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RS Reviews: Wilbert the Forest Engine - The Engine From The Forest...

Wilbert the Forest Engine

Reviewed by Cranky

After his father's retirement, Christopher Awdry began writing the stories that originally had been written for him. Through new illustrations by Clive Sprong and using Christopher's imaginative and unique storytelling, 17 more volumes of the beloved Railway Series were written.

As the Railway Series neared it's 40th volume, Christopher decided to write a book about a blue saddle tank from the Forest of Dean named Wilbert (Who is indeed named after the Reverend Wilbert Awdry himself). To help with one of the stories, Awdry decided to enlist a creative writing class at Abingdon school to help craft one of the stories. Soon the first story in the book was written, "Percy's Porridge". The book was then dedicated to the creative writing class themselves by Christopher.

The volume begins with the story itself, which involves the Fat Controller arranging to borrow an engine from another railway to assist Donald and Douglas. The Fat Controller picked a blue saddle tank engine from the Forest of Dean named Wilbert, who had always been eager to meet the famous Thomas the Tank Engine. With a great opportunity at hand for both parties, Wilbert is invited to come and assist the engines of Sodor.

The first story aptly named "Percy's Porridge" centres around our favourite green saddle tank engine who is upset that Wilbert may not come to Thomas' branch line. Upset that he cannot meet a fellow saddle tank like himself, Percy's problem washes away with a wet storm the next day, which causes problems for Percy after an accident involving some bags of oatmeal on a platform. With Percy needing "repairs" after the incident, Wilbert is brought to Thomas' branch to assist whilst Percy is away. The story ends with the two engines meeting, sharing a mirror reflection of smiles.

The second story, "Cab Over Wheels" revolves not around Wilbert or any of the Fat Controller's engines, but of an engine Wilbert knew named "Sixteen". A magnificent junction into some different storytelling, which allowed Christopher to explore new means of expanding the Sodor universe.

The story begins by explaining that Wilbert's first drop is at the lead mines. A discussion with Thomas about the importance of danger signs leads Wilbert to tell the tale of Sixteen, an bored engine who wanted to go past a danger board simply so his boring life may be a bit more adventurous. Ignoring warnings from his friends, Sixteen uses the advantage of a wet day and the misdeeds of troublesome trucks to reach his goal. However, much like Thomas' own experience, Sixteen's pleasure resulted in his downfall as the rails he rode on titled sending Sixteen down the mound of dirt and rocks on his side. Wilbert finishes his story by telling the engines that Sixteen was sent to his shed in disgrace, but luckily he was purchased and now works in the midland.

The third story "Foaming at the Funnel" tells the moral of how constant chattering can result in lack of work ethic. The story revolves around Wilbert taking milk tankers Knapford. On one of his trips he meets and chats with James and the two talk for quite some time. On his way to Knapford his driver realizes he needs to take on water but due to his short-sightedness Wilbert ends up at the wrong hosepipe and takes on milk instead of water! Thomas takes poor Wilbert back to the sheds so his tank can be emptied.

Wrapping up the book is "Wired-Up", which begins with Percy's return to the branch line. Wilbert is sent to Duck's Branch where he meets Duck, Oliver and the small engines of Arlesdale. During Wilbert's job of taking ballast trucks to Tidmouth, a coupling gear on of the trucks falls off. With some guidance from Bert, Wilbert borrows a coil of wire and has it spun around his coupling. The result is a successful job well done using creative thought to solve a problem, another moral well established. The end of the story has Wilbert returning home, with high praise from the Fat Controller and his engines.

In retrospect, the 38th title in the Railway Series does it's job has a part of the collection by showcasing a real life railway and one of it's engines, much like the representations of the Talyllyn and Snowdown railways. Wilbert is a creative character with a respect for the Sodor engines and the means to get work done and learning from his mistakes.

As a bonus, learning about Sixteen and his misdeed only furthered the world of Thomas and of course, provided another character for merchandising. Both Wilbert and Sixteen received ERTL models whilst Wilbert also got a Wooden Railway representation.

Christopher included what lessons could be learnt in his stories, which involved once again the importance of safety and how gossiping can decrease posterity of work.

To wrap up and summarize, Wilbert the Forest Engine remains my favourite of Christopher's stories because of it's simplicity and effectiveness within it's presentation. The book rose awareness to the Forest of Dean railway and Wilbert became a beloved character in the Railway Series. It's amazing what a series of book's about talking trains and their lives can do to create such a positive atmosphere within the society of railways.


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