On the fictional Island of Sodor in The Railway Series by Rev. W. Awdry, the Skarloey Railway is a narrow gauge railway which runs from the main line at Crovan's Gate to the passenger terminus at Skarloey. Beyond Skarloey the line continues to a slate quarry.
In the stories, the railway is run by the Thin Controller. Its chief engineer is Mr Ivo Hugh.
The line was inspired and based on the Talyllyn Railway in Wales, where Rev. W. Awdry worked as a volunteer guard in the 1950s. The railway was originally owned by Sir Haydn Jones MP who became Sir Handel Brown in the books.
The railway was central to the books Four Little Engines, The Little Old Engine, Gallant Old Engine, Very Old Engines, Great Little Engines and New Little Engine. It played a significant supporting role in Mountain Engines and Duke the Lost Engine.
The Rev. W Awdry based all his stories on real incidents on the real railways. In order to ensure consistency and accuracy, Awdry developed a 'history' for the Island of Sodor and its railways, which was published to accompany the series. The history was set in context, and dates were determined to be consistent with the real world.
In the case of the Skarloey Railway, its history closely parallels that of the Talyllyn Railway in Wales. According to the "research" by the Rev. Awdry, the line began as a plateway and was opened in 1806 to collect slate from the local quarries. It was worked by gravity and carried mineral traffic that was shipped from Balladswail. Following the Ffestiniog Railway's lead in 1863, James Spooner was engaged to survey a line for steam locomotives. It was also planned to develop passenger traffic for tourists to the Springs at Skarloey where there would be hotels and guest houses.
It was later realised that the line could carry visitors to the local landmarks of Skarloey (which means 'Lake in the Woods') and Rheneas ('Divided Waterfall'). Like all railways at this time, it was powered by horses, but by 1865 the railway's owners decided they needed steam engines to help out. They ordered two engines from the locomotive builders Fletcher Jennings Ltd in Whitehaven, England. These engines were Skarloey and Rheneas.
Skarloey and Rheneas worked hard for many years, but eventually the demand for slate decreased due to cheaper slate being imported from Italy. After World War II the railway was in a poor state, and the old mines had become ammunition dumps. The owner, Sir Handel Brown, thought he would have to sell the railway. At this point, the railway was taken over by Mr Peter Sam, who became the Thin Controller. With the help of Mr Ivo Hugh and a number of volunteers, they managed to keep the railway going. The railway's main source of income was now tourist traffic.
Eventually, Skarloey failed and Rheneas was left to manage alone, which he did admirably until Peter Sam and Sir Handel were bought from the Mid Sodor Railway to help out. Later they purchased Rusty and Duncan.
It was around this time that the slate quarries were reopened. The slate from these quarries was pure and free from metallic impurities, which meant it was in demand as other slate demand fell.
In 1965 (the year that Very Old Engines was published) the railway celebrated the 100th birthday of Skarloey and Rheneas with the opening of a new branch line to Lakeside. A second triumph came when Duke was saved and brought to the railway, where he was repaired and now works the passenger trains.
|No.||Skarloey locomotive||Talyllyn equivalent||Notes|
|1||Skarloey||Talyllyn||Originally an 0-4-0 without a cab, later had trailing wheels added to improve stability. At this time, he had a cab added.|
|2||Rheneas||Dolgoch||Built without a cab, later had one added.|
|3||Sir Handel||Sir Haydn||Falcon from the Mid Sodor Railway. A Falcon type engine, renamed after his new Railway's owner|
|4||Peter Sam||Edward Thomas||Stuart from the Mid Sodor Railway. A Tattoo class engine built by Kerr Stuart and Co, renamed after his new Railway's Controller.|
|5||Rusty||Midlander||built by Ruston & Hornsby|
|6||Duncan||Douglas||Introduced as a spare engine after Peter Sam's accident with trucks.|
|7||Ivo Hugh||Tom Rolt||Named after the Railway's first General Manager, who helped to keep the railway running during the early preservation era.|
|8||Duke||Based on Prince from the Ffestiniog Railway.|
|9||Fred||Alf||Never seen, only mentioned. Rusty once pulled a weedkiller train for him.|
|Bertram||Appears in the TV Series and is based on Palmerston from the Ffestiniog Railway. Originally meant to be a tank engine but Britt Allcroft confirmed that the modellers had made a mistake. But in 2010, Steve Asquith (Director 2004-2008) also said they did this for economic reasons.|
|Mighty Mac||Based on the Double Fairlie locomotives of the Ffestiniog Railway. Only appears in the TV series.|
|7||Fearless Freddie||Based on Russell from the Welsh Highland Railway. Only appears in the TV series. Carries the same number as Ivo Hugh.|
|22||Luke||Based on a Kerr Stuart Wren named Peter Pan from the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway. Only appears in the TV series.|
In The Railway Stories books, all of the steam engines are painted the same bright red colour with a simple blue lining except for Duke (who retained the dark red-brown paint from his days on the Mid Sodor Railway) and Rusty, who is painted charcoal-black. Unusually, the engines did not have nameplates; their names were just painted directly in gold on the side of the saddle tank or boiler, as to had been the case on the Talyllyn Railway before the Preservation Society took over. The other diesels are painted dark-grey. The steam locomotive livery features lots of polished brass-work and is largely unchanged since the opening of the railway (judging by the illustrations in Very Old Engines, although these show a more elaborate blue and yellow lining scheme).
In the TV series, all of the engines are painted in completely different colours. This was presumably to assist the show's young fans in identifying the different engines. While Skarloey retained his Railway Series colour (with the exception of the white and yellow lining), his friend Rheneas was painted vermillion. Sir Handel and Peter Sam retained the colours that they wore when they were named Falcon (blue) and Stuart (green) on the Mid Sodor Railway. Rusty was painted rusted-orange which, according to a Thomas the Tank Engine annual, led to his name. Duncan was painted bright yellow with a black lining.
Agnes, Ruth, Lucy, Jemima and Beatrice are based on Talyllyn Railway carriages 1–5. The brake van Cora is based on the Corris Railway brake van that now runs on the Talyllyn. Open coaches Ada, Jane and Mabel were rebuilt to a more conventional outline when funds became available and are based on Talyllyn Railway carriages 11, 12, 13. Gertrude and Millicent, bogie coaches, are based on Talyllyn Railway carriages 9 & 10. There are also longer coaches which are supposedly Talyllyn Railway carriages 16 and 18-23.
|1||Ruth||Third class coach.|
|2||Lucy||Third class coach|
|3||Jemima||Jemima appears to be hard of hearing in the book Four Little Engines. Third class coach.|
|4||Agnes||First class coach, is something of a snob.|
|5||Beatrice||Guard's Van, also has a ticket office from which the guard may sell tickets.|
|6||Cora||Guard's Van, these days used for maintenance duties. Rescued from the Mid Sodor Railway.|
|7||Ada||Rescued from the Mid Sodor Railway.|
|8||Jane||Rescued from the Mid Sodor Railway.|
|9||Mabel||Mabel actually does not appear along with Ada and Jane. She appears two stories later, in Little Old Twins. Rescued from the Mid Sodor Railway.|
|10||Gertrude||Bogie coach. Rescued with Millicent from the Mid Sodor Railway.|
|11||Millicent||Bogie coach with a guard. Rescued with Gertrude from the Mid Sodor Railway.|
In The Railway Stories books, the open carriages and guard's vans are painted blue (very similar to the British Rail rail blue). The enclosed carriages are painted off-white (upper half) and blue (lower).
There have been a number of people associated with the railway who have appeared in the stories and TV Series.
Known properly as Mr. Peter Sam, the Thin Controller is the manager of the Skarloey Railway. A year before the arrival of Sir Handel and Peter Sam, he had to serve as guard for all the trains.
The Thin Controller was introduced in Four Little Engines, the tenth volume of the Railway Series and has now been introduced into the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends TV series as Mr. Percival, the narrow-gauge controller. He is based upon Edward Thomas general manager of the Talyllyn Railway.
According to Sodor: Reading Between the Lines, there are two thin controllers.
- Mr. Peter Sam - The Thin Controller I
- Mr. Roger Sam - The Thin Controller II
Sir Handel Brown
Former owner of the railway, there have been two Sir Handel Browns:
- Sir Handel Brown I
- Sir Handel Brown II
Ivo Hugh was one half of the two-man train crew in the final days of two-engine operation, alongside The Thin Controller. He was also the line's Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) and became Rusty's driver, upon the diesel locomotive's arrival.
Hugh had retired by the time of New Little Engine and had the honour of having the railway's new No. 7 named after him.
His son succeeded him as the new CME.
- Mrs. Last – first appears in the book Four Little Engines. She is a passenger who arrives late for her train. (She has not appeared in the TV series.)
- The Refreshment Lady – Although she never receives a name in the stories, she is very popular with the passengers, selling drinks and ices on hot days. She was once left behind by Peter Sam by mistake, an incident inspired by Reverend Awdry's own experience working as a guard on the Talyllyn Railway - albeit on that occasion, he admitted that the mistake was his fault rather than that of the engine!
- Nancy the Guard's Daughter – A young girl who used to polish the engines. She was a friend to the engines, and Skarloey told her the story of his early life in the book Very Old Engines. She is now grown up, and lives with her husband on the Isle of Man.
- Mr. Mack – former controller of the railway.
- Mr. Bobbie – An engineer from Fletcher Jennings & Company, who had worked on the construction of Skarloey. He was brought over when Skarloey misbehaved on his first arrival.
- Lizzie and Kathy – These girls worked on the Skarloey Railway during the 1990s, again polishing the engines. Their parents worked on the Talyllyn Railway and came to the Island of Sodor on holiday.
- Mr. Percival – The Thin Controller as portrayed in the Thomas and Friends TV series. He first appeared in Season 9.
- Mrs. Percival – Mr. Percival's wife who first appears in season 10.
- Percival Twins – Mr. and Mrs. Percival's children who appear in season 12.
The works at Crovan's Gate are based on Tywyn Pendre on the Talyllyn Railway.
The railway runs from Crovan's Gate, to Cros-ny-Cuirn, then stopping at Glennock, calling at Rheneas before starting the Lakeside loop line, which stops at Lakeside and finally the line ended at Skarloey.
In the television series it also calls at Middle, Elephant Park, Tea Room, Bluebell Valley, Mountain Village, and Rumblin Bridge.
In the television series the railway runs from The Wharf, to west to Crovan's Gate, then north south of Rheneas where a line branches off and goes to Vicarstown, The main line continues the same path it does in the Railway Series.
Another line branches off near Lakeside and goes to Ulfstead Castle.
The Skarloey Railway on television
The railway first appeared in the fourth season of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. At this time it closely followed the layout as portrayed in The Railway Series books, but from Season 5 it differed significantly, deviating further from the books at the same time as the route of the North Western Railway was significantly altered.
It appears to be part of the North Western Railway rather than an independent line. It was run by the Fat Controller, but from the ninth season onwards was under the control of "Mr Percival", a man strongly resembling the Thin Controller (as he is often referred to in the British version. Similarly, the American version occasionally refers to him as the Narrow Gauge Controller). Mr Hugh does not appear at all.
The railway has many more carriages in this version. Ada, Jane, Mabel, Gertrude and Millicent are entirely absent. Coaches resembling Agnes, Ruth, Lucy, Jemima, Beatrice and Cora do appear along with red coaches and coaches which are green upper half and cream lower half, but are unnamed and rarely speak. Ivo Hugh (the engine) has not appeared either, as the book in which he appeared (New Little Engine) has not been televised. However, the line has three new engines in this version named Bertram, Mighty Mac, and 'Fearless' Freddie, who acquired the number of Ivo Hugh.
The Owner also does not appear.
Television episodes featuring Skarloey Railway engines
- Season 4:
- Sleeping Beauty
- You Can't Win!
- Four Little Engines
- A Bad Day For Sir Handel
- Peter Sam And The Refreshment Lady
- Trucks/Rusty Helps Peter Sam
- Home At Last
- Rock N' Roll
- Special Funnel
- Steam Roller
- Passengers And Polish
- Gallant Old Engine
- Rusty to the Rescue
- Bowled Out
- Season 5:
- Bye, George!
- Stepney Gets Lost
- Toby's Discovery
- Duncan Gets Spooked
- Rusty And The Boulder
- Season 6:
- Dunkin' Duncan
- Rusty Saves The Day
- Faulty Whistles
- Season 7:
- The Old Bridge
- Rheneas And The Roller Coaster
- Trusty Rusty
- The Refreshment Lady's Stand
- Harold and the Flying Horse
- The Grand Opening
- The Runaway Elephant
- Season 9:
- Mighty Mac
- Tuneful Toots
- Rheneas And The Dinosaur
- The Magic Lamp
- Duncan And The Old Mine
- Skarloey The Brave
- Season 10:
- Follow That Flour
- A Smooth Ride
- Duncan Drops A Clanger
- Fearless Freddie
- Which Way Now?
- Wharf And Peace
- Duncan's Bluff
- Missing Trucks/Missing Cars
- Season 11:
- Duncan Does It All
- Sir Handel In Charge
- Cool Truckings
- Skarloey Storms Through
- Wash Behind Your Buffers
- Season 12:
- Push Me, Pull You
- Duncan And The Hot Air Balloon
- Mountain Marvel
- The Party Surprise
- Season 16:
- Don't Bother Victor!
- The Christmas Tree Express
- Season 17:
- Luke's New Friend
- The Switch
- Gone Fishing
- Season 18
- Disappearing Diesels
- Duncan and the Grumpy Passenger
- Long Lost Friend
- Duncan the Humbug
- Emily Saves the World
- Samson at Your Service
Episodes where Thomas is main character but Skarloey railway engines are involved:
- Season 10:
- Thomas' Tricky Tree,
- Thomas' And Skarloey's Big Day Out
- Season 11:
- Thomas And The Big Bang
- Season 12:
- The Man In The Hills
- Maps of Sodor including an original painting by Rev. W. Awdry
- Awdry, Rev. W., Four Little Engines
- Awdry, Rev. W., The Little Old Engine
- Awdry, Rev. W., Gallant Old Engine
- Awdry, Rev. W., Mountain Engines
- Awdry, Rev. W., Very Old Engines
- Awdry, Rev. W., Duke the Lost Engine
- Awdry, Christopher, Great Little Engines
- Awdry, Christopher, New Little Engine
- Awdry, Rev. W. and G., The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways
- Awdry, Christopher, Sodor: Reading Between the Lines
- Clutterbuck, Martin, The Real Lives of Thomas the Tank Engine
- Sibley, Brian, The Thomas the Tank Engine Man