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- “Where's your cowcatcher?!"
"But I don't catch cows, sir!"
"Don't be funny!”
- ―The policeman and Thomas, Thomas in Trouble
Cowcatchers (also known as a cattle catcher, cow plow or pilot) are devices used by the engines to deflect obstacles from the tracks as they pull their trains. They are usually fastened onto the engines under the front buffers, and push the obstacles aside when the engines run through it. Most cowcatchers are painted in the colour corresponding to their engine's livery. In many countries, cowcatchers are used on engines almost exclusively.
Traditional cowcatchers are a series of metal plates arranged in a grill pattern, often built at a sloped angle to deflect debris. Some engines are also equipped with streamlined casings with cowcatchers known as skirts to cut through the wind. Many diesel and electric engines also have these, though these are more durable than most steam engine skirt casings, and can double as Snowploughs in winter. Some engines also have guard irons, pieces of metal arranged to protect the front and back of the wheels and occasionally the sides. These variations only cover a bare minimum of the wheels for safety.
For some parts of the line, such as the Quarry Tramroad, engines are required to wear cowcatchers via law. When Thomas got caught by a policeman for running the line without cowcatchers (and side-plates), the Fat Controller brought Toby to run the line since he had cowcatchers.
- Toby, his brothers, Flora and Mavis have side-plates in addition to the cowcatchers because they are tram engines (tramway engine in the case of Mavis).
- In the first series episode, "Thomas in Trouble", Thomas was warned by a policeman to be fitted with cowcatchers and side-plates.
- Toby's cowcatchers were damaged in the ninth series episodes, "Toby Feels Left Out" and "Emily Knows Best".
- In some countries worldwide, such as the United States, all engines are required to wear cowcatchers via rail-regulations.
- Despite this, in Big World! Big Adventures! and other episodes where Thomas traveled to the United States, he does not have any cowcatchers put on him at all.
- Strasburg's BEDT #15 has cowcatchers but is hidden below the bufferbeam and painted black to camouflage it with the undercarriage, because of Thomas's design not having one.
- Flying Scotsman had cowcatchers on the 1969-1973 USA tour, but were restored after the tour was over.