Deep Thoughts About Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends

If you do not know anything about Thomas the Tank Engine, this post will make no sense to you.  But if you – like me – are the parent of a toddler who obsessively watches Thomas and if you – like me – find yourself falling to sleep with “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight, shunting trucks and hauling freight…” swimming through your skull, then I think you will relate to these deep questions about Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.

1. How Much Autonomy Do the Engines Actually Have?

The older episodes refer to (and show) drivers inside the train engines, but these gentlemen become less visible in the later computer-animated episodes.  Still, someone must be driving these trains, right?  Or do the trains do all the thinking for themselves?  When Thomas and Toby hustle through the Whispering Woods, who is making the decision to actually go through the Whispering Woods?  Percy and Gordon do some pretty stupid things.  So do Rosie and Emily.  If they have drivers, don’t the drivers have some say in getting them to not do these stupid things?  Thomas just runs off to the country show without making sure his whistle is secured and the driver just lets him?  Come on, drivers.

2. Is Sir Topham Hatt Also the Mayor or What?

He is head of the railroad, right?  But is he also the mayor?  What is his jurisdiction?  Is the island of Sodor so dependent on a railway system that this has effectively given Sir Topham Hatt the power to control everything that happens there?  If he is also the mayor, that would explain the fancy suit, but I seriously doubt the head of Union Pacific gets to march around ordering everyone around all the time while dressed in a tux.

3. Why Does Sir Topham Hatt Have Gentlemen-in-Waiting?

Who are these two guys who just follow Mr. Hatt around?  They’re just looking around, nervous, ready to do Sir Topham Hatt’s bidding.  These guys needs some lessons in self-esteem.  They look like they’re going to start crying if Sir Topham Hatt even looks at them cross-eyed.  That dude must be the mayor if he evokes that much fear in these minions.


4. Why the Relentless Capitalist Message?

Everything is about being a really useful engine – even at the expense of one’s dignity and personal health.  Thomas, Percy, Gordon, Edward – how many times have we seen them debase themselves and humiliate each other in an effort to prove to Sir Topham Hatt that they are a “really useful engine.”  I truly wish Thomas and friends would consider collective bargaining for at least one day off a week.  The trains have nothing to lose but their chains.

5. Is the Overt Sexuality Appropriate?

Percy pumped his pistons.  Bust my buffers.  I’ll be your back engine.  Emily is proud of her big wheels.  Also – what the heck is “shunting” all about?  I’m not sure my toddler son should be watching this.


All right – that’s it for now, but I admit these questions are on my mind way more often than I feel comfortable admitting.  I’m not kidding, either.  I seriously ask myself these questions when Elliott watches this show.  Maybe next week I’ll take the time to share with you my thoughts on The Backyardigans (Is Uniqua transgender?), Curious George (Why is The Man in the Yellow Hat so weak?) and Caillou (Does Caillou have cancer and is this why he is bald?).





14 thoughts on “Deep Thoughts About Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends

  1. This is great. I see many parallels between Sir Topham hatt and the evil emperor of Star Wars. Both have “guards” control the trade and have mystical powers. How else can you explain living trains. Not to mention the mindless slaves who never question anything the engines do.

  2. I wonder where Thomas’s actual pistons are. I mean he, and several other trains I might add, only have a rod attached to wheels and don’t seem to be connected to anything else. This is a technicality I know, but it’s driving me nuts because I’m actually googling for train pictures looking for proof of such a train design. Perhaps I’m just going mad.

    I’ve asked nearly all of the above questions as well at some point. The driver issue is perplexing. Also the “really useful engine” part is a head scratcher, especially when each story revolves around somebody screwing up astronomically, and then never being punished for it. If i did that at a job, and repeatedly cost extra time and money, I would be fired on the spot.

    I don’t know about a “relentless capitalism message” since capitalism would have fired all the trains and drivers for their incompetence and replaced them with others. No, it seems to me that they live under a socialistic society. They all work and are paid not in money, but in being “useful”, and they are all forced to do jobs, they don’t have any autonomy with their career choice. In fact it’s stated perfectly clearly that Percy pulls the mail, Gordon runs the express, etc. And whenever an engine tries to do a job they weren’t assigned it rarely goes well, because they weren’t doing their assigned career. And then there’s no clear separation of the state from the railroad, leading me to the conclusion that Sodor, a tiny island with more rail line proportionally than anywhere in the world is some socialist or fascist state.

    There is the question of Sir Topham Hatt, he looks like a capitalist (communistic propaganda capitalists at any rate), yet he rules more like a powerful politician than a mere businessman. So perhaps they live in an oligarchy? There are also dukes and duchesses and other wealthy people that seem to control things adding to the theory that it’s an oligarchy. In any event it’s clear Mr. Hatt is closer to a dictator than a businessman. And he is somewhat of a micromanager, he’s always the one giving direct orders to the engines, but there don’t seem to be any other supervisors to handle the menial everyday stuff, stuff that a guy in a nice suit probably wouldn’t normally do.

    In the end, I think we can all agree that whatever the case, the world of Thomas is really a distopian nightmare.

  3. Thank you! My friend and I ask ourselves these question every day. Our new one is in The Blue Mountain Mystery. How does no one know that Percy is there? Why haven’t the men told anyone? I mean these men are getting paid by Mr.Percival right? But yet he doesn’t know about an engine being there for years.

    • You mean Luke? I guess Mr. Percival knows about him, but isn’t aware of his worries. So he just fades into the background as another engine that does his job and doesn’t stand out. Mr. Percival doesn’t have any reason to speak to him, as Luke hasn’t done anything wrong.

  4. I can honestly say that number 5 never crossed my mind! Innuendo can be found anywhere if you look hard enough though, and by the time your son is old enough to get it you’ll be sharing chuckles over similar things.

    Number 1 bothers me more than it probably should, but I’m at the stage now of Thomas being on the TV as often as my son can have it on.

  5. As far as the sexually suggestive phrases they can be easily explained in railroad terms.

    “Percy pumped his pistons. Bust my buffers. I’ll be your back engine. Emily is proud of her big wheels. Also – what the heck is “shunting” all about? I’m not sure my toddler son should be watching this.”

    Anyone should be able to understand that a steam engine has pistons, and they must be pumped to move. So when Thomas says to pump his pistons, its only to mean to start moving.

    Buffers are the round things on the end of the trains and their cars. Their used to create compression between the cars and chains to create tension. If there is too much shock a buffer’s springs could snap.

    Now Emily’s wheels being big could be a sexual reference, however larger drive wheels allow an engine to move faster with less rotations, usually used on faster express locomotives.

    And lastly shunting is just the act of moving and organizing cars around a yard. It’s a phrase used by all railroads.

    I don’t find any sexual references in any of these expressions; only well researched railroad facts.

  6. This show has consistency issues, some vehicles are alive others are not. WHY?
    I was initially thinking the engines were possessed by the driver, ( the driver and train being one and the same) but when they are put back in the sheds they can still talk
    and make decisions – are the drivers still in there??
    What about the car/ train that Sir Hatt drives completely at the mercy of him and still can’t drive it well, again why?? I’ve been watching this show too much. Don’t even want to get started about Curious George – he is not a monkey – he is a chimp.
    Thanks I needed to vent

  7. I’m kind of late with this, but my son is only 2 1/2…

    Are the trains alive? Are they cybernetic organisms? Are they the result of some bizarre ancient experiments in which giant human faces were fused to the front of the vehicles? Or are the faces themselves artificial? They seem to have self-awareness, so they must have highly advanced technology if they’re completely artificial.

    Do they feel pain? I recall one train saying “ouch” when something happened to his wheel, but on the other hand, Hiro rusted in the woods for years before Thomas found him, and he didn’t die from the pain. And other engines crash or get their buffers bent and don’t seem to feel pain.

  8. The engines do seem to share control almost as much as the drivers do, but it is sort of confusing. I recall in The Sad Story of Henry he refused to get out of his tunnel even with the driver trying to persuade him. But on the other hand in the episode where James becomes a runaway, he thinks that he had set off with his driver, but then found that he couldn’t apply the brakes because no one was in there.

    Sir Topham Hatt does wear some nice clothing, but it makes sense since he commands the railway, and doesn’t actually work with the engines there. The mayor of Sodor was actually introduced in Percy and the Oil painting.

    Those people that follow him around could just simply be bodyguards, and to me, they don’t look scared or nervous.

    A lot of people seem to think that Thomas the Tank Engine displays a very capitalist message, but that’s how it would be if they existed in real life. Because they are engines, the only thing they are made for is working, like how real engines are, so the only way to feel rewarded is to work hard and hope to appear really useful to the Fat Controller.

    Finally, the sexual innuendos can be explained simply because they are real-life railroad terms. As Evan explained above, pumping pistons is simply referring to the action of the engine moving, because that’s what makes an engine move.”Bust my buffers” is referring to the buffers on the corners of either end of the locomotive that assist in coupling. Emily being proud of her big wheels is because bigger driving wheels=stronger driving force. Shunting is just moving around cars to the correct places they need to be on a railroad (again the sexual innuendos were pointed out above but I just wanted to say it).

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