James the Red Engine

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James the Red Engine
Thomas & Friends character
Thomas and Friends James.jpg
James' Model
First appearance Thomas the Tank Engine (The Railway Series, 1946)
"Thomas & the Breakdown Train" (Thomas and Friends, 1984)
Created by Wilbert Awdry
Christopher Awdry
Voiced by UK:
Keith Wickham (2009–2017)
Rob Rackstraw (2017–present)
Kerry Shale (2009–2015)
Rob Rackstraw (2015–present)
Susan Roman (Thomas and the Magic Railroad)
Seth Green (Robot Chicken)
Katsuji Mori (1990–2004)
Masashi Ebara (2005–present)
Number 5
Gender Male

James the Red Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic tender locomotive from The Railway Series children's books by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry, and the spin-off TV series Thomas & Friends. He is a mixed-traffic engine, which means he is just as capable of pulling coaches as trucks. He has a 2-6-0 ("Mogul") wheel arrangement and is engine number 5 on the North Western Railway, The Fat Controller's railway on the Island of Sodor.

James first appeared in The Railway Series in 1946, in the book Thomas the Tank Engine. Two books in the series, no. 3 James the Red Engine and no. 28 James and the Diesel Engines, are dedicated to James.

In the stories, James crashed into a field on his first day. The accident was blamed on his wooden brake blocks, which were thereafter replaced with metal ones. James has a reputation for being naughty. Some of his incidents include ruining the Fat Controller's top hat with a shower of steam, breaking a coach brake pipe and needing a passenger's bootlace and a newspaper to fix it, and crashing into tar wagons. Despite his behavior, James is an engine proud of his red paint and shining brass dome, hard-working, and reliable and is generally considered to be a really useful engine.

Adding to that, he also likes to stay clean. He hates pulling trucks, and believes that he should only be used to pull coaches. He thinks himself superior to the other engines, and can be shallow, boastful and arrogant – particularly to Edward, and those engines who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow or dirty. However, on a number of occasions, he has found himself forced to accept help from those he has insulted, and is ultimately apologetic.

James is one of the few characters to have their own song in the TV series, the chorus of which is based on his theme music used in the early seasons. This song would be called "James the Really Splendid Engine", from the show's sixth season.

In the Railway Series books, James was (for a long time) one of the last engines to retain a prejudice against diesels. However, he was forced to admit that there was nothing wrong with diesels as a whole in the book James and the Diesel Engines. This, however, appears to be one of the few lessons that has stuck.

Character profile[edit]

James is very proud of his paintwork, but he hates pulling trucks and believes that he should only pull coaches, despite being a mixed traffic engine. He thinks himself superior to the others, and can be shallow, boastful, and vain, particularly to those who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow, or dirty. These traits have caused somewhat of a friendship/conflict relationship between him and Toby and also Edward. He also is known for his long desire to be like Gordon, who really doesn't care for him that much.

In most adaptations, James has a bad reputation for his behavior; most notably crashing into a field on his first day at Sodor. The most humiliating scenario James ever entered in was when he broke a coach brake pipe and needed a passenger's bootlace to fix it. This particular incident made James an unpopular figure and a short-time target of insults from Toby, Gordon and Thomas. However, he later befriended Gordon after he struggled with a particular task, and today both engines get along with each other.

Behind the scenes[edit]

James first appeared in The Railway Series in the book Thomas the Tank Engine in 1946. He was named after a friend of the publishers son, James Furze. He was originally painted black at this point. At the request of the publishers, Awdry dedicated the next book to the character. It was, in this book, that James finally received his red paint and his personality.

James' prototype[edit]

James is based on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway "Class 28", an 0-6-0 mixed-traffic tender engine of 1912/13, designed by George Hughes and based on the earlier Class 27 designed by John Aspinall. According to Awdry, the Class 28s were powerful goods engines but had a tendency to be nose-heavy, especially when used as relief engines on excursion trains, as they often were, and driven at speed.[1]

In the book The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways, Awdry explained the difference in James' appearance from a Class 28. James was built by Hughes as an experiment to see if the nose-heaviness could be counter-acted. The locomotive was fitted with larger (5' 6") driving wheels and a pony truck, making it into a 2-6-0 wheel arrangement.[1] (The real Class 28 has 5' 1" wheels.[2]) James is also missing the prominent front sandboxes fitted to the Class 28s.[3] The improvement was not as great as hoped for, and after the grouping, the LMS sold James to the Fat Controller's North Western Railway.[1] As with most of the early Railway Series characters, which were not so closely based on real locomotive classes, Awdry's explanation is a case of retroactive continuity.

James as a model[edit]

Awdry had two models of James on his OO gauge model railway. The first, from the 1950s, was based on a 2-6-0 Glasgow and South Western Railway locomotive, the "Austrian Goods", designed by Peter Drummond. Awdry's model was painted red with yellow lining as James was in the books. Despite being professionally made and "a beautiful model", the motor was so unreliable that the loco could not be used for regular services. Awdry later noted that it was sent away in the 1980s for a new motor and chassis and came back "completely transformed".[3]

Awdry's second model of James was based on a 1960s Tri-ang "Johnson 3F" 0-6-0; a conversion which Hornby themselves would use for the production version of their model of James, several decades later.[3]

James the Red Engine in The Railway Series[edit]

James the Red Engine was the third book in the Railway Series by Reverend W. Awdry. It picked up where the previous book, Thomas The Tank Engine, left off, as James was introduced in "Thomas & The Breakdown Train" where the Troublesome Trucks pushed him into a field after his wooden brake blocks caught fire.

James and The Top Hat[edit]

The Fat Controller has given James a new coat of red paint, to cheer him up after the accident on his first day, and becomes rather conceited. He lets off steam and accidentally sprays water on the Fat Controller's new top hat. He is ashamed, though, and worries about the consequences. Even though he is not punished on this occasion, the Fat Controller is very angry and threatens James that he shall take away his red paint and paint him blue.

James and The Bootlace[edit]

Still angered about the Fat Controller's warning, James bumps the coaches so hard that he causes a leak in the brake pipe, which his driver, fireman, and conductor mend with newspaper and a passenger's bootlace, and the only passenger with a bootlace needs some coercing before he hands them over. Once the hole has been mended, James feels foolish and learns never to bump coaches again.

Troublesome Trucks[edit]

After the incident with the coaches, the Fat Controller lets James out of the shed to pull a goods train. The trucks try to make him give up when they come to Gordon's Hill, but James keeps on. Eventually, a rusty coupling snaps, and some trucks roll downhill. The conductor stops them and Edward the Blue Engine offers to help, but James prefers to go it alone instead. The trucks seem to realize James will keep trying whatever they do, and finally allow James to reach the top of the hill. After hearing about what happened, the Fat Controller lets James keep his red coat.

James and The Express[edit]

Gordon the Big Engine boasts to James that he is the only engine who is able to pull the Express. James is resting in the shed the next day, when Gordon arrives feeling mournfully (he has accidentally been switched to the loop line and had a long, wasted journey). James teases him about it, but a horde of angry passengers arrives and demands refunds. Instead, James pulls the Express and does so well that the Fat Controller allows him to take the Express when Gordon needs a rest. James and Gordon are now the best of friends. Gordon no longer mentions bootlaces, and the two engines soon talk about trucks.

James the Red Engine in the TV series[edit]

Unlike the books, the TV episode "Thomas and the Breakdown Train" had a red-coloured James from the beginning (most likely done for cost reasons). For unknown reasons, James has also appeared in all episodes before "Thomas and the Breakdown Train".

Like in the books, James is very proud of his red paintwork and does not like getting dirty. This can often lead to trouble.

In The Adventure Begins, James was in his original black livery.

James is the one of the eight engines in The Steam Team.

Voice Actors[edit]

James in Thomas and the Magic Railroad[edit]

In the film, James was threatened by Diesel 10 and almost got pushed back into a smelting pit before being teleported out by Mr. Conductor Jr. (portrayed by Michael E. Rodgers). In the beginning, the fly annoying James was a reference to the original Awdry story "Buzz, Buzz".

Susan Roman voiced James in the film.[5]

James in the Guinness Book of Records[edit]

A large-scale working replica of James (along with Thomas, Percy, Gordon, Harold and Jack) was created by BBC Visual Effects (UK) for Thomas & Friends: The All Aboard Live Tour. This battery-powered locomotive is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest model railway engine ever built, at 2.64 x 1.5 x 6.52 metres.[6]

"Real life" James[edit]

The Mid-Hants Railway repainted one of its engines – a Southern Railway N class – into the livery of James. The engine retained this colour scheme for many years, and participated in the Railway Series golden jubilee celebrations at the National Railway Museum. This engine was the only replica Thomas character to be certified to run on the main line.[citation needed] On the East Lancashire Railway, unrestored LMS Ivatt Class 2 Mogul No. 46428 has been painted as James the Red Engine.

It created a certain amount of controversy among railway enthusiasts, who felt that it was inappropriate to paint a historic main-line locomotive in such a garish livery.[citation needed] Nonetheless, the locomotive was popular with the railway's younger visitors.


  1. ^ a b c The Rev. W. Awdry; G. Awdry (1987). The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. Kaye & Ward. pp. 129–30. ISBN 0-434-92762-7. 
  2. ^ "Steam Loco Class Information" Rail UK.
  3. ^ a b c "James". "The Real Lives of Thomas the Tank Engine" (The real prototype locomotives that inspired the Rev. W. Awdry). Archived from the original on December 20, 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2011. 
  4. ^ "Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000) Trivia". imdb.com. Retrieved November 5, 2017. ...originally cast as the voices of James and Percy. 
  5. ^ "Full Cast and Crew for Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)" imdb.com. Retrieved May 22, 2005
  6. ^ Claire Folkard (ed.). Guinness World Records 2004. Guinness World Records Limited. p. 107. ISBN 0-85112-180-2.