The History of the Extended Railway Series

A brief history of Sodor Island Forums' most prestigious fan-fiction series

It is fair to say that around the time of the Extended Railway Series’ creation, there was very little acknowledgment of the books or the Awdry family in play.  All but fourteen of the forty strong Railway Series books were out of print – and those which available were subject to a new and unpopular format of presentation, effectively butchering the original illustrations provided by Dalby, Kenney and Spong (The Edwards illustrations were spared the indignity).

The original idea for the Extended Railway Series came from a young Sillyevan and former SiF moderator, Peter Sam, by way of a tribute to the original books and as a means of carrying on the tradition of Railway Series writing.  The idea was initially set up away from the forums as a Yahoo! Group in early 2003.  The two wrote separate volumes for the series, (Evan the Private Engine and Coco the Circus Engine) which started the ball rolling.  Before long, the Extended Railway Series was officially brought into the forum’s structure by Fat Hatt to allow more members to join in and write their own Extended Railway Series material - emulating the original Awdry style.

The idea was a success from the beginning with the Extended Railway Series volumes receiving a great deal of attention and being viewed, even at this early stage, as a distinctive and proud part of the forum.  For the first few months of the Extended Railway Series’ existence on Sodor Island Forums, it was treated like any other form of fan-fiction within the forum walls, with members allowed free reign on what they could write and how they would choose to go about it.  This approach however, led to a number of members posting threads into the section with a view to writing a volume, but never following it up.  A number of potential volumes were marked with TBA (To Be Announced) in place of official numbers, which they felt would be awarded to them when they gathered up inspiration beyond that of meagre character creation.  There were also issues where less credible volumes, stories and characters were being placed within the ERS, subsequently ignored and creating issues within the structure of continuity.  In all, it created what can only be described as a horrendous mess within the Extended Railway Series library section of the board, which needed to be taken seriously in hand by the staff team – this heralded the need for regulation and change, which was to be implemented in January of 2004.

However, before this happened officially, the Extended Railway Series was given the honour of marking the first anniversary of the forum through the writing of a special volume between a few select members.  Ryan, Peter Sam and Fat Hatt took up the pen to write Useful Little Engine, which detailed Thomas’s early days on the Island of Sodor and the trials and tribulations he endured in a bid to become a Really Useful Engine and recognised as one of the Fat Controller’s engines.  The volume was a success and a great favourite among members, an honour which it retains to this day for being one of the best written pieces of fan-fiction from the early days.

In January of 2004, the new rules and regulations for the Extended Railway Series came into effect.  From here on in, all volumes written for the Library would have to be completed in full and emulate the style of the Awdry writings prior to being submitted before the ERS Evaluation Team.  The first team consisted of three of the four staff members - Fat Hatt, Ryan and Peter Sam, who swiftly put the new guidelines into effect, removing all volumes from the Extended Railway Series Library which did not fit in with the new criteria and were considered to be of too low a standard to fit in with that expected of future submissions.  This was the first instance of a renumbering and restructuring of volumes within the Extended Railway Series Library and certainly would not be the last.

To begin with, a lot of new submissions were not found to be meeting the standards required.  This could be classed simply as being teething problems of the new system whilst it bedded in - however, the first submission to meet the criteria and break this monotony was Christopher's The Further Adventures of Stepney, which ironically took place on the Bluebell Railway rather than on the Island of Sodor.  From there on in, the standard of quality became more clear to those writing potential volumes and in effect, a lot more rose to the challenge and developed their writing skills to meet the criteria required to gain entry into the Library.