of Britain's premier Heritage
Railways, and become the only Railway in the UK to hold the honour and privellege to call itself a Steam Railway.
Until very recently, the line was completely run by steam traction, however, with work on the East Grinstead extension,
tradition has had to be broken and a Class 08 shunter brought in to fulfil the duties.
Built in 1882 by landowners in the Lewes and East Grinstead area, it
was placed in the hands of the LBSCR, Southern and British Railways throughout its lifetime. The line came under threat
in the 1950s by BR Executives who wished to close it, only to be jepordised by the clause that four trains a day should run
on the line "Forever". However, BR got an Act of Parliament to get their own way against the "Forever" clause and closed
the line again in 1958. However, by this time there had been time to form a Preservation group to keep part of the line
open. They bought locomotives and carriages and took matters from there, soon rebuilding the line steadily throughout
The locomotive list of the line is highly extensive.
Stepney was one of the first two locomotives that were acquired for the line, along with two coaches. He has
served throughout the years alongside a great deal of locomotives who currently reside on the Bluebell, such as the last remaining
Q1 locomotive, Class A1X 0-6-0T No.72 Fenchurch of the LBSCR, also a Terrier; Bullied Pacifics; other LBSCR locomotives such
as Cromford, Adams, 323 and 27 - Bluebell and Primrose, and the youngest of the group BR Class 9F 2-10-0 No.92240, built in
The Isle of Man is a Railway Island in itself. Boasting a railway
network of several narrow gauge railways, it is probably as close to Sodor as you will ever get. Quite literally in
actual face, as it is meant to be right next to Sodor too according to maps of the Sudrian area! However, Sodor is found
to be slightly larger on account of having to carry standard gauge lines.
The Island plays host to several Railway lines, including
the Isle of Man Railway, Groudle Glen Railway, Snaefell Mountain Railway and Manx Electric Railway.