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The Idiot's Guide to Thomas & Friends

Back to blogging! We had a great holiday break--everybody was healthy, to start--and we had nice visits with friends and family. There are stories me wedging myself in the backseat of the car between two carseats to go look at Christmas lights. The ham line. Spending 3 hours trying to get to McHenry Co.. But we'll save those for another time.

Oh, and tell your friends about the blog, please. I'm just 50 clicks or so away from 20,000!

But, no, this post is about Thomas...a bewildering topic for the grandparents. As Cole squealed with joy over his new wooden engines, it was a mystery to them as to exactly who the characters were and what exactly he was talking about.

If you have a child in the toddler/preschool range, you are very familiar with Thomas the Tank Engine. He was around during my own childhood so there is a fairly vast world of material. I don't remember him, frankly. Or, at least, it was only via series picture books that I couldn't differentiate between them and, say, The Little Engine That Could. Then again, I was never a huge train fan. Not totally out of my childhood, but certainly never my most beloved possessions like with my son. TV, videos and a line of toys have changed all that.

Thomas first appeared in 1946 in the series of books written by Rev. W. Awdry called The Railway Series. He created the stories--based on real engines but set on the fictional island of Sodor--when his son was sick with measles. Thomas wasn't initially the main character (we'll get to that in a minute), but one of a few engines featured. The author, and his son, wanted more of an ensemble feel to the characters...but Thomas was always the most popular and the publishers bothered Awdry for more Thomas stories.

Thomas himself is based on an actual (they all are, perhaps giving them their popularity?) 0-6-0 E2 Class of steam locomotive. He's a tank engine because of the water tanks on either side of his boiler. The 0-6-0 designation means he has 6 drive wheels with no leading or trailing wheels. Thomas is a shunting (sorting) and short distance freight engine.

The core of the Thomas & Friends world is the 8 engines who live at Tidmouth Shed (well, Toby doesn't)...Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, and Emily. They are part of Sir Topham Hatt's railway (no, Dad, he's not the Mayor, just the head of the railroad). But also on Sodor are a variety of other vehicles and engines from ships at the docks, to emergency rescue, to other railroads entirely. There are narrow-gauge engines, multiple quarries, a logging operation, and private engines--like Spencer. Not all engines are steam. There are diesels and electrics as well.

Of the core locomotives, a few things to note...Percy is a small engine who pulls the mail and is Thomas' best friend. Gordon pulls the express train. James is proud of his shiny red paint. Henry sometimes requires special coal. Toby is a steam tram.

And, as any 3 year old can tell you, they are all Really Useful.