Days Out With Thomas!

Days Out With Thomas

The Island of Sodor comes to town as Thomas and his Friends attend a Railway near you!

These events initially started out as Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine, whereby locomotives in a Heritage Railway's fleet would don face-masks to resemble those of the engines on the Island of Sodor.  At this time, a nominal fee was paid to the rights holder, and the requirements for these kinds of events, such as the physical presence of a Thomas replica locomotive, were not as stringent as they currently are now.

Days out with Thomas
Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine events were later phased out to make way for the new and improved version, which the rights holders believed would appeal more to the consumer and children themselves - Days Out With Thomas, whereby Thomas and some of his friends from the Island of Sodor would be a physical presence at the event in question, as opposed to purely mocking up engines from the railway's locomotive fleet.  The first engine to be christened "Thomas" was on the Nene Valley Railway in the 1970s by the Reverend Awdry himself with his own blessing.

None of the locomotive type that the character of Thomas was based from survived to preservation, and so instead, locomotives of other classes have had to compensate for this shortfall.  Eight locomotives are currently registered as official Thomas replicas, which are compulsory to complete the requirements necessary to gain a liscence to run a Day Out With Thomas event.  The nine locomotives are:
 
Thomas (Nene Valley Railway)
Lord Roberts (Scottish Railway Preservation Society)
Jinty (Midland Railway)
Lady Armaghdale (Severn Valley Railway)
MSC No. 32 - Gothenburg (East Lancashire Railway)
Barclay 0-6-0T No. 10 (Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway)
Thomas (Mid Hants Railway)
BVR No. 1 - Wroxham Broad - (15" - Bure Valley Railway)

Other locomotives covered and presented at these events include replicas of James, Percy, Henry, Diesel, Donald, Douglas, Toby, Duck and Oliver, as well as numerous other characters such as Toad the Brake Van and the Troublesome Trucks.  All of whom are overseen by the presence of The Fat Controller, who keeps a watchful eye on the festivities while his engines are visiting on the Heritage Railways!  Some railways also enjoy creating their own characters for the events to subsidise those drawn from the popular book and TV series, using members of their own fleet as they did in the Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine days.

These events are often subsidised by extraneous children's entertainments, such as face-painting, puppet shows and fun competitions.  Some railways such as the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, endeavour to go further in providing a fun and exciting experience for visitors through story re-enactments of Thomas adventures such as Henry being bricked up in the tunnel for refusing to come out (Sad Story of Henry) and Thomas's argument with George the Steamroller (Bye George!).

The Mid Hants Railway has been known to take real pride in it's Days Out With Thomas events, so much so that they have built what is arguably the most accurate representation of Thomas in the UK.  The railway's event often sees Thomas and Diesel racing through a station, cheered on by the children in attendance, as well as brake-van rides from Percy and Toad.

Main Line Tour?
Prior to the launch of Thomas and the Magic Railroad in 2000, there had been rumours circulating that a Main-Line Rail Tour to promote the film was hoped for by Britt Allcroft and Gullane, realising the potential of doing so through Harry Potter's "Hogwarts Express" which had proved a real crowd pleaser and very popular with children and fans of the Harry Potter books when running on the Main Line network.

Thomas and James (Mid Hants) were cited as possibilities to run the tour, considering that "James" had a main line certificate, and could run on network metals.  However, this idea never went ahead, owing to the fact that while James was certified, Thomas wasn't and obtaining permission to do so would have been difficult.

However, Thomas (Represented by a Jinty) did make an appearance outside the Odeon Cinema in London's Leicester Square on the night of the film's premiere.

Awdry Mascots
The Bluebell Railway in Sussex has embraced the way in which their engine, Stepney, was used by Awdry for a book, highlighting their railway and the preservation movement of standard gauge locomotives back in 1963.  Copies of the Railway Series book relating to the character can be found in abundance at Sheffield Park station's shop, as well as the railway using the locomotive's image and child-friendly representation on promotional merchandising such as special children's lunch-boxes available from the station cafe.  The locomotive also acts as the mascot for The Stepney Club, the Bluebell Railway's club for younger members of the society for children aged up to eight years old, with members receiving reduced train fares and special events to attend, as well as membership badges and certificates, quarterly newsletters and a birthday card from Stepney.  For anyone interested in joining The Stepney Club - details can be found here on The Stepney Club webpage.

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The Talyllyn Railway is one of those which has benefitted from it's affiliation with Awdry, who gave them his own personal blessing to use his characters for as long as they wish to.  From the 1980s onward, their locomotives have regularly been dressed up to look like engines from the fictional Skarloey Railway.  So far, three Talyllyn locomotives have been mocked up to represent their Skarloey Railway counterparts.  Unlike the traditional Days Out With Thomas events, where Thomas has to be the main attraction, the railway's representative locomotive becomes the focus for the special children's days with storytelling from Skarloey Railway books, drawing competitions and rides on the locomotive.  A notable feature of the Talyllyn Railway's representative locomotives is that they run in-guise and with face even outwith the special events, unlike other railways where they are prohibited to do so for legal reasons.

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The first was  No.3 Sir Haydn as a representation of Sir Handel, who stayed on the railway from 1984 to 1986 - volunteers of the time noting that the character's haughty nature in the books made him slightly unpopular with some visiting children, who were inclined to slap him on hot areas and get a nasty shock when they did!  However, it did prove a successful formula, and it was repeated again with No.4 Edward Thomas taking on the guise of the Skarloey Railway's Peter Sam, possibly to represent a more likeable and loveable character in 1989.  The character-guise lasted for over a decade, being retired in 2000, when the engine was painted in British Rail black prior to an overhaul, with the engine returning to standard Talyllyn Railway livery upon return to service.

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Taking the place of Peter Sam was No.6 Douglas masquerading as Duncan, who notably for a while had to wear a hat while running on the Talyllyn to avoid upsetting the rights holders.  Duncan himself is to be replaced on the Talyllyn by Sir Handel, who made also made appearances at the Duncan Day events on the Talyllyn Railway.  At 2008's Sir Handel Days he will be joined by Rheneas.

Although this period has long since passed, on the Ffestiniog Railway, during the days of Friends of Thomas the Tank Engine, their own locomotive, Palmerston was mocked up to represent Duke at the railway's special events, the engine's dark maroon livery being the closest to Duke's own brown.  Duke was based on the George-England locomotives used on the Ffestiniog (Prince and Palmerston remain in regular service), and in the books is said to have been built at the Ffestiniog's own Boston Lodge works, and while the name provides subtle hint as to the identity of the locomotive's basis being from Prince, there is debate that Palmerston could have been the real inspiration behind Duke, owing to a lot of shared history between the two locomotives.  However, the Ffestiniog no longer hold these children's events, but have recently embraced the introduction of "Double-Fairlie" Mighty Mac into the television series, whose merchandise was found to be prominent at the Harbour Station shop.

The Dean Forest Railway also takes advantage of their representation in the Railway Series books.  The Reverend Awdry was President of their society during his life, and as a tribute to him, they named one of their locomotives "Wilbert" after him accordingly in 1987 (Previously named G.B. Keeling).  The locomotive features regularly at the Days Out With Thomas events held on the railway.

Over the past year or so, problems with the rights holder, HIT Entertainment, have begun to marr the Days Out With Thomas experience.  Initially, it was the introduction of a new Thomas and Friends attraction at Drullias Zoo Park, the first of it's kind within the UK.  The ride operates for 362 days of the year, therefore allowing members of the public and parents of young children to visit any time they wish to - something that your average Heritage Railway cannot ultimately compete with.  The attraction came under heavy fire from the Railway Press, who predicted that it would have a detrimental effect on the numbers attending real Heritage Railway events, and that the associated slogan "Steaming Into Drullias" was wholly false, considering that the ride was in fact a miniature Diesel locomotive.

Steam Railway Magazine have been especially vocal in their opposition to HIT Entertainment's usage of the brand, and how they are not looking out for the interests of traditional Days Out With Thomas events and their organisers.  In relation to the Drullias Zoo attraction, many railways within the nearby area saw a decrease in numbers attending their events.  Drullias officials defended their attraction in a response to Steam Railway Magazine, and blamed poor weather conditions on the weekend in question for the downturn in visitors to the Kent and East Sussex Railway event, and that their attraction was providing consumer choice and regular availability for Thomas fans.  However, they were quick to withdraw the "Steaming into Drullias" slogan when it was brought to their attention!

HIT Entertainment also have three new Thomas Land theme parks planned for operation in the UK over the next few years, similar to the popular attraction opened in Japan in the late 1990s.  These are due to be yet another projected detriment that the Heritage Railway Association are not looking forward to greeting when they open over the next few years as the geographical spread of the attractions will again hit other Heritage Railways across the United Kingdom.