Book 18 - Stepney The Bluebell Engine - 1963
Summaries by P Budd
This book was first published in 1963, when steam was still running (albeit in rather rundown condition) on Britains national network. Diesel power was "invading", and steam had less than five years to run on BR. Already however, preserved railways were being set up, and this book focuses on the main one at the time, the Bluebell Line in Sussex. This book is also notable in being the first to actually feature a real locomotive in the series as a main character, and gives Sodor a new element of reality that had previously never been seen before.
Bluebells Of England
The book opens with a conversation between Percy the small engine, and Douglas the Scottish engine, explaining to the reader the current situation of steam locomotives on Britains railways, and how they are an endangered species, being cut up in favour of diesels. This despressing conversation is cut short however by Percy's mention of the famous Bluebell Railway in Sussex, a preserved standard gauge line, where engines are saved from scrap, restored and allowed to run on their own line.This brings the converstaion round to a small tank engine called Stepney, who escaped there from the other railway. The converstaion is interrupted however by a signal dropping noisily, and Percy noticing a crowd in the distance: suddenly, Stepney himself appears under the bridge, and steams through the station, on the last leg of a long journey. He is on loan to Sodor!
The second story opens at Edwards station, where Stepney is talking to Edward in the bay platform, explaining to him about the other engines that live on the Bluebell. We are introduced to Bluebell and Primose, Adams, Cromford and Captain Baxter (all real engines that work on the Bluebell today), and the reasons behind their names explained. This is their only appearance in the railway series. The story continues that evening at the Big Station, where Thomas, Duck and Stepney have an enjoyable time, before Thomas has to run off to take the last train of the day up his branchline. It turns out however that a very important man has missed the train, and is desperate to get to his destination that night: he charters a special working, to be hauled by Stepney, to follow the last train up the line. At a passing loop on the return, Thomas is insulted to be "shunted" (expecting a clear run through the loop), and is astonished to see Stepney dash through at speed, pulling the one coach. Next morning he is fuming when he meets Stepney, but it is resolved when Stepney cleverly flatters Thomas, and turns the conversation round: and they become best of friends!
Train Stops Play
The other engines on the branchline are astonished when Stepney announces in the yard that he actually likes pulling trucks: as a result, he swops duties with Percy, and takes the goods train down the branchline quite happily: leaving Toby and Thomas astonished! He takes his trucks to the harbour, and on the return, stops at a signal next to a cricket pitch, where a match is in full swing. Presently, the signal changes and the train restarts on its journey, just as the batsman swings a "skyer". With a clang, the ball falls into one of the moving open wagons, and the cricket team are forced to watch as their ball is carried away up the line! We are then introduced to Caroline, a clapped out Austin 7 car, who is forced to chase the train at speed, which she complains strongly about. They finally catch up as Stepneys crew are booking off duty in the yard: and promptly, dig out the ball, however this then leaves a problem: how to get back to the match? Caroline is too tired to make the journey back, so in a stroke of genius she is loaded onto a lowflat wagon With a brakevan coupled up, they make their way back to the pitch and watch the rest of the game from the embankment behind the pavilion.
There is trouble in the shed one morning, when a nasty diesel (D4711) turns up from the Other Railway, and insults the steam engines about being "out of date". The engines are infuriated, and call an indignation meeting around the turntable early next morning. They all agree that something must be done to pay the spiteful diesel out: but what? Later that morning, D4711 is preparing to take the express, whilst a fitter adjusts his air intake cover. Boasting to Duck and Stepney, he moves forward to back down on the train, however with a cloud of black smoke, he stops and his engine shudders to a halt. Stepney and Duck push the 'failed' diesel back into the shed: with no spare engine, arrangements are made for Duck to haul the express: Stepney offers to help, and with the plan agreed, the two back down onto the fifteen coach train in the station proudly, instead of the diesel. With confidence, the pair set off in fine style, cruising to a stand into the station, where Gordon is waiting to take over. Here the truth about D4711 is revealed: it turns out the fitters bowler hat had been blown from his head in the wind, and straight into his air intake, becoming lodged in the clean air compartment of his engine. Stepney leaves the following day to a warm goodbye, whilst the Diesel leaves after saying goodbye to no-one, and leaving two things behind - (in the words of Rev Wilbert Awdry) "the smell of bad manners, and a battered bowler hat!"