Thomas and Friends merchandise: Wikis

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Baseball cap for a baby or toddler with an image of Thomas the Tank Engine
Socks for a baby or toddler with images of Thomas the Tank Engine and similar characters.
Jumper or sweater for a baby or toddler with images of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends merchandise describes the variety of different merchandise that has been manufactured to cash-in on the success of the TV Series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. It is down to the popularity and longevity of the series — having originated in 1945 with the first of The Railway Series books by the Rev. W. Awdry — that large numbers of manufacturers have sought to produce 'Thomas'-branded items.

The most popular and wide-ranging items of merchandise are the models of the characters, which have been produced in many different ranges, some including accompanying railway systems. Other popular products include videos, books and magazines, and computer games. However, 'Thomas' merchandise has also included such diverse items as: audiobooks, annuals, colouring and activity books, jigsaws, board games, stationery, clothing, cutlery, household items such as curtains, duvet covers and lampshades, and even soft drinks and spaghetti shapes.

Contents

Models

Models of Thomas the Tank Engine and the other characters have been around for as long as The Railway Series of books. Indeed, the Rev. W. Awdry created the original model of Thomas the Tank Engine, which inspired the character, soon after the first book of stories was complete. In 1927, while still at school, he built Annie, and in 1948, he built Clarabel.

The first ever commercially-produced character was Percy the Small Engine, released by Meccano in 1967 as part of a set. However, as this predated the TV Series by at least 20 years, it really counts as 'Railway Series' merchandise.

Several companies have made models of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends characters, as a result of the TV Series. The Ertl Company, produced an extensive range of die-cast and plastic models; Learning Curve produce the Take Along Thomas and Friends range of travel Thomas playsets; and, more recently, Tomy has introduced a range of die-cast models too.

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Press-out card models

The first commercial models released alongside The Railway Series, in 1957, were 'Pre-cut Model Engine Books'. These were full-colour printed cardboard kits whose pieces could be pressed out, folded and glued together to make fairly realistic models. They were produced right through the 1960s. Four titles were published:

  1. "Thomas, with Annie the Coach"
  2. "Percy, with Clarabel the Coach"
  3. "Gordon the Big Engine and his Tender"
  4. "James the Red Engine and his Tender"

The advertisements [1] on the back of the Railway Series books promised, "Other models are being prepared", although, even if ever prepared, they were never published.

Later models

A 12-page "Thomas the Tank Engine Press-out Model Book" (ISBN 0434927589) by the Rev. W. Awdry and Ken Stott, was released in September 1987.[2]

In 1994, a new range of press-out models was released, this time drawn by Ken Stott instead of C. Reginald Dalby. Each book came with accessories, track and a station. The range comprised the following characters: Thomas, Percy, James, Toby, Annie, Clarabel, Bertie the Bus, Harold the Helicopter.

Meccano 'Percy' train set

In 1967, Meccano Ltd released a train set featuring a clockwork model of Percy the Small Engine with some trucks — a yellow open wagon and a red closed van — and a circle of blue track. The model of Percy was a fair likeness of the pictures in the books and was about the size of an O gauge engine. The box featured special artwork by Peter Edwards and included the title, "Percy the Small Engine, brought to life by Meccano".

The plastic track was advertised as: "Gauge O track that clicks together and includes Brake Rail for automatic braking. Rails specially designed to make it easy to put train on the track." In practice, although it was advertised as 'Gauge O', this only indicated the size of the model, since the track design was not compatible with anything else (the models were effectively 'flangeless').

Adverts for the set, which showed the model train 'emerging' from the book Percy the Small Engine, appeared in Meccano Magazine and on the back of the dust-covers for several of The Railway Series books in print at the time.

The train set was only produced in 1967, and is now extremely rare. It is notable as the last O Gauge train to be made at Meccano's famous Binns Road factory in Liverpool, where the Hornby tinplate trains were made.

Photographs of the set and the adverts may be found here[3] and a close-up of Percy may be found here.[4]

ERTL Models

Ertl was the first company to manufacture numerous models of characters from the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV series. They introduced the first die-cast models in 1985. The range was very popular in the UK, and the nature of the subject matter encouraged collecting. Eventually the range included a large number of models, although it has now been discontinued: Ertl ceased production for the US market in 2001, and for the UK market in 2004.

When the models were first released, they used stickers for faces which could be changed (for some engines, mostly Thomas) to 'happy' or 'sad'. These were soon replaced with fixed plastic faces.

The majority of locomotive models and some road vehicles had a diecast metal body with a moulded plastic chassis and plastic wheels. The bodies were fully painted and lined. They were free-wheeling (rather than motorised) although the chassis was rigid (locomotives were not fitted with separate bogies), and a steam locomotive's tender was part of the same moulding as its body. Models of coaches and trucks were assembled from self-coloured plastic mouldings, with some surface detail (such as coach sides) being applied using self-adhesive labels.

The railway models were designed to be coupled together, so that long trains could be formed. Locomotives had a moulded coupling 'eye' at each end, while rolling stock had one 'hook' and one 'eye'. The unfortunate side-effect of this was that an engine could not 'run-round' to the other end of a train, since, having no hook, there was no means to couple it up. Earlier models had pin couplings, but later ones had moulded loop couplings, with less 'give', and were more prone to breakage.

Unusually for TV Series -related merchandise, the range included a number of characters who only appeared in The Railway Series books, such as those from the Culdee Fell Railway.

The models released are listed on a dedicated page at Train Spotting World.

Miniatures

Around 1991, ERTL started to produce several miniature models of Thomas and his friends. These versions had sticker faces that were previously used in the regular models. They were packaged with random parts of a railway, and — once all were collected — formed a playset. In later years the models were adapted into keyrings.

The models in this range were essentially the 'major characters' from the TV Series.

The playset components included: a station and siding, a level crossing, a goods yard, engine sheds, a loop track, a windmill, and an airport. Ramp pieces and, later on, viaduct connector pieces were also included.

Ertl 'Gold Rail'

In the 90's ERTL also started another short-lived line called the Gold Rail series. These had no tracks, and the engines and rolling stock had magnetic couplings. The models in this range were about the size of an HO scale train, and were extremely similar to the Bandai range made in Japan. Again the series was comprised from some of the 'major' characters from the TV Series.

Merit products

Another toy company, Merit, produced several sizes of push-along toys to tie-in with the TV series. One such example was a sit-on Thomas built for toddlers, which had a black handle on the rear which enabled it to be pushed along by the parent. Merit also produced large push along toys of Thomas, Annie & Clarabel, Percy and Troublesome Trucks. Another version of the Thomas toy had shaped holes to allow the child to match up the shape with the right hole. All the engines and rolling stock could be coupled up by means of hooks, much like the Ertl models. The company also produced even smaller toys of Thomas, Annie and Clarabel, which could be coupled up in a similar way, except the couplings were on pivots to make it easier for the coaches to follow Thomas when he is pushed along.

Bluebell Toys Miniature Railway

In 1997, Bluebell Toys released an incredibly compact but action-packed playset featuring Thomas, Percy and Bulstrode. The engines and rolling stock had metal rivet wheels that allowed them to run on three-dimensional yellow plastic rails. Features included a tunnel, station and the ability to transfer loads from a truck into Bulstrode. Smaller sets featuring other characters such as James appeared later.

Take Along Thomas & Friends

Take Along Thomas & Friends is a series of die-cast 'Thomas' models made by Learning Curve and designed for preschool children. The models have superseded the Ertl die-cast models range, which has now been discontinued. The two ranges are incompatible as the new models use special 'two-way' magnets instead of the hook-and-loop couplers provided on the Ertl models.

The models are generally much chunkier, and considerably less accurate, than the Ertl range. Many items in the Ertl range were passable as 'scale' models of the TV Series characters, but the Take Along products are much more obviously toys.

The range includes all the major and minor characters from the TV series and Movies, plus Mike, Culdee, and D199 from The Railway Series. The rolling stock models include many of the 'special' (non-speaking) trucks that have featured in single episodes, and the vehicles include the members of The Pack. As well as the individual characters, a number of play-sets have been produced, either containing two or more characters, or a single engine with play scene and DVD. Some specials have been produced with a metallic finish, and a few models are fitted with sound chips and lights.

In 2006, two playsets called Train Yard Set and Working Hard Set were introduced. These were`much bigger than other playsets, being more than 1x1 metres. Original sets were less than 30x30 centimetres.

In 2010, Take-Along was bought by Mattel and became a Fisher-Price line and renamed Take-n-Play. New characters were re-released and the old models were re-released with upgraded paints and faces.

Tomy

Tomy have made several ranges of 'Thomas' models.

Wind-up series

In 1997 Tomy made a range of wind-up models that 'have an action when you wind them up'. The range was small and included only a few of the 'major' characters.

In 2006 another range was introduced. More characters were modelled than previously, and some had moving side rods. Additional models from the range were released in Japan.

Battery-powered

See Thomas Tomica Road & Rail below.

My First Thomas & Friends

My First Thomas & Friends is a range of chunky plastic toys, produced by British toy company: Golden Bear Toys.

The range started in c.1994, and was advertised for young infants who enjoyed the series. The models were safe for younger fans to play with.

The range started with only a dozen or so models, and has now grown to around 40-45, the range was (for a short-lived amount of time) available in America, under the company Tomy. The toys are still available in many good retail toy shops all around the UK, and despite speculation that perhaps the range has discontinued, after the absence of three years without new products; brand new models have started to appear on Amazon.

The range included most of the major and minor characters from the TV Series.

Talking My First Thomas & Friends

The talking versions of the My First Thomas models were first released in 2001. The models are more complex than the basic ones, their eyes move, and they speak familiar phrases from the original stock narrations by Michael Angelis.

Bandai

Other than the Tomix Thomas models Japan has also made a large number of die-cast vehicles. They resembled the "Gold Rail" models made by Ertl. However, this series had more characters, although none from The Railway Series. Most characters from Seasons 1-5 were made. The last new model, to date, is Jack the Frontloader. There have been 4 sets made for this range. Other than this Bandai had made small plastic toys (as big an index finger) labed "Pocket Thomas." There is another series where plastic models (as big as the die-casts) are sold mostly at convenience stores along with candy such as mints and feature more minor characters such as the Mailvan.

Railway systems

Several companies have produced ranges of merchandise where the intention is for the buyer to recreate a complete railway. Such ranges include track, buildings and accessories, in addition to the locomotive and rolling stock character models.

Learning Curve of Chicago produces and distributes the Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway System, which is compatible with BRIO and similar wooden toy trains. Tomy produce a Motor Road and Rail plastic train model set with battery-powered engines and a wide range of track types and Thomas characters.

Learning Curve wooden railway

The Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway (TAFWR) is a wooden railway system created by Learning Curve in Chicago and made in China. This is based on the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV series and The Railway Series and is compatible with the defacto BRIO standard for wooden railway systems.

The majority of characters from the TV Series, both major and minor, plus some of the Railway Series characters, have appeared in the range. They have been accompanied by a comprehensive range of track, buildings and accessories. Also, in 2010 Learning Curve released a small range called Early Engineers, That features the main characters, but have two wheels and are smaller than the normal models.

History, design and construction

The company "Learning Curve" was founded by John W. Lee in Chicago, 1992. In 2003 the company was acquired by "Racing Champions Ertl" that was renamed in the same year to "RC2".[5] Learning Curve introduced some new designs for the track surface of wooden toy railways, such as the "Clicketyclack" rails patented in 1995[6] and the newer tracks with a relief to supply better traction grip for battery powered trains patented in 2003.[7] They also introduced a road track that uses the same gauge as the railway tracks.

The original models were constructed mainly from painted wood, with metal used in the coupling magnets and axles, and plastic wheels and faces. These models were relatively primitive having simple wooden stubs for the funnel and dome. Details such as windows, whistles and buffer beams were omitted.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the models were upgraded. The wooden funnel and painted smokebox were replaced with a separate plastic smokebox with a more realistic-looking funnel. The tender engines received an additional upgrade of moulded plastic 'coal'.

These improved designs were manufactured until 2002 when they were replaced with a third generation of design, which included new and more detailed faces.

Learning Curve continues to expand its lineup of locomotives, rolling stock and locations, although older, less popular, items are 'retired' when appropriate. Every year, beginning in 2003, 1-3 retired models are re-released, with upgraded, more realistic shape and paint. These models are only available for one year.

Unusual items

Although a number of manufacturers produce ranges of 'Thomas' characters, the TAFWR range is particularly extensive, and includes some models not featured in any other range.

Special model types include "Sights and Sounds" locomotives and buildings, and some battery-powered models. (The majority of locomotives are hand-propelled (push-along).)

Several "Special scene" sets have also been released, modelling significant events in the series, such as "Thomas Comes to Breakfast", with a specially modelled Thomas with a sad face, adorned with a window frame and bush. "James Goes Buzz Buzz", featuring James with a red nose, and one year later "A Better view for Gordon" with flags all over him. These three special edition came each with a thing from the story: The stationmaster's house with Thomas, Knapford with James and the new station came with Gordon. These were brough back in recent months, but they were from newer episodes and are two-car packs. In June 2010, Story Packs will be released, and will contain one or two characters, a destination, a wooden figure, and some track.

The TAFWR includes characters from The Railway Series that have not been televised, such as Ada, Jane, and Mabel (coaches from the Skarloey Railway), Mike and Frank, (from Small Railway Engines), Wilbert (from Wilbert the Forest Engine), D199 (Spamcan), Ivo Hugh, Big City Engine (Foreign Engine), Catherine the Mountain Coach and Culdee (from Mountain Engines). Learning Curve has also made up some of their own models, such as the zoo cars, the Sodor Waterworks cars, the chicken cars and a few more.

Battery-Powered engines were released in the early 2000's and are still available. The line original included Thomas, Percy, James, Lady, and Bertie (Bertie is discontinued). In 2006, a Salty was released, and in the coming months a Stanley will be released. A set is available that includes Thomas.

In 2009, a range was released called the Talking Railway Series, which features several major and minor characters from the series and when placed on certain destinations they would be addressed by name by Sir Topham Hatt a job to do. Engines, destinations, and sets are available and the line is still growing. Normal engines can be placed on these destinations, but their name would not be said.

Several of the new characters introduced in Season 11 and Season 13 of the TV series were released by the company some months before the programmes had been broadcast anywhere.

Product recall (June 2007)

On June 13, 2007, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, with RC2, jointly issued a voluntary product recall notice for a number of the models in the TAFWR range. Tests had discovered lead present in these models, and hence a risk of lead poisoning was recognised. About 1.5 million units are affected, mainly models with red or yellow paint, sold between January 2005 and June 2007.[8] (See recall notice for details of which models are affected.)

Thomas Tomica Road & Rail

Thomas Tomica Road & Rail is a battery-operated system that was introduced by Tomy in March 1992.[9] It was based on the "Plarail" system introduced in Japan in 1959 and made into an electric toy train system in October 1961.[9] As such the toy line is compatible with other Tomy Tomica Road & Rail sets, known as "Plarail system" in Japan and "Tomica World" outside of Japan. The engines run on a plastic blue track, and the roadway vehicles run on a dark gray road. Thomas Tomica Road & Rail is not compatible with most other brands of model railway. It does though have a similar gauge to the wooden toy train systems so that rolling stock may run on both systems to some degree. "Choo Choo Track & Toy Co." for example offers track adapters to connect the wooden tracks with similar gauge such as the blue plastic tracks from Tomy with the dove tail connectors and the tan tracks from Trackmaster.[10] By 2007 the line seems to have been discontinued and theme has been converged to the Trackmaster system.

A large number of models have been released in the range, including the majority of major and minor characters from the TV Series.

This range appears to have changed names several times:

  1. Tomy Trains
  2. Tomica World
  3. Thomas Tomica Road & Rail
  4. Thomas Motor Road & Rail

Tomy has seemed to stopped selling its version of Thomas & Friends in the U.S. market, although it is still available outside of U.S. It has been superseded by the Trackmaster line in the retail stores with the same engines but with a different track system.

Trackmaster Thomas & Friends

In 2007, HIT Entertainment's subsidiary HIT Toys picked up the license to produce the Tomy range formerly known as Thomas Tomica Road & Rail. The Trackmaster engines are compatible with Tomy's Motor Rail and Road merchandise. Trackmaster's light brown coloured track is easily connected to existing blue track from TOMY (two adapters are included in every playset). An innovation in this range is the special face-changing engines that are included in some sets. The rights are now owned by Fisher Price.

Electric railway systems

Electrically-powered model railways have been popular for many years, and several companies have produced ranges of 'Thomas' merchandise to take advantage of this. As for other railway systems, the ranges include track, buildings and accessories, in addition to the locomotive and rolling stock character models. These ranges have the added advantage of being compatible with other, non-'Thomas' models, providing even more variety and play value.

Hornby Railways produce a range of 00 gauge electric 'Thomas' models. The models, based on moulds of real engines, are not finely detailed but are thus suitable for younger enthusiasts. In the United States, Lionel offers a range of Thomas models in the larger O scale. Lionel had previously manufactured Thomas and James models in G scale but dropped this line in 2001. In Japan where space is at a premium and small size is important Tomix have introduced a series of N scale Thomas models.

Hornby Thomas & Friends

Hornby Railways produces a series of 00 gauge model engines, track, accessories and box sets, based on the characters from the TV Series. They are designed to be compatible with other Hornby trains, thus allowing an easy migration to more prototypical modelling.

The models are designed for somewhat older children than most Thomas toys, as placing them correctly on the rails requires a certain degree of dexterity, and the plastic-bodied rolling stock may break if dropped. However, the level of detail is more basic than the 'real' models produced by the company, with the result that the trains can be handled safely by inexperienced hands without fear of damaging delicate parts.

History

Hornby launched its range in its current form in 1985, shortly after the debut of the television series. It mainly utilised modified versions of existing Hornby engines, rolling stock and lineside accessories. Over the following years, the range was expanded to include a large number of the characters from both the TV Series and the Railway Series books.

In addition to the two-rail electric versions, Thomas and Percy were also released as clockwork 'Playtrains'. Percy used the same moulding as his electric counterpart, but Thomas had an entirely unique body which ran on an inaccurate 0-4-0 chassis.

A battery-powered set featuring Thomas, Annie, Clarabel and Bertie the Bus was released, which allowed children to recreate the popular story in which Thomas and Bertie have a race. Thomas was unpowered, being pushed along by a motor in Annie.

Bachmann Thomas & Friends

In 2002 Bachmann USA made their own HO-scale electric Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends range for the US and Canada markets.[11] The models are made with new body tools, to resemble the characters in the TV series. So far over two dozen models have been produced, along with character-themed train sets.

In January 2009, Bachmann announced that, in an agreement with HiT Entertainment, a line of large scale Thomas electric trains will be produced, under the title "Large Scale Thomas & Friends". Bachmann is expected to announce new products for this line at the American International Toy Fair 2009 in New York in February.[11]

Thomas Tomix Rail

From 1998 onwards, a significant range from Tomix has been introduced providing an electric N gauge Thomas system which was still unique in 2007 and which then included 4 locomotives: Thomas, Percy, James and Henry. Some of the rolling stock looked similar to Graham Farish items.

Construction toys

Lego Duplo Thomas & Friends

In 2005, LEGO introduced the first sets in their Duplo 'Thomas' series. Four sets were made, featuring: James the Red Engine, Thomas the Tank Engine, a Troublesome Truck, Toby the Tram Engine, and Percy the Small Engine. Subsequently, in line with usual Lego practice, new sets have been released each year, featuring different scenes and characters.

Duplo is designed for very young children, so the sets have relatively few pieces (between 7 and 62) to assemble.

Thomas character builder

In 2006 MV Sports made their own self-assembly Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends engines and buildings. The range consists of the following models:

  • Thomas, Toby and Mavis Three Pack Set
  • Percy Track Set
  • James and Station Set
  • Edward and Engine Shed Set

Software

A number of different educational software packages and video games, all based on a 'Thomas' theme, have been released for a variety of different computer platforms.

Commodore

A Commodore 64 game was produced in 1987 whereby Thomas was given a series of seven missions (invariably picking up a coach and taking it to a destination) and a time limit to complete them in. The game featured a fair rendition of the show's distinctive theme tune.

Peakstar

Two PC-based DOS-scrolling games were developed by Peakstar and published by Alternative in 1992 and 1993:

  • "Thomas the Tank Engine"
  • "Thomas the Tank Engine 2"

Info about these games can be found at Home of the Underdogs.

Super Nintendo

There was also a game for Super Nintendo which featured a variety of activities such as creating a track for Thomas to get to his destination, races with Percy and Bertie, and three other stories, two of which were based on original stories by the Rev. W. Awdry.

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (THQ)

Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends was an educational one-player video game, developed and published by THQ. Released May 1, 1993, it was available for the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive/Genesis platforms. It featured the classic Thomas characters in eight adventures, and included "tricky" trivia questions.

Hasbro Interactive / Infogrames

In 1999, Hasbro Interactive made three Thomas & Friends games based on the television series. After Hasbro was purchased by Infogrames a further three games were released under the Infogrames name.

All of these games were designed as educational games for young children.

Games released by Hasbro

  • Thomas and Friends: Great Festival Adventures
  • Thomas and Friends: Trouble on the Tracks
  • Thomas and Friends: Thomas and the Magic Railroad Print Studio

Games released by Infogrames

  • Thomas and Friends: Building the New Line
  • Thomas and Friends: Railway Adventures
  • Thomas and Friends: Thomas Saves the Day

Microsoft Train Simulator / Trainz

A number of users have created models of the 'Thomas' characters for the train simulator packages made by Microsoft and Auran (Trainz). In these simulators, the user can drive and control a selected engine over a chosen route, created or downloaded by the user.

Many of the characters and items of rolling stock have been created, along with complete routes on the Island of Sodor.

PlayStation 2

A Day at the Races

The first game featuring Thomas for the PlayStation 2. Features: Thomas the Tank Engine, Edward the Blue Engine, James the Red Engine, Percy the Small Engine, The Fat Controller.

See also

References

External links


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