‘Thomas, Terence and the Snow’ by The Rev. W. Awdry

Chosen by David Collard
 
The third of four stories making up Tank Engine Thomas Again by the Reverend W.  Awdry, it was originally published by Edmund Ward in 1949 as the fourth volume in the celebrated Railway Series. My 1963 copy (First UK Edition, Eighth Impression, January 1963. Oblong duodecimo. Publisher’s original pale blue with vignette and title to front cover in red) is the first book I owned that wasn’t made of flannel, and it’s been read to shreds. In the story Thomas meets a friendly red tractor named Terence who explains that his ‘ugly’ caterpillar tracks mean that he doesn’t need rails and can go anywhere. Thomas, both uppity and reactionary (like all the other engines in the Fat Controller’s fleet) replies ‘I don’t want to go “anywhere”. I like my rails, thank you!’
 
There’s a heavy snowfall and Thomas is fitted with a Snow Plough which is so uncomfortable that he loses his temper and damages it. Next morning an unsnowploughed Thomas sets off along the branch line with his coaches Annie and Clarabel and, emerging at speed from a tunnel, hits a snow drift – ‘Cinders and ashes! I’m stuck!’ Terence comes chugging to the rescue and a humbled Thomas promises his driver that he’ll be more sensible in the future.
 
The story has everything – conflict and resolution, mild peril, a friendship, hubris, understanding, resolution and closure. What more do you want?
 
But Awdry’s 26 canonical books are problematic. I’m reminded of the 1930s poet and film-maker Humphrey Jennings who once observed that, reading from front to back, a steam locomotive’s chimney, dome and cab (see any image of Thomas) clearly represent a Marxist class progression from the top hat of the ruling classes and the bowler of the bourgeoisie to the flat cap of the proletariat.
 
Awdry’s steam engines are exclusively blokeish – Gordon, James, Edward, Henry, Percy, Toby etc – and speak and behave like minor public school boys,  while the carriages (Annie, Clarabel, Henrietta etc.) are female and prone to sobbing and wailing when things go wrong; the trucks are scruffy, gruff, mutinous and plebeian. 
 
First published in Tank Engine Thomas AgainEdmund Ward, 1949See and hear the complete story, with lovely illustrations by C. Reginald Dalby here. * David Collard’s Multiple Joyce: 100 Short Essays About James Joyce’s Cultural Legacy is published by Sagging Meniscus Press. You can read his other contributions to A Personal Anthology here.

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