Small Railway Engines
Reviewed by MrCoffeyPot
As a young lad, I was familiar with the television series from the age of two. Many years went by, and I started reading The Complete Collection book that was once possessed by a family friend.
Then, as I looked through the book to admire such unique sets of illustrations by people like C. Reginald Dalby and John T. Kenney, I came across the title Small Railway Engines and a highlighted illustration of Mike, Rex and Bert from the story Ballast. Admittedly I thought they looked like miniature gauge versions of Gordon, James and Henry at first, since they’re all tender engines and have respective liveries, but the only difference is on each side of their tenders in comparison.
This was before their televised debut in Sodor’s Legend of the Lost Treasure in 2015 to celebrate the franchise’s seventieth anniversary, and after reading each story in the big book - I was left wondering “Why hadn’t they been created for television too? We got the Skarloey Railway engines on television, why not give the Arlesdale Railway engines some spotlight too?”
Because of this, there were many different videos and audio productions based on the said book including visualised adaptations of each story on YouTube using Trainz, Wooden Railway, Trackmaster and Take-n-Play toys with narrations by late Willie Rushton or otherwise. One of my favourite fan projects though was an all-time classic SiF audio adaptation of the book itself by Chris The Xelent back in 2006 - full of witty humour and memorable moments including a hilarious interaction between Mike and Betsy the cow!
Like the Skarloey Railway of all Sudrian railways, the Arlesdale Railway’s real life inspiration was the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway - one of many places I am still longing to visit and explore one day, even though the journey would be incredibly far from where I am.
Not long before the televised adaptations of each story from the book aired in Canada (barring Ballast), I have decided to obtain the first edition copy of Small Railway Engines for £6 from AbeBooks UK store a few weeks ago and give it a read again. The book starts with a simply sophisticated foreword by the author to explain how both the Thin Controller and the Owner of the Skarloey Railway shared the ownership of a 15-inch gauge railway.
For starters, Ballast has a basic introductory story of three smaller engines, how their little railway runs and why did they come to the Island of Sodor when Duck meets them for the first time out of curiosity. One of my general favourite parts of the story is how they have a typical humorous banter, including one of how they are identified with their liveries. It generally helps the readers to be familiarised with each small engine in their own adventures after this one. And each engine are given their own story to themselves; Bert in Tit for Tat, Mike in Mike’s Whistle and Rex in Useful Railway.
Each one features an engine having their misadventures on the railway using primary elements to help drive the stories along; puddles and rain showers (Tit for Tat), stray cows and lost whistles (Mike’s Whistle), sheep and wool bales (Useful Railway). My favourite stories in the book are a tie between Tit for Tat and Useful Railway; mostly because of Bert and Rex both have their consequence, as does Mike in Mike’s Whistle - but they have a heartfelt ending, especially Useful Railway after Rex is rescued and the Arlesdale Railway becomes more popular than before. In spite of their misfortune, they all lived together happily ever after.
Gunvor and Peter Edward’s brightly stylised illustrations in this book are endearing, sweet and very colourful looking, especially on the scenery of a specific little railway including one of Mike takes some ballast trucks along the line in Ballast. The characters and animals are nicely illustrated too - including the two clergymen, who were of course The Reverend Teddy Boston and The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry that the readers can identify while reading.
In conclusion, Small Railway Engines is one of my few favourite books by the Rev. W. Awdry alongside Stepney the Bluebell Engine and Enterprising Engines to name a few with beautiful illustrations provided by Gunvor and Peter Edwards. It has an introductory story followed by three other stories to learn more about the adventures of Rex, Bert, Mike and their controller of the Arlesdale Railway - Mr. Fergus Duncan, the Small Controller (though he is rather tall than his engines in appearance!).
Almost fifty years on after the book’s publication, we get three faithfully adapted television stories and a highly anticipated Thomas special featuring their debut. So as you can say “Never Overlook A Little Engine!”