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Thomas the train traveling down train tracks outdoors

Thomas is headed to Strasburg Rail Road in beautiful Lancaster County. While we’re busy prepping for this exciting event, we rounded up some fun facts to help you and your young ones become Thomas experts! 

Check out our list of commonly asked questions and facts about the original Thomas the Tank Engine™. Once you arrive at Strasburg Rail Road you’ll be ready to impress the Really Useful Engine in person.

1. How Was Thomas The Tank Engine First Created?

Thomas the Tank Engine™ started as The Railway Series, written by Reverend W. Awdry for his son Christopher. Awdry originally told The Railway stories to his son before bed until Christopher became persistent about more details and he finally took to pen and paper. 

2. How Old Is Thomas The Tank Engine?

Awdry’s wife, Margaret, then insisted he turn his tales into books, and thus The Railway Series was born. The first book was titled “The Three Railway Engines.” 

“The Three Railway Engines” was originally published in May of 1945. This will mean that as of May 2024, Thomas the Tank Engine™ and Friends will be celebrating their 79th anniversary!

3. Was Thomas Always Intended To Be The Main Character Of His Story?

No, Thomas was not a prominent character in the Railway series until Awdry made a model of Thomas for Christopher. The first three engines that were created (and were the main characters in “The Three Railway Engines”) by Awdry were named Edward, Gordon, and Henry.

Along with his driver, Bob, other Thomas the Tank Engine™ characters that would become popular include Percy, James, Toby, Donald, and Emily.

4. Are There Any Significant Details About Thomas’ Design?

There is some significance when it comes to Thomas’ iconic blue color, as it is also the official color of the North Western Railway. Before Thomas was blue, he was originally teal green with white lining.

Questions also existed regarding the initials “NW” on the blue engine. Awdry originally claimed the “NW” on the side of Thomas represented “No Where” but as the Railway series developed, it became the North Western Railway.

As for facts about the animated television series, it has been confirmed that Thomas’ top speed is estimated to be between 30 and 40 miles per hour.

5. How Much Are Thomas The Tank Engine Toys Worth? 

The first Thomas products were sold in 1957 and consisted of cardboard kits for children to put together. The engines included Thomas, Percy, Gordon, and James.

Today, most Thomas the Tank Engine™ character trains can be bought online from anywhere between $10-$30, but high quality, special edition, or well-kept old models of the train can go for as high as $100.

6. How Long Did Thomas Awdry Write Children’s Books For?

Thomas Awdry retired from writing children’s fiction in 1972. By that time, he’d published 105 stories with “Tramway Engines” being his last. 

His son, Christopher, went on to create three more tales including “Really Useful Engines.”

7. When Did Thomas First Appear On Broadcast?

Thomas the Tank Engine™ & Friends made its broadcast debut in the UK in 1984. Former Beatles member, Ringo Starr, even joined the series as a storyteller for 52 episodes. The show was an instant success with more than 8.5 million viewers.

Thomas the Tank Engine™ & Friends would then go on to make its US debut on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) in 1989, being similarly well-received and beloved by viewers.

8. Who Narrated Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends?

Along with Ringo Starr, many more narrators told the adventures of Thomas and the other trains on the Island of Sodor to viewers.

Some of these narrators include:

  • Michael Angelis
  • George Carlin
  • Alec Baldwin
  • Michael Brandon
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Mark Moraghan
  • John Hasler
  • Joseph May

9. When was the First Day Out With Thomas Event Held?

The very first US-based Day Out With ThomasTM event was held in Wisconsin in 1996. Families and aspiring engineers were able to ride a 15-ton replica of Thomas and enjoy train-themed activities. 

Strasburg Rail Road’s first Day Out With Thomas event was held in 1998.

10. Does Thomas The Tank Engine Have A Website I And My Kids Can Visit?

Thomas’ official website was launched in 1996. If you’re looking for even more fun facts about Thomas and his Railway friends, be sure to check it out!

And should you find yourself or your kids looking for other ways to enjoy learning about Thomas, consider coming to the Strasburg Rail Road for a day dedicated to Thomas and his friends!

The Day Out With Thomas experience will engineer miles of smiles for the whole family and introduce a new generation to the timeless excitement of railroading. Our 3 three-day event is filled with train rides and lots of Thomas- and train-themed activities.

Now that you know a little bit more about our friend Thomas, join us in celebrating his Strasburg arrival by purchasing your tickets and reading our tips for fun ways to plan for your day out with Thomas.


This blog was originally published on August 15, 2017, and was updated in February 23, 2024.