January 29, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of Shining Time Station's debut. To celebrate this milestone, we've asked fans to share their retrospective views about what the show means to them...
The following essays are posted in the order they were submitted...
Following the Rainbow Sun
How Shining Time Station Influenced My Childhood
By Sanjay Das
The kids’ shows of the 90’s had a unique charm to them. Each kid had their favorite go-to show that not only entertained them but also educated them as well. For me, my go-to show was Shining Time Station. But the show had an influence on me that extended beyond the TV screen and transformed me into a budding young railroad buff, and the same can be said for almost any kid who grew up with the show!
My discovery of STS was quite accidental. At the age of 2 I was a frequent watcher of KCTS-9, the PBS affiliate in my hometown of Seattle, Washington. Among the shows I watched at the time were Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the immortal Sesame Street. My mother had taped several episodes for me to watch again and again. One day while my mother was channel surfing with me in front of the TV, we past KCTS-9 and saw something new—a show with both live-action filming of talking trains and human segments that took place at a train station. It should be noted that by the time I discovered the show, it had already been on the air for over a year and a half. My mother, seeing how I was interested in the show almost immediately, popped a VHS tape into our VCR and began taping the episode being shown then. This first episode I watched was “Ring in the Old,” which featured two Thomas stories starring Toby the Tram Engine, and at the time I was misled into thinking Toby was the star of the show—it was not until later that I realized Thomas was the real star of the show!
Over the next year my mother taped several episodes from STS’ first season for me. I was lucky because at the time, the summer of 1991, the season 1 episodes still had their original “clip show” openings intact (it wasn’t until the following year and the debut of season 2 that the opening changed). She even taped the Christmas special “’Tis a Gift” for me—before the fact—and in its original form (“Thomas, Terrence & the Snow” as story #1). With the coming of new episodes in the form of season 2 in 1992, the role of Mr. Conductor was taken over by George Carlin after Ringo Starr left. I still enjoyed the show, but what really bugged me was when George re-dubbed a Thomas story that Ringo originally narrated—in other words, I wanted to hear George’s voice in new (to the US) Thomas stories only, though I came to accept this fact later. I even got three STS videos later on: “Stacy Cleans Up,” “Schemer Alone” and “A Bully for Mr. Conductor;” and even saw the Family Special “Second Chances.”
For me, STS was my guide to life. Each episode had a valuable life lesson that everyone has to go through, such as “learn from your mistakes,” “accidents happen,” and others, be they communicated through the main segments or the Thomas stories. I knew that Stacy and Harry/Billy taught the kids the right way to deal with problems while Schemer demonstrated the wrong way—but in a humorous way. In reality the main segments of the show, the station is in many ways divided in half—on the left half of the screen you have Stacy’s desk and Harry/Billy’s workshop—this side represents the “good” guys, while the right half of the station is Schemer’s territory—I wouldn’t call Schemer a “bad guy” or “villain” per se, even though he mentions his motive of taking over STS.
One can’t mention STS without mentioning its music, and STS had four sources of music—the Jukebox Band, the Picture Machine, the Anything Tunnel and Mr. Conductor’s Magic Bubble. The Jukebox Band mostly used pre-existing songs, even though the performances of the voice actors/puppeteers can be spectacular on some of the later episodes, but it is the music and songs that were written specifically for STS—the Picture Machine, the Anything Tunnel and the Magic Bubble sequences—that really have a big impact. The evocative lyrics, the catchy melodies and powerful visuals—in the form of public-domain cartoons or original footage—all help convey and reinforce each episode’s theme. Sure, not every episode had them, but they can be very uplifting. Kevin Roth’s “Kite Song” (from “Faith, Hope & Anxiety”), Joe Raposo’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” (from “Just Wild About Harry’s Workshop”) and Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s “I Can Do It Myself” (from “Schemer Alone”) are among my favorites, and those melodies and lyrics have been forever etched in my mind as a reminder of the lessons each episode had to offer.
While watching not only STS but also other shows on Nick Junior, the Disney Channel and the like, I began quoting oft-used catch phrases and other general quotes from the shows (as my mother called it, “TV Talk”). Whether it was Schemer’s jingle (“He’s a doer, he’s a dreamer/He’s absolutely Schemer and he’s me”) or his “Genius Time!” catchphrase, or valuable quotes from Stacy, Mr. Conductor or the kids that emphasized the morals of the episodes, these sayings I still remember to this very day.
The show also had another effect on me—it introduced me to the world of railroading. Although the railroad industry generally disappeared off the radar screen of American culture in the 1950’s, the theme fit in with the show’s “retro-modern” setting—and after all, this show was a vehicle (no pun intended) to introduce Thomas the Tank Engine to the North American market. Before I knew it, I was building my vocabulary with railroad jargon—switches, freight cars, conductor, engineer and such—and through the Thomas segments I learned how a real railroad operated. My mother saw this interest in me, and she even taped a few episodes of the PBS railroad-documentary series Tracks Ahead for me. My obsession with railroading continued to progress to the point that she bought anything railroad-related—train sets, books, videos, etc.—just for me. I also had an extensive collection of Thomas and STS merchandise as well.
The show’s retro-modern setting also introduced me to technology I wouldn’t have otherwise recognized in another context. One of these is Stacy’s phone, the most widely used prop in the show. This old-fashioned phone has separate mouth and earpieces, and this style was nicknamed the “candlestick” phone since its shape resembled this. I probably wouldn’t have known phones used to look like that if I hadn’t seen Stacy using it in the show. The same goes for the coin dispenser on Schemer’s belt, the jukebox and picture machine—these are all objects of the past that contemporary children are familiar with only in the show. This is probably what turned me into a “nostalgia junkie” in my teenhood and adulthood.
It is easy to see how STS helped mold me into the person I am today. It introduced me to the railroading hobby; it entertained and educated me, and was a big part of my early childhood. As I look back upon it in my adulthood, I am glad to have been a fan of the show, and through online communities I am learning information about the show I never knew—I mean, who knew that the man who voiced Aladdin’s nemesis Jafar also voiced and puppeteered Tito, the piano player in STS’ Jukebox Band! I guess Harry was right: “There’s just something about this place!”
Goin’ Hollywood via Schemer’s Arcade
By David Dobrydney
When I was a child growing up, Shining Time Station was one of my favorite shows amongst those that aired on PBS. However, when I wasn’t watching those shows I could be found watching classic cartoons such as the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Tom & Jerry and Popeye.
Those theatrical shorts, watched through countless reruns on channels like Nickelodeon, TNT and later Cartoon Network, quickly became as familiar to me as the stories featuring Thomas, James and Percy.
However, little did I realize that within Shining Time Station I was getting a crash course in some of the more obscure cartoons from what is considered to be the Golden Age of Animation. This is because whenever Matt and Tanya would patronize the Picture Machine or Mr. Conductor took Dan and Kara down the Anything Tunnel, more often than not the following music video would be set against a backdrop of various classic cartoons. These cartoons were always strange and unfamiliar to me, because they looked nothing like the cartoons I’d seen with Bugs Bunny or Droopy.
Thanks to them falling into the public domain, many of the clips were from a series of cartoons known as the “Color Classics.” These were produced from the mid-1930s through the early 1940s by the Max Fleischer Studio, the same organization behind the original Popeye shorts. Across the first and second season of Shining Time Station, several Fleischer shorts were used to parallel the moral in a given song. For instance, the song “Learn From Your Mistakes” from the episode “And the Band Played Off” is introduced by clips from the 1935 schoolroom-centered short “An Elephant Never Forgets.” While the Color Classics were an attempt to ape the highly successful shorts of Walt Disney, the Fleischer studio brought a much different, often grittier feel to their productions. One of the most surreal of the Color Classics, “Play Safe” from 1936, provided the crescendo of the song “What Am I Afraid Of?” from Shining Time Station’s second season debut “Scare Dares.” The short actually plays like a twisted version of Thomas the Tank Engine, featuring a boy trapped on a huge runaway steam engine rushing through a nightmarish landscape. As it becomes clear the engine is on a collision course with another locomotive, the engines sprout faces that screech and yell!
Another piece of the Fleischer catalog that provided backgrounds for several songs in Shining Time Station was the 1939 feature film “Gulliver’s Travels.” The song “Laugh and a Half” from the episode “The Joke’s on Schemer,” for example, was “sung” by King Little of Lilliput. Other songs were dubbed over equally cartoony characters. An exception was the song “Would He Ever?” in the season two episode “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.” This ballad was supported by footage of the more realistically designed Princess Glory. Ironically, Gulliver himself didn’t feature in any music video in Shining Time Station, although his hand features in the song “Everyone’s Afraid of Something,” scaring Gabby, the town crier.
Besides the Fleischer studio, another producer whose work turned up very often across all three seasons of Shining Time Station was George Pal. Pal didn’t use traditional cel animation, instead using stop-motion photography, in a way presaging the live-action animation that would make Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends so beloved. Pal actually holds the distinction of being the first animator to have his footage used in an episode of Shining Time Station. When Matt first looks into the Picture Machine in the premiere episode, “A Place Unlike Any Other,” the film that plays is a segment from “Philips Cavalcade,” a short designed to promote radios. The stage the characters are dancing on is actually a radio speaker, which explains the hand at the bottom of the screen supposedly switching stations! Another Pal advertising film, “The Philips Broadcast of 1938,” fills Mr. Conductor’s magic bubble in season two’s “Is Anybody There?” The giveaway is the Philips company logo, clearly seen on the microphone of the crooner singing “Harbor Lights.”
George Pal also produced “Tubby the Tuba,” a 1947 short that was the film Schemer was so excited to see in the episode “Finders Keepers.” One Christmas I received a VHS cassette of cartoons with Tubby prominently on the cover. How did my parents know this would be something I’d like? Because they remembered seeing Tubby on Shining Time Station!
As I grew up and studied more about classic cartoons I came to the conclusion that with notable exception of the Walt Disney studio, almost every other major Hollywood animation studio had their products turn up somewhere in a Shining Time Station episode at least once. Almost every shot of a pastoral spring landscape, for instance, it from one of the few public domain MGM shorts, “To Spring” from 1938, which also provided footage of the gnome-like creature that sings “Let’s All Work Together” from the episode “Whistle While You Work.”
Indeed, some of the most revered figures in Hollywood animation turn up. For example, much of the sports footage in the song “Everyone’s a Winner” comes from a 1941 short titled “Sports Chumpions” directed by Isadore “Friz” Freleng, who created Warner Bros. Tweety, among other characters. His colleague Chuck Jones also had his work featured, most notably during “Laugh and a Half,” which uses footage from Jones’ 1939 short “Prest-O Change-O.” Incidentally, the latter short features a trickster rabbit character that is considered to be a precursor to Bugs Bunny. So one could say even Bugs crossed paths with Thomas the Tank Engine!
Space doesn’t permit me to go into all the other intriguing uses of classic cartoon footage in Shining Time Station. But for those who wish to dig deeper, could you spot a fragment from a short by Tex Avery, a name synonymous with the wacky Hollywood cartoon? How about Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl? They’re there, because one never knows what you’ll find the next time you drop a nickel in the Picture Machine!
A Look at Second Chances
By Alan Younger
It was a mid-April evening in 1995. A young three-year-old (almost four) boy sat in front of the TV with his parents. The boy was excited. This was one of the few times that he had been allowed to stay up past his bedtime. For tonight was the premiere of a new hour-long special of the young boy's favorite television show. What followed would become his favorite of the one-hour specials.
In 1995, Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow produced four one-hour specials of the series Shining Time Station. These specials were broadcast in a prime time slot, rather than the normal mid-morning airing of normal episodes. The first special had aired in January of that year. April 12, 1995 was the premiere of the second special: “Second Chances”. The young boy mentioned in the beginning is me, and “Second Chances” became my favorite special of Shining Time Station. Why, you ask? Well, let's take a look.
The special starts off with Billy Twofeathers getting ready for his nephew, Kit, to be coming to the station. Up until this point, none of Billy's family (aside from his grandfather William) had been seen within the show. Plenty of his family had been mentioned, but, aside from the instance mentioned above, this was the first time we would get one of his relatives as a prominent cast member. The scene continues with Schemer and his baseball team, the Scooters, coming in from yet another wining baseball game. Personally, Schemer has always been one of my favorite characters on the show. As he goes on a rather cocky speech about how good his team is, Schemer is soon put into his place by the very large, very intimidating Luke Sledgebolt, the coach of the Scooters' biggest rivals: the Snarlyville Slashers. We soon find that Sledgebolt is a bully, and Schemer literally freezes up upon meeting him.
Five minutes into the special, we are introduced to the main character of the episode: Kit Twofeathers, Billy's nephew. Kit is from an unnamed big city and his father (presumably Billy's brother) has recently passed away. Since his father's death, Kit has been getting into trouble, particularly for running away from home. Going to Shining Time Station to stay with Billy is a second chance for Kit to get straightened out. I love Kit! I don't know what it is, I just love this kid! He's not like the other kids. He's not a bad kid by any stretch, but he's not perfect either. He has just fallen into some very sad and unfortunate circumstances and has made some poor decisions because of it. Now, I know that none of the kids on Shining Time Station are perfect, far from it. But, in my opinion, Kit is the most realistic depiction of a kid out of all of them. Maybe it's the fact that his introductory episode was an hour long, rather than the normal half-hour, but he seems much more developed as a character. He's had a rough life, doesn't trust people easily, but is willing to change. I wish that the show had continued on longer with Kit as one of the main characters, as I feel kids could really learn something from a character like Kit.
Kit's character development doesn't just happen overnight, though. It is a gradual transition that takes the entire episode, and even the two following specials. And it all starts when he first meets Becky. Of the kids that starred in season two through the specials, Becky is probably my favorite. She's a cute kid and, for the most part, the most mature member of the group. Kit meets Becky shortly after arriving at the station and they instantly form a connection. Becky volunteers to show Kit around the station, which he happily agrees to. That night, they end up in a railway yard, where Kit and Becky get into a rock throwing contest, to see who's a better pitcher. One of the rocks Kit throws ends up hitting the window of a signal box. Fearing that if he gets in trouble he'll be sent back home, Kit and Becky run back to the station. The next day, Kit tries out for the Scooters, but doesn't make the cut. While he's practicing, an old man named Max (played by celebrity guest star Jack Klugman) talks to Billy about the events of last night. Max lives in the signal box and saw everything. That afternoon, Billy confronts Kit about it, but Kit denies everything and goes for a walk. Going back to the railway yard, he is confronted by Max, who teaches him how to properly hit a baseball. After that, Kit returns to the station where he and Billy have a talk and decide they both need to work on a few things. I love this scene because it shows that Billy and Kit have a great bond. Billy is really trying to make this situation work and, from this point on, so does Kit.
The next day, Kit goes to fix the window he broke and Max speaks to him for the first time. Max is my favorite one-off character. Not just because he is portrayed by the late, great Jack Klugman, but because he has some of the best scenes in the entire episode. He has a huge presence in a scene, even when he's not saying everything. When he does say something, you are listening to him. When he doesn't, you're still watching everything that he's doing. Max is a unique character, and Klugman portrays him so beautifully. Max reveals that he was once an MVP in baseball and, when he was around Kit's age, he got a baseball signed by famous baseball player Jim Thorpe. He was told that it would improve his game and that there was magic in the ball. Max gives the ball to Kit, hoping that the magic will rub off on him.
The mid-way point of the special is a big step in the right direction for Kit. He becomes friends with Dan and Kara and joins in with their activities. He begins becoming a better baseball player thanks to the kids, Billy and Max. Plus, he and Billy begin to truly bond and form a wonderful uncle/nephew relationship. However, things start to go south when it comes out that, the day before the big game against the Slashers, somebody has spray-painted the Scooters' score board. Billy asks Kit if he knows anything about it, to which Kit responds that he didn't. When Billy and Stacy ask again, Kit takes it the wrong way and assumes that they don't believe him. This leads to my all-time favorite scene of the special.
Kit goes to the signal box and tells Max that he is thinking of going home. Max tries to tell Kit that he shouldn't run away from his problems, illustrating his own personal life experiences when his own father died, as what it does to your life. However, Kit is convinced that nobody wants him at Shining Time and prepares to leave. The acting in this scene is just incredible from both actors. Both Jack Klugman and Bucky Hill (Kit) are absolutely perfect in this scene! The emotion that they show is very believable. I cannot say enough good things about this scene. “Second Chances” is available for viewing on YouTube and, if you want to see this scene, look it up. It's somewhere in part five (because it was uploaded at a time when YouTube videos could only be 10 minutes or less) and it is fantastic! It is followed up by an equally wonderful scene in which Billy also tries to convince Kit to stay. Again, this is another gorgeous scene from both actors. You can feel the bond that these two have, as well as the sadness of seeing Kit walk out of the station.
Now we move on to the baseball game, where the Scooters are getting crushed. To make matters worse, Schemer finds out about a deal that Sledgebolt made with Schemer's best player and his own nephew, Schemee, and benches him. Max, knowing that Kit should not leave, purposely diverts Kit's train to a siding. Kit gets bored of sitting on the train, realizes that he is wanted, and goes out to the baseball field. Schemer finally defends himself against Sledgebolt after Sledgebolt makes the worst mistake he possibly could: he touches Schemer's curl. When Kit arrives at the field, he asks if he could play. Seeing that he is out of options, Schemer allows Kit to play. After getting two strikes, Kit asks the pitcher to see the ball he's using. It's the ball that belongs to Max that was signed by Jim Thorpe. This give Kit courage and he hits the next ball out of the park. The Scooters have won and Kit has finally realized that he does belong in Shining Time. The special ends with Kit and Billy playing catch.
Shining Time Station also featured a kind of show within a show. It was the vehicle with which the series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends was brought over to America. Each episode featured one, and sometimes two, Thomas stories told by Mr. Conductor (George Carlin). In this episode, the stories are “Granpuff” and “Sleeping Beauty”. This is another reason as to why “Second Chances” is my favorite of the specials: it features two of my favorite Thomas stories. “Granpuff” being one of my all-time favorite Thomas episodes, and having only seen it on my VHS of Rusty to the Rescue up until this point, I was very excited to see the story of Duke finally brought onto television by way of Shining Time Station. The follow-up, “Sleeping Beauty”, is also a very good story. The two connect to the main theme of the episode, getting a second chance, very nicely.
And, of course, one cannot talk about Shining Time Station without mentioning those lovable Flexitoon creations, the Jukebox Puppet Band. The Band is on the top of their game in this episode, from the hauntingly beautiful “Down in the Valley” to their exciting second version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. This was also the special that gave us two big firsts for the Jukebox Puppet Band. This was the first time we see a main character other than the Band inside the Jukebox. There are at least two scenes in which Mr. Conductor goes inside of the Jukebox and has a meeting with them. The chemistry between George Carlin and the voice actors of the Band was awesome, particularly Olga Marin, who voices Didi. Both of the scenes involving Mr. C inside the Jukebox were hilarious! Also, this was the first time we see the Band outside of the jukebox. During the baseball game, the last musical number they do is performed inside of a popcorn machine. Funnily enough, not only are they in the popcorn machine, Tito brought his keyboard with him. This made for a nice change and some great scenes.
The instrumental music for the special was great, also. I particularly enjoy the theme for Kit which, sadly, is only featured in this special. It is a beautiful piece, and one that has stuck in my mind since the first time I watched the special at the tender age of three. The music in the scene between Max and Kit where Kit decides that he's leaving is beautiful, as well. It was very poignant and fits the scene perfectly. Stacey Hersh did some of her best work, in my opinion, when she composed this particular special.
Though this special had many firsts, it also featured a last. This was the last appearance of Ari Magder, who played Dan Jones. The reasons behind his departure are not known, to this writer at least. Though I cannot honestly say he was a favorite character of mine, he was a decent character and was missed after this episode. Kit took over the role of leading male child after Dan's departure.
After watching the special for the first time, I was immediately excited for more. The special was just so amazing. It was the best I had ever seen, even better than my previous favorite episode “Double Trouble”. My mom, knowing that Shining Time Station is my favorite show, as well as that this was a special episode, recorded the special for me. As stated, I was hoping that there would be more to come soon. I would have to wait until September to see the next special, though. However, I was very content with popping in the recorded VHS of “Second Chances” and watching it over and over to my heart's desire. To this day, I can still remember most of the words to the special. That's how much I watched it. I had fallen in love with the story, as well as newcomer Kit. From their interactions, I had noticed that there was something between Kit and Becky, in a more-than-friends kind of way, though that was never explicitly stated onscreen. The two were adorable together and, had Shining Time Station continued passed the family specials, I hope they would have gotten together at some point. I, myself have written fan-fiction about them getting together. Though, whether that fan-fiction will ever see the light of day again is, at the time of writing, unknown. Through the rest of the year, “Second Chances” continued to be my favorite of the one-hour family specials. I would watch it as often as I could, particularly the scenes with Max and Kit. They were very touching scenes, and some of my favorite.
In the early 2000s, one of my uncles got a divorce. This was hard on the family, especially me, as I was very close with his wife, my aunt. I was very sad that this was happening. However, I found comfort in an unlikely source. By the early 2000s, I was a preteen, long past the target age of Shining Time Station. I still kept fairly up to date with the Thomas brand, and had seen the 2000 film Thomas and the Magic Railroad. On the evening that I had gotten the news about my uncle's divorce, I went down into the basement and was digging through my VHS collection for something to watch to take my mind off of things. A VHS tape with the inscription “Shining Time Baseball Special” caught my eye. Vaguely remembering a Shining Time Station episode involving baseball, I popped it in my VCR. What I found brought me back to my early childhood. Low and behold, it was “Second Chances”, my favorite of the one-hour specials. I felt the same way watching it at 12 that I had at three and 11 months. From that point forward, And, after watching the special, I felt better about the whole situation with my uncle. The special, my favorite special, helped me through what I knew was going to be a rough period of time. I continued to watch as often as I possibly could.
Then, one night when I was 15, tragedy struck. I was in the middle of watching “Second Chances”, right near the end of “Sleeping Beauty”, when I was called up for dinner. I stopped the tape, turned off the TV (which took longer than usual to turn off, for whatever reason) and went to dinner. When I returned, I turned on the TV and started the tape, only to find something different than the special. I rewound the tape to the part I had left off on and began watching. Seconds later, I figured out why it had taken me so long to turn off the TV before going to dinner. I hadn't been pressing the “off” button, I'd been pressing “record”. The last third of the special was replaced with a gardening show, all because, in my haste to eat dinner, I had pressed the “record” button. I was heartbroken. The special that I had loved so well, that had helped me through one of the worst times of my life, and a third of it was now gone. The worst bit being that the part that was gone was my favorite scene: the scene where Max tries to convince Kit not to leave Shining Time. I didn't know what to do. So, for the time being, I just watched the first two thirds of the special, my memories of the ending becoming more and more vague as time went on.
When I was 18, I discovered the online Thomas fan community. I found that there were many people like me, who enjoyed Thomas and Shining Time Station and wished to talk about it. One evening, I stumbled upon the video site YouTube. Wondering if the site might have some episodes of Shining Time Station, I did a search. Not only did they have episodes of it, they had the specials, as well. Including “Second Chances”. All of “Second Chances”. For the first time in three years, I finally saw the ending of my favorite special. Sure, the quality wasn't that great, but I didn't care. I was amazed and thrilled that they actually had it. My favorite special had been restored. I still watch the special every few months. And, when I do, I start by watching the VHS but, as soon as it gets to “Sleeping Beauty”, I pull out my laptop and watch on YouTube. And always, I think of my childhood and the ways in which “Second Chances” impacted me.
All in all, “Second Chances” is my favorite of the Shining Time Station one-hour specials, possibly my favorite episode in general. Everything about it is top-notch. The acting, the music, the storyline, everything about it was great! It has the biggest amount of character development that I have seen in any episode of the series. Also, it helps that it was a one-hour story. I feel that more one-hour specials should have been made, as a lot more can be done with an hour. But, perhaps that is why this episode is so important to me, because it is one of the few one-hour specials. Either way, it is definitely an episode that I can watch again and again and feel the same excitement that I did as a three-year-old child watching it for the first time. It is lamentable that none of Shining Time Station is available on DVD, as I feel that, if any episode deserves a DVD release, it is certainly this one. All of the above reasons contributed to the reasoning as to why this is my favorite special for Shining Time Station. There's just something about this episode. Its lessons have stuck with me throughout my life. It is my hope that, someday, other generations of children will be able to see it; and that when they do, they will feel the same magic that I felt, and still feel to this day, when they watch it.
My Memories of Shining Time Station
By James Lee
My name is James Lee. I’m 17 years old, and I want to tell you a story. My memory of my earliest years is sketchy at this point in time, but from what I can piece together, when I was about one or two years old, I was introduced to the Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway. Around that time, or a little afterwards, my mother discovered a show known as Shining Time Station that was airing on PBS Channel 44. When she discovered it was on in marathon form and it had Thomas the Tank Engine in it, she knew at once that if I saw it, I would like it. She ended up taping 10 episodes on an almost blank VHS tape, and I fell in love with the episodes instantly when I saw them.
The episodes I saw were, in order: “Billy’s Party”, “Fortune Teller Schemer”, “Schemer’s Special Club”, “Mr. Conductor’s Movie”, “Dance Crazy”, “Mysterious Stranger”, “Dan’s Big Race”, “Mr. Conductor’s Big Sleepwalk”, “The Mayor Runs For Re-Election”, and “Stacy Says No”. While the Thomas stories were entertaining, the segments with the live action actors were equally as enjoyable. The acting was spot on, and the morals were very intricately woven into every episode.
However, some parts I didn’t like as a young kid. The 10 episodes I saw were all from the 3rd season of the show, when George Carlin played Mr. Conductor. When he renarrated stories from Seasons 1 and 2 of Thomas that Ringo Starr had previously done, some stories used to scare me, no kidding! Thankfully, I got over them as I got older, but still, George was best when he narrated original work of his own voice, and not when he did retellings of the stories.
When I was slightly older still, I discovered I had the Season 1 special ‘Tis A Gift on home video, and it was plain to tell that when I watched that special, compared to the taped episodes, there were loads of differences. Ringo played Mr. Conductor instead of George. Dan, Kara, and Becky were replaced by Tanya and Matt, and Billy Twofeathers wasn’t present. I also discovered that Ringo Starr’s US narration of Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree was missing some portions that I had heard in George Carlin’s narration.
It got further complicated when I saw Thomas and the Magic Railroad on video. Schemer and the kids were missing, Billy Twofeathers was played by Russell Means instead of Tom Jackson, and Mr. Conductor was now played by Alec Baldwin. While I continued to enjoy the material I viewed, somewhere in the back of my mind, I had all these questions about what episodes came first, what order did they appear in, was the show still on, and so on and so forth.
It wasn’t until I looked the show up online that I got the answers I was looking for. Ringo came first, George second, Alec third. There were also lots of episodes I hadn’t seen, which made me wish to see more of the show. I discovered when the episodes had aired, and was disappointed to find out that the show was long gone. I didn’t think I would hear about the show again, until I found YouTube.
Around 2006-2009, I began looking for episodes on YouTube. The first episodes I saw were in such bad quality that I soon got tired of them. I was also told by my mother that at 10-12 years of age, I was growing too old for the show. The months rolled by from then, until George Carlin passed in 2008. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was devastated to hear that. Ever since then, Shining Time Station stuck in my mind because at the time, it was the one thing I knew George Carlin from. I didn’t see any of his famous adult-oriented comedy.
Then, just recently, around 2012-13, the Sodor Island Fan site announced they were adding a Shining Time Station mini-site to their roster. After hearing about this, I became intrigued. It would give me an opportunity to look into the lives of the cast and also to find detailed summaries of the episodes. When I did see the episode summaries, I couldn’t resist trying to find them on YouTube again, and this time, I found nearly the entire series, and most of the episodes were in rather good quality. Some episodes had segments missing, though, and the one episode I couldn’t find at all was Season 1’s 15th episode, “Promises, Promises”.
I’ve rewatched the entire series (what I could find of it), and I’ve thought about which episodes are the best. Now, as a teenager, I find that while the 30-min. episodes have some replay value, I find the hour-long family specials, originally broadcast in 1995, to be the best of the whole lot because as they imply, they are for the entire family. If I had to pick a favorite 30-min. episode, it would have to be the Season 2 finale, “All’s Fair”. Season 3’s “Mr. Conductor’s 4th of July” isn’t far behind, however. My favorite episode of the whole series is the hour-long special, “Once Upon A Time.”
As I grew up with the show, the things I remembered most were the Thomas stories, which were the first ones I ever saw, and the songs done by the Jukebox Puppet Band, or shown in the Picture Machine. They were very catchy, and I even sang some of them in school! One of my favorite Jukebox Band songs is “Waltzing Matilda” from Season 3’s “Mysterious Stranger”. My favorite Picture Machine song is the gorgeous “Would He Ever?” from Season 2’s “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not”.
Some may struggle to think of what makes Shining Time Station special, not because they can’t think of anything, but because there may be more than one good reason to put it down to. Maybe it’s the characters, the acting, the music, the morals, or maybe it’s the Thomas stories. But I think what makes it unique is that it appeals to the child in all of us. The show was simple, and not incredibly high-tech. The show’s focus on trains made us all want to climb aboard a steam engine, blow the whistle, and look out of the cab as the engine clickety-clacks down the tracks. There’s just something about that feeling that is unlike anything else you’ll ever encounter.
But what I think really makes the show timeless is its magic. Children discover early on in their lives that magic is all around us, even if others may say they’re wrong. The Shining Time song from the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad mentions that “all you need to get you there is a ticket in your heart”, and that “every now and then, there appears a sign that points just round the bend to a place you’ll find covered in clover. The magic comes over you, showing up right on time”. “It’s always with you if you can just see through into your Shining Time.” It’s a case of you have to believe it to see it.
Also, there is the familiar idea that there is something magic at the end of a rainbow. In another way, you can imagine the train tracks are the rainbow, and there will be some magical force that pushes you on, in a good way, to what lies just around the bend in the track. That shows what the Rainbow Sun, pride of the Indian Valley Railroad, is designed to do. You follow the Rainbow to a magical place, in this case Shining Time Station, “where dreams can come true, waiting there for you!”
Here is an excerpt from the original TATMRR movie script, dated May 1999, which can be found at www.scriptfly.com:
Burnett: Grandma loved her because I loved her, but she never took a ride on Lady. I couldn’t mend her in time. I wanted to take your Grandma on our Shining Time.
Lily: On your Shining Time?
Burnett: A wonderful journey when the wheels turn and the rails shine. It was always going to be tomorrow, tomorrow Lady would work….tomorrow would be perfect…and then it was too late, and I shut out tomorrow.
Lily: Grandpa, don’t shut out today, too.
I feel that these words sum up Shining Time Station splendidly, in more ways than one. The message here is that when the time is right, if you believe, the light will guide you. If you believe that tomorrow, or the future, will be perfect, then you will take a journey to that future, on a train that runs on tracks which light your way as you travel through the dark times in life. Our Shining Time is our time to make that journey, and maybe make a name for ourselves in the process. Believing in magic and that you are on the right track will help your life along. If we think of a bright future that lies ahead of us, then the signal lights will all turn green for us, “green for glory”.
Like Burnett Stone, we must never give up on magic, at least not this kind. And we mustn’t hold this magic in, either. We need to spread it around, while still holding onto some of it for ourselves, like the Conductor family’s gold dust. Everyone, your friends, your family, even complete strangers who have lost hope in life, needs to believe. If they do, we can all share the magic, and unite the world on a deeper level. Then, we can “always remember our Shining Time together”!
And so, I come to the end of my story, with hope that my Shining Time will never disappear from my life. Believe, my friends!
Discovering Shining Time Station
By Sam Hodgson
Being Australian, I can say I am more than happy that I discovered Shining Time Station the way I did. It's a huge shame the show never aired here alongside Thomas the Tank Engine, since we get a healthy mix of both British and Northern American shows. But the way I discovered it was a rather interesting. My nan from New Zealand gave me a Christmas Thomas VHS. I was happy to have it of course, but something was strange about it, an American was narrating the Series 3 episodes, and he used terms like freight cars instead of trucks, conductor instead of guard etc. This was very strange to me but it still amused me none the less.
Then in 2000, came the release of Thomas and the Magic Railroad, a movie of my childhood and still a guilty pleasure of mine. It introduced me to Mr.Conductor and Shining Time. A place I never remembered seeing in Thomas so the concept was indeed confusing, and little did I know it was my step closer to discovering the show. It was also thanks to the film that got me interested on looking up the show online.
I still remember the day I watched my first episode. It was eleven A.M. and Dad was cooking lunch as I was on YouTube, I had found the episode "Achoo" and started to watch it. I had lost myself in its cute world of the station, and it felt like a new experience watching it. Mr. Conductor telling these stories I grew up with to a bunch of friendly people and the people learning and enjoying the stories felt incredible. To me it felt like they had the same experience with Thomas as I did.
Although I do feel I may be the only or one of the only Australian fans of the show, I do call myself the biggest fan in Australia but that itself can be a stretch. I love the show as much as I do Thomas the Tank Engine. But what makes it so special to me?
For being an American show, I have seen so many and most American shows go by the main stereotypes. Shining Time Station on the other hand, did no such thing. Shining Time Station introduced me to the more welcoming calmer side to the American culture and its people, including its folklore and its love for the railway. Even the songs sung by The Jukebox Band I learned were traditional American songs, and it had me singing along like they were songs I knew off by heart.
The show doesn't force the morals down the characters nor the viewers throats like some to most shows would. It shows the lessons and morals at a pace in which all can enjoy and learn from as well. It also opened my eyes to the calm world of American Railway life.
It also provided me with a comfort the same that Thomas did as well. It makes me feel welcomed to the American railway culture in ways that no other American show could. I always watch Shining Time Station on sunny days the same time I first watched it to get its wonderful feeling back. I even listen to the JukeBox Band songs on my mp3 player while out and about too.
Shining Time Station is a show that brings out the best of people though it's means of tolerance and respect, teaching good morals to kids and adults alike. A show I will never forget to love and remember.
Update 2014-Aug-19: Sam would like to share his narrated version of his essay below, set to choice visuals from Shining Time Station. Enjoy!
Why Shining Time Station is Special
By Joe Greco
Shining Time Station played a big part of pop culture by launching Thomas (the Tank Engine) & Friends to the North American market twenty-five years ago. Since then, it changed the way we see television and toy merchandising and (with the characters from this particular show) how we interact with others in our communities. This television series has also played a huge role in my life serving as not only great entertainment, but as a learning tool.
At four years old, I was diagnosed with PDD (part of the autism spectrum). When I was unable to communicate and had very minimal words to my vocabulary, that’s when I started watching Shining Time Station. Thanks to this remarkable program, I added every Thomas character by name, color, number and type of train models to my vocabulary by age 5. I had such an interest of Thomas the Tank Engine that made me want to watch it more and more.
Through the years of watching Shining Time, I remember watching the entire series and specials on a number of channels, but most of all, I can remember watching those Ringo (Starr) episodes from the first season of Shining Time which is my utmost favorite season. The first season was the beginning of the show and everything looked so new and refreshing. My favorite episode was when Matt and Tanya made their own puppets with Stacy and Harry and that soft music was playing (that was a “picture perfect” moment). This shows people anything is possible when you use your imagination.
Shining Time Station was one of those shows that played a special part of television and is cherished by all ages. They should’ve kept it for two more seasons. It was funny and charming and it also had a lot of good life lessons stuffed into each episode and special. The producers picked quality cast and everything was great and each episode and special was terrific! I still treasure those memories made by this show, even today as a young adult and hope to pass on this show to my kids to come.
Special thank you to Creators/Producers of the show, Britt Allcroft and Rick Sigglekow who made this fantastic series along with the cast and the crew.
The True Spirit of Railroading from
Shining Time Station
By Kevin Devaney
There are many television shows that people of all ages enjoy. There is a good amount of children’s shows that are quite rare and enjoyable too. Shining Time Station was one of those rare children’s television shows that has everything children can easily learn from: simple morals, great stories, and best of all, a great love for trains. Shining Time Station is the American spin-off series of Thomas The Tank Engine And His Friends.
Children of this generation might be asking: what is Shining Time Station? How is it connected to Thomas The Tank Engine and His Friends? Well, it’s quite simple. It’s the show that introduced Thomas to Canadian and North American audiences, apart from being a British creation. Each Shining Time Station episode included one or two Thomas stories with which connect to whatever problems that the Shining Time Station characters are dealing. The narration in the Thomas stories were provided by the miniature Mr. Conductor, first played by former Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr and then by American actor/comedian George Carlin. Shining Time Station ran for three seasons, including a Christmas special, four television family specials, and its own spin-off series. It premiered on January 29, 1989 and closed on June 11, 1993; thus doing re-runs up until 1997.
This wonderful show is created for audiences of all ages. No matter how old you are, you’re still a kid at heart (including me). I still remember this show even though it’s been more than a decade since it aired. Anyone, who remembers it, has uploaded full episodes from YouTube.
All of the characters of Shining Time Station are memorable, because of what their purposes are in each episode. I really love Ringo Starr because he’s my all-time favorite Thomas narrator. Listening to his narrations gives me heartfelt comfort like a grandfather telling the stories to his grandkids. Ringo Starr is, indeed, a grandfather, by the way. He and George Carlin are the best at how they portrayed the role of Mr. Conductor and how they narrated the stories of Thomas.
While I love all of the episodes of Shining Time Station, my personal all-time favorite episode is the Christmas special: Tis a Gift, because it was the last episode to have Ringo Starr on both this show and in the Thomas series. He narrated the first two seasons of Thomas. My family watches this episode every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember.
What disappoints me most of all is that Shining Time Station seems to have been long forgotten since it closed its run back in the 1990s. I feel that no children of this generation would want to see it because, honestly, they perhaps want to see only Thomas. That hurts me deeply. Without Shining Time Station, none of us audiences in Canada and North America would’ve liked the Thomas series. It’s also disappointing that it never broadcast in the UK. It did broadcast in Ireland to promote Thomas and the Magic Railroad. This was the very first Thomas movie which combined Shining Time Station and Thomas into a full-length feature film. During the time of its theatrical release, British fans of Thomas weren’t familiar with Shining Time Station, which led them to believe that this was a vast attempt to fully ‘Americanize’ Thomas. This was truthfully not the intention. Just take a look at the Sodor Island Forums minisite of the Thomas motion-picture and see what you can find.
Overall, Shining Time Station is one of the best children's shows of all-time. On my top five best children’s shows of all-time, Shining Time Station is number one with the classical era of Thomas. I wish that the British audiences would just give Shining Time Station a chance. I will remember Shining Time Station as a timeless children’s television series.
My Overall Rating for Shining Time Station: 10/10
Your Own Imagination
By Elias Fulmer
I'm not sure at what point the existences of “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends” and “Shining Time Station” became separate, but I do remember at about the age of five, one more brisk Californian autumn afternoon, I was in used a bookstore, Brindles, with my mother and she graciously bought me a used VHS tape featuring Shining Time Station episodes. At this age, I saw Shining Time Station as a parallel world to the Island of Sodor, but I did however, realize that I had not heard or seen from Mr. Conductor or from his cousins Carlin or Baldwin for some time.
It must have been a little after the year “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” was released, a movie which I had fondly remember seeing with my father and brother shortly after it arrived in theaters. The neon lights and signs in the theater were bright as I passed by a large promotional cardboard cut-out for the movie, and watching it was a magical, ethereal experience for me. I am still very favorable towards the film to this day, though I concede nostalgia plays a large factor in my bias. However, having only basic television until the age of about eight, Shining Time Station had stopped playing on PBS by now, which is how I most watched the show. In my infancy my mother worked as a maid for one or two families at a time, so when the occasion where she took me with her, the family or house would, per usual, have more channels via the fabled “cable” television.
This was a long divide in my childhood: basic television versus cable television, and alas, with the infrequency of availability of cable television for me by the time I had got that fateful VHS tape, Shining Time Station now seemed a far off and unfortunately distant place. To me, the tape was a treat, which upon receiving I was very much ecstatic, and we walked right around the street corner to our little put upon house, the only house I ever knew, in which I went home and excitedly waited for my mother to put the tape in the VCR. I don't remember much of the live action segments, but I remember the episodes “Donald & Douglas” and “The Deputation, told by George Carlin, were in it.
The tape's film took me into a slightly familiar and more naturally fantastic world, a different adventure and stark difference between my plainly “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends” VHS tapes, which just included the stories straight forward, sometimes with songs in-between or after. But with “Shining Time Station”, we are thrown into two different universes at once: the Island of Sodor and Shining Time Station on the Indian Valley Railroad. While they exist in the realm of canonical fiction as de facto parallel universes, there are enormous differences. To just say that Shining Time Station was the “American version of Thomas” is oversimplifying, a comment sometimes made on the show's existence. The trains on the Indian Valley Railroad are inanimate and just as part of the railroad's material means, while on the Island of Sodor of course; the trains are animate with lively personalities and very faulty human characteristics. The humans on Sodor are, frankly, usually very two-dimensional, while the people in Shining Time Station are dynamic, highly developed characters, which are easy to empathize with as they live out their dilemmas. But I held both of these two worlds very dear to me growing up.
Indeed, like the lament of an engine being sent away, scraped or just suddenly absent from the railway lines of Sodor, here without the presence of Shining Time Station, the world of Thomas feels different to me. Think of it as the plight Percy and Toby experienced when Thomas was sent away for repairs after his accident in “Thomas Comes to Breakfast” and temporarily replaced by Daisy. Percy and Toby felt distraught by the situation anxiously awaiting Thomas' return. I guess for me, I've been waiting for the return of Shining Time Station for a long time, and it's never come back. Thomas in America has moved on – and now available on a plethora of different channels, and one of the most popular children's franchises in the United States, indeed the world, but it took a long time before it came to that point. While the Railway Series became popular in Europe and even Japan, the British import sales in America just never really seemed to cut it during the Railway Series' heyday.
Shining Time Station was indeed a unique event in the world of children's entertainment and indeed, the world of all media in general. It was the perfect synthesis of the strictly English setting and demeanor of the Rev. W. V. Awdry's Railway Series, the rustic nature of the American West and small hints of the simple wooded culture of Anglophone Canada, which really proposes the question: Where is Shining Time? It could easily as be in Wyoming, Idaho, California, Manitoba or Alberta (it would be a stretch to say Shining Time could exist in an English setting, even if Shining Time existed on its own separate island off the coast of Cornwall). There exists a certain magic in this ambiguity, because of the possibilities it leaves in its gap. Because of this, Shining time exists on a magical plane, deep in the “nostalgitopia” of the brief generation of kids who experienced the run of Shining Time Station. Having been born in 1996, my own experiences of the show were form reruns played on my local PBS affiliate, KCLA, played until 1999, or from VHS tapes, either home recorded or officially licensed. My older brother has a more able memory of the time, having been born in 1991, though his connection with the world of Thomas is significantly less stronger than mine – so my memories of the show I value much higher than he does. This reflects my relationship with my brother – Isaac being the more experienced but apathetic one and me as the younger, less experienced but ten times more enthusiastic and more easily excited about things that peaked me interests, sometimes, it was too much.
I have a memory of my mother taking me with her to an older, antiquated house somewhere outside of our town, on a silent and grey, gloomy day, with an infrequent balance of rain. Inside, in a large messy room which my mother was cleaning as a part of her maid routine, I sat down in trance with the television, I remember at one point playing Shining Time Station off of Fox Family, my occasional outlet to watch the show. I imagine I must have been two years old; this is what my memory has always instinctively concluded. Indeed, it seems most, if not all of my earliest memories involve Thomas or any incarnation of him and his friends.
The original American dubs of Thomas, despite my intellectual love and strict defense of the original English culture surrounding Thomas and the Railway Series, were my first introduction to Thomas. For me, my mind mentally categorizes Thomas media into “American Thomas” and “English Thomas”. Things like “Shining Time Station”, George Carlin and the “Day Out with Thomas” events, usually held in railway museums and heritage railways of the American “railroad” aesthetic, are the most iconic symbols of this “American Thomas” media. Thomas, through Shining Time Station, finally found a permanent home in American children's culture, almost in the same as it resides in the memory of the English nursery. But Thomas, in America, with the confusion over British railway terminology (“tank engine” usually becomes “train”, “choo-choo”, “choo-choo train” or even just “tank” in the American vernacular) and with the American child's exposure and preference to cartoons, sometimes itself in what is commonly known as “creepy”, an adjective generally applied to the “Teletubbies”, “Barney & Friends” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog”.
These conditions place Thomas in a strange spot in American children's culture, almost akin to Morrissey's presence in the cultural scene of American music, which is generally accepted and celebrated by most people, but so often subject to ridicule or outright criticism.
Shining Time Station, too, in some ways more closely represent the original format and presentation of the first stories in the Railway Series, as a father to his child. While obvious size differences between Mr. Conductor and the varying cast of children would almost rule out the “father-child” analogy, Mr. Conductor in more aspects than not expels and contains the influence as a father figure to the children, albeit a supernaturally short and cheeky father. With the “English” format, the storyteller is never really identified, effectively rendering the original English broadcast format of “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends” as an audio book (or book on tape) with visual aides – however, with Shining Time Station, the narrator is given an identity within the story, an identity with a very extensive and curious personality. With every Mr. Conductor, from Starr to Carlin to Baldwin, though like the different incarnations of Doctor Who, each have small components to their individual incarnation, but ultimately form the same vision of storytelling, the same character.
If it weren't for Shining Time Station and the efforts of Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow to bring Thomas to an American audience, I would imagine my life would be incredibly different. I would never have found my imagination and muse taking a ride on the Indian Valley Railroad, which magically and mysteriously leads inevitably to the Island of Sodor. Thomas – the memory, the legend, the friend, the Tank Engine – has become the motif of my life's midnight cabaret. My childhood was molded around the show, and though several different nuisances in my life prevent me from celebrating Thomas and his friends more, my love remains undying. To me, there is nothing more sacred than imagining the sunrise over the Island of Sodor as the trains, the companions of my lonely childhood, begin their busy-sweet days of back and forth journeys, chills, thrills and sentimental lessons learned from troublesome mistakes in ego perception. I feel more connected with the world of Thomas than I really do with anything.
Shining Time is a distant space away from me, but somewhat retained by the annals of my memory. It was a strange time, it was an odd show, but its presence on American television at the time of my infancy made the most profound effect on my life. I have never studied and thought about anything more voraciously the realms of Thomas, and to me Shining Time Station is the one closest to my heart and closest to home. Between my actual self and my Anglophile alter ego, Shining Time Station is the catalyst that created that entire aspect of my life and made the backdrop of my heart, mind and soul always seem to be of a happy train in the distance of green hills and wide valleys – on the Island of Sodor, while somewhere souls sing their souls away over piano and guitar harmonies, reducing life to a simple symphony of actualized, tangible beauty. And I can only really thank one thing that definitely sent me there: Mr. Conductor's gold dust.