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Percy the Small Engine

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Percy the Small Engine
Thomas & Friends character
Thomas and Friends Percy.jpg
Percy's Model
First appearanceTroublesome Engines (1950)
Created by Rev. W. Awdry
Designed byAvonside Engine Company
Voiced byUK:
Keith Wickham (2009–2015)
Nigel Pilkington (2015–present)
Christopher Ragland (2016–singing voice)
Martin Sherman (2009–2015)
Christopher Ragland (2015–present)
Linda Ballantyne (Thomas and the Magic Railroad)
Michael Angelis (original work-prints only)
Breckin Meyer (Robot Chicken)

Percy the Small Engine is a fictional anthropomorphic steam tank engine from The Railway Series of children's books written by the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry and his son, Christopher Awdry. He also appears in the spin-off television series Thomas & Friends.

Percy lives on the Island of Sodor with many other locomotives, including Thomas the Tank Engine, Gordon the Big Engine and Henry the Green Engine. He is the smallest, youngest and probably cheekiest, of the principal steam engine characters. He carries the number 6 on his bunker.

The Fat Controller brought him to Sodor when there was an engine strike due to a shortage of shunting engines. The bigger engines initially tried to bully him, but Percy soon showed that he was more than capable of standing up for himself. After a few years of shunting at the Big Station, the Fat Controller promoted him to goods traffic on Thomas' branch line. When not pulling trucks, he can be seen pulling the post train or even taking Annie and Clarabel when Thomas is busy. Percy's best friends are Thomas and Toby. He is also known to have a great respect for Edward ever since his first appearance.

He is reasonably experienced, but can still occasionally be a little naive and overconfident. In that sense, he is the perfect foil for Thomas – who can be just as headstrong.

Percy's first appearance in The Railway Series was in book no. 5, Troublesome Engines, originally published in 1950. He was given his own title with book no. 11, Percy the Small Engine.

Illustration controversy[edit]

Like Henry the Green Engine, Percy was the source of much friction between Rev. W. Awdry and C. Reginald Dalby, the first illustrator of The Railway Series. Awdry complained that Percy did not look like a real locomotive, an issue that had caused contention between the two men on several occasions and concerning several characters. In the case of Percy, it was particularly infuriating, as Awdry had built a model of the engine in order that the artist could use it as a reference.

All this came to a head when the book Percy the Small Engine, centering on the eponymous character, was written. Awdry wrote to Dalby a letter requesting that he should make Percy look less like "a green caterpillar with red stripes". The sentence was this: "I beg, pray, and exhort you not to make Percy look like a green caterpillar with red stripes!" Insulted by this, Dalby resigned from the Railway Series.

Subsequent illustrators modified the design to make Percy look more like a typical industrial locomotive. The television series, however, utilised the original design.

The phrase "a green caterpillar with red stripes" resurfaces in the later story 'Woolly Bear', in which Thomas uses it as an insult to Percy and amends were made between Awdry and Dalby.

The Origins of Percy[edit]

In general outline, Percy is a fairly typical British industrial shunting locomotive. His bunker is quite unusual for an 0-4-0ST shunter, but was presumably added to allow him to travel greater distances without refuelling than was previously possible. It is not known where Percy came from, but in "Trouble in the Shed", Sir Topham Hatt bought him at an engine shop to help out around the yard while Thomas was running his branch line and Henry, James, and Gordon were on strike for not wanting to fetch their own trains.

The Rev. W. Awdry considered it essential that his railway stories should be as realistic as possible. To this end, most of his locomotive characters were based upon real designs. However, Percy was designed before that policy came into effect. Percy's history within the fictional universe is largely unknown, as he does not precisely match any real locomotive design – he is of "obscure antecedents", as the Rev. Awdry himself puts it.[1] He does bear a resemblance to several designs of 0-4-0 tank locomotive built by the Avonside Engine Company such as GWR No. 1340 Trojan, and so Awdry stated that Percy had probably begun as one of these, but had been extensively rebuilt – "fitters at Crovan's Gate have found components made by Hunslet and other manufacturers".[1]

Percy as a model[edit]

Percy is an 0-4-0ST of unknown origin, but is almost certainly second hand. Percy arrived on Sodor in 1934 and was first used as Tidmouth Pilot, then to help rebuild Knapford Harbour. Percy is now based at Ffarquhar.

Percy arrived in "Troublesome Engines" (1950), the only loco whose acquisition from a workshop is actually described. His own book "Percy the Small Engine" dates from 1956. C. Reginald Dalby quit as illustrator after Awdry described his portrayal of Percy in "Percy the Small Engine" as a "caterpillar". Amends were made in "Tramway Engines" (1972) when Percy's accident with treacle and straw obligingly made him look like a real caterpillar. In the tale of how he came about, note that "the artist didn't pay much attention, so my Percy – the proper one – looks different from the Percy in the books" the Rev also describes his "Spare Percy" for use during emergencies:

"I built PERCY in 1949 (the year I wrote "Troublesome Engines" – the book in which Percy first appears), and I soldered him together out of brass and other parts cut and filed to shape. I wanted another engine – Thomas was then the only one I had – and I also wanted a model of Percy to help our then artist draw his pictures; but the artist didn't pay much attention, so my Percy – the proper one – looks different from the Percy in the books. Stewart Reidpath made a chassis for me and fitted it with one of his motors, so Percy is sometimes as temperamental as Thomas, and for the same reason. He will run and shunt beautifully for weeks on end and the suddenly, and for no apparent reason, decide to be 'Awkward'. This can be exasperating, especially at exhibitions. He did this at Nottingham Exhibition 1978, and the only thing to do then was to use my 'Spare Percy' which I had made for just such an emergency.
"To make 'Spare Percy' I cut out the boiler and side tanks from a Tri-ang 'Nellie' and filled the resulting space between cap and smokebox with a section of saddletank cut from an Airfix kit. The outside cylinders came from another Airfix kit, and were cemented to 'Nellie's' metal frames with Evostick. I fitted scale wheels in place of 'Nellie's' rather clumsy ones, and filled up the body with plasticine. The good wheels and extra weight has made 'Spare Percy' into a smooth running engine almost as good as the real Percy in his best moments."

Meanwhile, Hornby's later 00 gauge Percy was made from a brand new tool after initial thoughts to use their Caledonian Railway "Pug" were rejected, although Percy eventually came to share many of its parts.

Percy in the television series[edit]

In the television series, Percy made his debut in the first season, in the episode "Trouble in the Shed", which aired in 1984. He has appeared in every single season since then.

Out of all the engines, Percy holds the unwanted record of having the most accidents in a season of Thomas and Friends. In season two, he had 5 accidents — in "Thomas, Percy and the Coal", "Percy Takes The Plunge", "Percy's Predicament", "Ghost Train", and "Woolly Bear".

He particularly enjoys pulling the mail train.

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

Voice Actors[edit]

Percy in Thomas and the Magic Railroad[edit]

Percy is first seen in the film when Henry reveals the legend of the lost engine, where he suggests that they start searching for her. He overhears Mr. Conductor talking in his sleep about magic buffers and concludes that they lead to the Magic Railroad. He tells Thomas about the buffers, but is overheard by Diesel 10.

When the location of the buffers is located indirectly by Thomas, Percy is ordered to guard them, only to later find Splatter and Dodge near the buffers, so he warns Thomas and Mr. Conductor in time for them to help Lily return to her grandfather.

Percy was voiced by Linda Ballantyne in the movie.

Heritage Railways Replicas[edit]

A mock-up "Percy" at a Day out with Thomas event on the Llangollen Railway

Strasburg Rail Road, in the United States, announced the introduction of a Percy replica for the American Day Out With Thomas events on September 13, 2014.[2] One Narrow Gauge model and one Standard Gauge model were made, and much like with many of the other Thomas replicas in the United States, he is a dummy engine and so cannot operate without another locomotive pushing him.

The Oigawa Railway also has a replica of Percy, built out of a former JNR Steam Locomotive that no longer operates on the railway. The replica sits on display at Senzu Station alongside a JNR Class 9600 engine that is dressed up as Hiro.


  1. ^ a b The Rev. W., Awdry; G Awdry (1987). The Island of Sodor, its People, History, and Railways. Kaye & Ward. p. 132. ISBN 0-434-92762-7.
  2. ^ "Thomas the Tank Engine bringing Percy to Strasburg tour stop". Lancaster Online. 10 September 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2014.

External links[edit]