We 'd like to thank site visitor Bob Lack for bringing this article authored by the Rev. Awdry to our attention, which is reproduced here verbatim for your study and enjoyment.

This article appeared in the December 1954 issue of Model Railway News (p.244-247), a mere 9 years after the debut of the Railway Series books. Interestingly, in this article Henry is mistakenly referred to as No.4!

As M.R.N. Editor J.N. Maskelyne prefaced the article in this issue's editorial: "There is, at the same time, one item that is of particular interest; probably most of my readers have read, or at least heard about "Thomas the Tank Engine" and all his delightful companions whose amusing antics have been made known, far and wide, through the inspired pen of the Rev. W. Awdry. In this issue, Mr. Awdry tells the story of the real Thomas, whose general behaviour is much like that of the hero in the series of little books for the very young, and I am pleased that "M.R.N." should be the means of making this story known. I hope that you will enjoy it and that you will not forget to let your children know and see that Thomas really does exist; he is no longer merely a figment of the imagination, but a real solid, if slightly temperamental model railway locomotive, and quite a friendly little fellow at that."

All text and images © Model Railway News, A Percival Marshall Publication.

Railway Modeller December 1959

The 7.25 a.m. train at Knapford. Thomas with Annie and Clarabel (the two push-pull coaches), waits in the passing loop for the "Morning Milk" to arrive from Barrow.
The 7.25 a.m. train at Knapford. Thomas with Annie and Clarabel (the two push-pull coaches), waits in the passing loop for the "Morning Milk" to arrive from Barrow. Photo by F. Thoday

by Rev. W. Awdry (Author of "Thomas, the Tank Engine", & c.)

I have often been asked, "Which came first, the railway or the books?" The books came first certainly, but ever since I can remember, I have always wanted, given the opportunity, to build a model railway of my own. My brother and I did make a start 1929-30, but we never got very far, and when we moved house, the materials were packed up, and stayed packed up for want of a suitable site, for 18 years. Then in the autumn of 1948, I was writing the fourth book in the series and even though I knew I couldn't really afford it, I persuaded myself that a model line could be justified as a sort of background to the stories. So I made a start.

The Prototype and its Story
The line was free-lance, in the sense that it was the model of no known railway, and the initials of the railway company, N.W.R., stood at first for the No-Where Railway! But as more books were called for and produced, lynx-eyed small boys kept pouncing on discrepancies, and I had, in self-defence, to provide a location for the stories, and correlate the facts already given about the railway.

The Island of Sodor was discovered and mapped, and my brother and I evolved what we felt to be a convincing history of the growth and development of the railway system, which if the Editor approves, we should be glad to tell later. Mr. Edmund Ward, my publisher, entered enthusiastically into the research, and commissioned Mr. P.R. Wickham to make a large scale relief map of the island. He has kindly given permission for a map of Sodor to be reproduced for this article.

Early map of the Island of Sodor drawn by P.R. Wickham

So, the line which started as the No-Where Railway, now forms the North Western Region of British Railways, and is run under the capable direction of Sir Topham Hatt, formerly managing director and now chairman of the Regional Executive. Fortunately the Railway Executive, and now the British Transport Commission, interfere very little with our affairs, and allow us to retain our original colour scheme, and deal with our peculiar problems in our own way.

Early Days
The model was, however, in being before all this was thought of. Work was begun in January 1949, and very optimistically, I promised to show the layout at the Church Fete to be held in my garden in July. It was only finished just in time! A week before the event, the only thing on the baseboard, were the track and the wiring. My brother, who had come for a week's holiday, and I, had a pretty stiff job in the limited time we had to spare before the fete. We worked till 11.0 or 12.0 most nights that week I remember. But the job was done, and to our amazement and relief, the line looked well, and more important, the locomotive and the automatic couplings worked throughout the afternoon almost without a hitch.

The layout plan was very simple; a run round loop at Tidmouth served the passenger platform, and another served the dock. These were connected through a tunnel with Knapford station, on the third side of the room.

Thomas, for he was the first engine, detached the coaches, and then, backing to the middle line, ran forward to the quarry. There he picked up the wagons loaded with stone, and pulled them to the docks. At the dock run-round he uncoupled the wagons, and ran forward to the quay to draw out the unloaded ones. He then pushed the full wagons alongside the ship, and returned with the empties and brake-van to the quarry. A spell of passenger work followed. This process took about 15-20 minutes and could be repeated indefinitely.

I mentioned above that we introduced a tunnel into the lay-out. We did it in the last hectic week, as it seemed to be the easiest and quickest way of filling in a bare stretch of line between the two stations. My brother built a wooden framework, and covered it with felt (scraps of pipe lagging), which we found lying about in the roof. When the felt was tacked in place, we touched it up with green oil paint and it looked quite effective. It was probably rosy inside and thereby hangs a tale!

Later in the year, October I think, I went into the railway room one evening. As I had not used the line for some time, I sent Thomas on a test, running light. He passed into the tunnel and I heard a sort of scrabbling noise. Thomas emerged, followed by a mouse, which looked round and shot back in at once. The next time through, Thomas and the mouse had a dead heat at the opposite tunnel mouth, Thomas rocked and nearly came off the rails, but he had the best of it and the mouse retired hurt, for it gave no sign when he went through again. Thomas reached Knapford and reversed. Ii gave him "full regulator" and he thundered into the tunnel. This time the mouse did not wait; it shot out of the opposite entrance, streaked along the track, dived into the dock, leapt 3 ft 6 in. from the baseboard to the floor, and was never seen again!

"Percy" propels the 9.30 a.m. train of empties to the quarry for loading - Photo by F. Thoday
"Percy" propels the 9.30 a.m. train of empties to the quarry for loading - Photo by F. Thoday

So much for the early days; now let us see what the line was like just before dismantling.

Tidmouth had, as the photographs shows, developed into quite a busy port. The tramp steamer, Nancy, was usually to be seen in her berth, and a fish dock had been built, in which the trawler Violet, unloaded her catch.

From Tidmouth, the line (which was single) travelled first through open country, which soon narrowed to a cutting (where the tunnel used to be) and swept under a rock bridge, a favourite haunt of locospotters. A service slack was enforced over the next section, where a gang of platelayers, were at work, and then came Knapford station.

The working of Knapford station was peculiar, in that although it had two roads, ostensibly for up and down working, each road was signalled, and could be used for traffic in either direction (c.f. Wisbech East, E.R.) In practice, the smaller platform on the passing loop was used for local push-pull traffic, while trains made up of mainline stock used the longer platform on the straight road.

The main line, leaving Knapford, disappeared into a tunnel on the other side of which, lay Cronk, Suddery, Barrow, and other places in the outside world.

To the left however a branch curved off from the main line. This was intended to reach FFarquhar, the terminal station (in the books) of Thomas's branch line, but it never did. After passing a speed restriction notice for drivers, it entered a rock cutting, which opened up into some quarry workings above the level of the line. There were two roads here, one for which had a short passenger platform for the convenience of the quarrymen.

Traffic Working
For visitors, we operated a "set piece" of train movements based on a morning's working (7 a.m. - 1.0 p.m.). This took about 45 minutes to run through.

The day began with a workman's train (push-pull), from Tidmouth to Knapford, and thence to the quarry. Returning to Knapford, it waited for the "milk" (5.30 a.m. dep. Barrow) to arrive at 7.25, and then disappeared into the tunnel, en route for Cronk. The "milk" went on to Tidmouth where the vans were unloaded, and shunted to the dock by Percy, the yard shunting engine. The locomotive went to the depot for servicing. Percy, after dealing with the vans, marshalled the empty stone wagons from the dock, and took them to Knapford quarry. At Knapford, they crossed the push-pull on its return journey from Cronk, timed to arrive at Tidmouth 8.38. The next departure from Tidmouth was the 9.0 "Sudrian," which ran non-stop to Barrow, with through coaches on alternate days to London (Euston), and Plymouth (Millbay). The shunter returned light to Tidmouth bringing back the staff, so that the push-pull could leave for Suddery and Brendam at 9.22. Twenty minutes later the stopping train from Barrow rolled out of the tunnel into Knapford station, and reached Tidmouth at 9.45. The engine of this train was not allowed much time for servicing, as at 10.30 it had to return to Barrow with a fish train "The Flying Kipper." The working timetable says that the locomotive is detached at Barrow, but that the vans work through to Manchester. 10.40 saw the return of the push-pull from Brendam to Tidmouth, and twenty minutes later it again set out, this time for Cronk. The working timetable shows that this train is held at Wellsworth, to cross the "Wild Nor' Wester," non-stop Barrow to Tidmouth, due in at 11:30. This train brought through coaches on alternate days from Plymouth (Millbay), and London (Euston). The coaches employed in this through service were still painted in the original colours of the original owning companies. After withdrawing the coaches, and putting them in their siding, the shunter went off light to Knapford Quarry, and was crossed, at Knapford (12.25), by the push-pull returning from Cronk. At 12.55, the stopping train from for Barrow left Tidmouth. Once this train had passed Knapford, the shunter drew out the loaded wagons from the quarry, and took them to the dock, where it pushed them alongside the Nancy for unloading. The shunter then returned to the locomotive yard, where its driver and fireman ate their lunch, and a great peace descended on the line, for a space.

The Barrow-Tidmouth semi-fast hauled by "Henry" runs into Tidmouth at 9:45 a.m. Photo by F. Thoday
The Barrow-Tidmouth semi-fast hauled by "Henry" runs into Tidmouth at 9:45 a.m. Photo by F. Thoday

This was the standard series of movements used for the purpose of demonstration for visitors, and at the end of it every item of rolling stock was in the same position as it had been at the beginning (with the exception of the main-line locomotives, which were on different trains). It was therefore possible, without any fiddling, to work through the programme again immediately if required.

The key to traffic operation was of course the return loop. Trains entered Knapford tunnel, ostensibly en route for Wellsworth, Cronk, Barrow, etc., and traversed the loop in a clockwise direction. The loop was single, and had three dead sections, "door," "centre," and "wall." As it was out of sight, indicator lights on the control panel showed which of the dead sections were occupied at any moment. "centre" and "wall," were were used for long distance trains, and "door," for the push-pull. In this way, we could bring the push-pull out at any time required, (anti-clockwise); but the long distance trains could only come out clockwise, and in the same order they went in.

One of the things that chiefly interested visitors was the apparently inexplicable fact that the "Sudrian" express disappeared into Knapford tunnel with four corridor coaches, two painted in G.W.R. colours, and two in our own colours. Twenty minutes later (actual time), the "Sudrian's" engine returned pulling "The Wild Nor' Wester," which again consisted of four corridor coaches, but three of these were in our N.W. brown, and one in L.M.S. maroon. The operator had not been near them, nor was there a siding on the loop; yet to all appearance the locomotive was returning with an entirely different train. How was it done? Very simply, though I fear that the answer will shock the purists. I had painted the opposite sides of the coaches different colours!

Rolling Stock
Locomotives. There were six of these: No. 1, Thomas, 0-6-0T, Essar standard cast body and motor, painted blue and lined out in red as in the books. No. 2, Edward, 4-4-0 adapted from a K.M.R. "2P" kit with Essar motor and wheels. Colours as in the books. No. 4, Henry, 4-6-0, Graham Farish "5MT" adapted detailed and painted at home. Colours as in the books. No. 5 James, 2-6-0 professionally made, (ex- G. & S.W.R. mixed traffic). colour as in the books, red with yellow lining. No. 6 Percy, 0-4-0ST, body home made, chassis and body made by Essar, colours as in the books, green with red lining. The Duck, 0-6-0PT, a Gaiety standard locomotive, bought in an emergency as a spare engine. We called it The Duck because of its peculiar waddling gait. G.W.R. colours as bought.

Passenger Stock. I semi-permanently coupled rake of four J.P. corridor coaches. These were used for "The Sudrian" and "The Wild Nor' Wester." I semi-permanently coupled a rake a three suburban coaches. There were home-made from litho papers, and used for long distance stopping trains. 1 push-pull set of two branch line coaches (Annie and Clarabel. They were of antique appearance and to my own design. Permanently coupled together, they were mounted on diamond frame wagon bogies, and looked surprisingly authentic. Better still, they could be pushed by the locomotive at speed over an S-bend of less than 2 ft. radius without disaster.

Goods Stock. 3 ventilated vans, home-made to my own design from C.C.W. parts. I mounted them on diamond frame bogies, and painted them the regulation N.W.R. brown. 3 insulated vans (S.R. pattern). Litho sides and ends. Bodies made of blocks of balsa wood. 2 brake vans, one Graham Farish adapted, the other home-made. 10 assorted open trucks and vans.

As mentioned above, a great deal more was planned than could be accomplished in the time. An engine shed at Tidmouth was badly needed, and signal cabins at Knapford and Tidmouth were conspicuously absent. Knapford needed a goods yard too, and there was an obvious lack of background scenery generally.

But though incomplete, the line gave my brother, my son and myself, a great deal of pleasure; and the appreciation of visitors was shown by the fact that during the few years that the railway was running, we were able to buy for the Church, two new almsbags, two new glass altar cruets, a wafer box, and an altar frontal, with the contributions that they put into the box at the door.

The N.W.R. is at present, alas, no more. But a new line has been planned in a better site, and work has begun. It is our hope that, profiting by past experience, we shall be able to make the new line even better than the old.

Model Railway Layout Plan - The N.W.R. (Tidmouth-Knapford Section