C Reginald Dalby was the third artist of Awdry's books, but the first long-standing illustrator, and the one that people tend to associate the most with the Railway Series books. However, Dalby did not prove popular with the author from the very beginning. Initially, Awdry had hoped to work with a local school headmistress on new sketches for James the Red Engine, however, it was the choice of Edmund Ward to employ C Reginald Dalby on the job of the illustrations, declining the offer set by Wilbert. And so, with his hands tied, Awdry felt forced and trapped into accepting the situation.
A graduate of Leicester College of Art, Dalby recalled his time working with Awdry as "Not of the Gilbert and Sullivan kind". Awdry found the new artist to be "a pleasant enough fellow" and was hopeful of Dalby to draw from life, an opportunity not seized by the artist. Wilbert criticized his lack of railway interest, which is largely where his illustrations suffered - particularly because to Dalby, "One engine was like another!". While the fact remains that Dalby had "accurate knowledge of rail techniques and engines", his artistic styling often led to problems for the author, such as the look of Edward and Percy, two engines seemingly built on wholly original designs unlike those of any engine in the United Kingdom.
Henry's appearance also caused numerous problems for the author too, particularly when the character was in a blue livery, when he would often be confused with Gordon. The situation became so bad that Awdry initially attempted to write Henry out, but later came up with the idea of revising the character's appearance instead to an LMS Black Five through The Flying Kipper storyline. He was often prone to mistakes in the artwork, such as Henry having square buffers as opposed to Gordon, and distorting the size of the locomotives, rendering them almost toy-like in the eyes of the author, as opposed to the real locomotives he had hoped for.
Dalby's gem-like illustrations were powerful and eye-catching for the time the books were being produced in.
At a time when colour was a rarity within books, (Particularly following the Great War) Dalby's illustrations were something special and an attraction for potential readers to the little multi-coloured books, and despite the innacurracies and difficulties with the author, Dalby remains a firm favourite with fans of the Railway Series, his images setting the style and capturing the mood of the formative years of Sodor.
Dalby's complacency could be put down to the fact that he didn't believe in the longevity of the books, telling Awdry at one point that he didn't believe they would last more than a few years and that they would most likely die out in a few years time as a throwaway fad. He couldn't have been more wrong.
He even tried his hand at writing a book in 1955 featuring his own character - "Tubby the Tugboat" - in Tales of Flitterwick Harbour and credited them as being by "The artist of the Railway Series". In spite of Dalby's hopes to see the stories attain a series with the books, it was not to be.
Problems occured in the illustrations very regularly with Dalby, and it all came to an abrupt head in 1956 with the publication of a book about Percy. Eric Marriot often took the liberty when both he and Dalby were based in Leicester to point out errors and have the artist correct them before Awdry saw them.
Technical problems toward the end came to a head in a letter Awdry wrote to Dalby, "I beg, pray and exhort you not to make Percy look like a green caterpillar with red stripes!" - Taking umbridge at that comment, Dalby ended his association with the series and admitted despite feeling sorry to give up illustrating the engines, his patience had worn thin and his assocation with the series came to an end.
In all fairness, however, despite being known for his mistakes and clashes with Awdry, Dalby had a very daunting task at hand by creating images of a mythical world that existed purely within the mind of the author Wilbert Awdry.
And while the Island of Sodor was still being formed at this time, the artist had very little to go on or work constructively with as a result. So for that at least, the man can be forgiven, on account of the general standard of work he produced. C Reginald Dalby died in 1983 at the age of 79 following a short illness