“There was no doubt in my mind that steam engines all had definite personalities. I would hear them snorting up the grade and little imagination was needed to hear in the puffings and pantings of the two engines the conversation they were having with one another: ‘I can’t do it! I can’t do it! I can’t do it!’ ‘Yes, you can! Yes, you can! Yes, you can!'”
Those were the words of the late Reverend Wilbert Awdry, whose memory of hearing trains, travelling past his house in the night (while listening in his bed) later became the inspiration for Edward and Gordon, one of the first stories in the Railway Series books. Now, seventy years later, it’s hard to imagine children not seeing their favourite number one tank engine. But today, Thomas and Friends haven’t just won the hearts of children.
It seems that Thomas’ fans are children and adults on the autism spectrum. So why is Thomas so popular? For so many, Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends play an important role for helping their social and creative skills, such as human emotions, imagination and communication. Through these experiences, both children and adults begin to have strong relationships with Thomas, when they have a few or no friends of their own. Thomas can also give comfort, and make children and vulnerable adults safe in their world, when they are frightened and/or upset. Because of this, Thomas’ relationships with the children and adults last longer than their siblings.
As a child with autism, I used to love Thomas; I would watch my old videos of every early episodes (between 1984 and 2000) and Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Watching them made me feel safe and secure whenever I had a bad day. I loved Thomas, as much I loved watching my other favourite children’s shows including Fireman Sam and Postman Pat. Like so many children with autism, I was fascinated with the scenery, background, colours, the stories, storylines and the imaginative play. Looking back on certain episodes as an adult, nothing has changed. I guess I can say I’m young at heart.
I wonder what Awdry will think of Thomas and the small blue engine changed the world? All it took was pure imagination, and amazing creativity to make Thomas and his friends a reality. It’s hard to believe that seven generations of children and adult alike still remember Thomas the Tank Engine. Along with eighteen series’, two hundred and forty-one episodes and eleven films, I can see that Thomas and his friends will continue to live on forever and possibility the next seventy years.
And with that, I leave you with this final sentence:
Thank you, Thomas
For making our childhood,
And for being there when we needed you.
So, Happy Birthday Thomas
And many happy returns to you,
On the year of your seventy birthday.