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Duncan was built by Andrew Barclay Sons & Co. at their Caledonia Works in Kilmarnock, Scotland to their simple and straight forward industrial design in 1928 and worked in a factory in Scotland, which Peter Sam claims is the source of his strong language and volatile temper. Duncan is powerful and can haul all but the heaviest trains; but his short wheelbase gives him a tendency to ride roughly at speed.
In 1958, Duncan was bought secondhand by Sir Handel Lloyd Brown as a spare engine, as the workload was too much for Sir Handel and Peter Sam to manage unassisted. He came soon after Peter Sam's accident with the slate trucks and was re-gauged to 2ft 3in. Duncan was rude and arrogant at first. However, following accidents involving the tunnel and a worn stretch of track south of Cros-ny-Cuirn, he began to see sense and made up his feud with Rusty, whom he had detested for being a diesel.
He was still selfish and prone to temper tantrums and actually stalled on Rheneas Viaduct on the claims that he was overworked and not polished enough. Skarloey, fed up with his careless attitude, finally taught him sense with the story of Rheneas' single handed running of the railway and how passengers are far more important than a polish.
When some boy scouts were camping and volunteering for the Skarloey Railway, they were going to help fix a part of the line that was wet and mushy from the rain. When the scouts became thirsty, the leader stopped Duncan to help them find something for them to drink in fear that they might be dehydrated. Unfortunately, the Refreshment Lady ran out of drinks since business was very busy for her, but Duncan suggested another tea shop near the station by the lake. They managed to pick up enough drinks and the boys cheered Duncan for helping them. He even replied by saying "It's only fair we should help you too!"
Duncan has visited the Talyllyn Railway in Wales as a tourist attraction. He was there in 2005.
Duncan has also been very cocky, but this has often fired back at him.
Once, Rusty told Duncan a story about a ghost engine who fell off the Old Iron Bridge one night. That next morning, Peter Sam's driver had an idea and told Duncan's driver and fireman of a trick they could play on Duncan the following night for all his teasing, their chance soon came, as Duncan was crossing the Old Iron Bridge the next night, he noticed some fireflies forming the shape of an engine which spooked him, then his driver dropped a rock into the ravine, which spooked Duncan even more and he went to his shed scared. This put Duncan in his place, thinking he had just seen a ghost.
His ego once landed him in a swamp, after being careless working on the incline railway.
Duncan is well known and often teased for his temper. He has met his match before, a passenger who grumbled more than him! He also showed a lack of Christmas spirit and often grumbled about the busy work he has to do during that time of year, even going as far to say "Bah Humbug!" Despite his rough exterior, he heroically helped Luke up a hill around Christmas time, showing his kinder side and was rewarded with a new coat of paint.
Duncan is a Scottish narrow gauge engine with rough manners and a strong temper, making him the least social of the Skarloey Railway fleet. He was prone to boisterously bouncing about, which became known as "rock 'n' roll", whenever the mood took him, which once led to wedging in the north mouth of Rheneas Tunnel (probably caused from keystones knocked down by his funnel) and derailing on a stretch of line near Cros-ny-Cuirn.
While Duncan means well, he often grumbles and complains, usually about not being polished or being over-worked and can be rude, rough and bad tempered. This can easily be seen from his dislike for Christmas for some reason. He claims to be a plain engine who believes in plain speaking, an approach which can cause him to make callous or belligerent remarks. Duncan can be a competitive engine too, particularly with James. He can be impulsive, even more so than Sir Handel and make rash decisions which usually lead to his own downfall, (such as getting in arguments or short lived feuds with Rusty). He is not always quick to apologise or realise the error of his ways. However, upon Skarloey recalling Rheneas' gallant act to get his passengers home, Duncan admitted he had the wrong attitude and tried hard to be a more useful, respectable engine in the future.
In spite of his rough ways, Duncan can be a little misunderstood as he is focused, confident, resourceful and has a big heart. He is always willing to lend a helping hand whenever he can and wants to be really useful.
Duncan is based on the Talyllyn Railway's Douglas, an Andrew Barclay "E" or "Light" Class 0-4-0WT. Between 2000 and 2015, Douglas was dressed up as Duncan for special events associated with the "Thomas the Tank Engine" franchise, known as "Duncan Days"; since 2016 Edward Thomas has performed this duty. Several other engines of this class are also preserved.
In the Railway Series, Duncan is painted in the Skarloey Railway's red livery with blue and yellow lining and with his name painted on the sides of his boiler in yellow. In the television series, he is painted golden yellow with black lining and gold boiler bands - as of the switch to CGI, however, the lining on his cab is unpainted. He also wears a brass (originally black) nameplate on either side of his boiler and a black numberplate on each of his coal bunkers.
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- The Rev. W. Awdry's model of Duncan is currently on display at the Narrow Gauge Museum in Tywyn.
- Duncan's large scale model is currently on display at the Hara Model Railway Museum in Japan.
- Duncan's tendency to do "Rock-n-Roll" that resulted in incidents such as scraping tunnels with his cab and derailing were inspired from his real life basis Douglas, who was known for being a "Rough Rider" with its short wheelbase.
- When the Skarloey Railway returned in the sixteenth series, Nitrogen Studios went to the Talyllyn Railway to take measurements of the locomotives to make CGI models of the Skarloey engines. However, Duncan's basis Douglas was having an overhaul and could not be measured, hence why Duncan did not return in Series 16. When Duncan returned in Series 18, he is clearly based on his television model rather than his basis, unlike the other engines. Because of this, he is the only narrow gauge engine to have brake pipes and not to have a Talyllyn styled tail lamp. He is also the final narrow gauge engine to be introduced to the CGI series.
- Duncan is the only narrow gauge engine who has not gained a new whistle sound since his debut in the fourth series.
- Duncan's happy face mask for his small scale model (used in the fourth and fifth series) is now owned by Twitter user Thomas Merchandise.
- In the Latin American dub, despite Duncan being Scottish he had a German accent between the ninth and eleventh series.
- “Who is Duncan?"
"He came as a spare engine after my accident".
"Is he useful?"
"He'll pull anything and I'm sure he means well, but he's bouncy and rude. He used to work in a factory and his language is often...strong".
"I understand", said Skarloey gravely.”
- ―Skarloey and Peter Sam talking about Duncan, "Home at Last", "The Little Old Engine"
- ERTL (normal and metallic; both discontinued)
- Wooden Railway (redesigned in 2009; discontinued)
- Take Along (discontinued)
- Take-n-Play (discontinued)
- Motor Road and Rail (discontinued)
- TrackMaster (normal, Duncan Does it All and The Runaway Elephant versions; all discontinued)
- My Thomas Story Library (discontinued)
- Thomas Engine Collection Series (discontinued)
- Mini Die Cast Collection (with connected green narrow gauge coach; discontinued)
- Departing Now (discontinued)
- Trading Cards (discontinued)
- De Agostini (discontinued)
- Brio (discontinued)
- Nakayoshi (discontinued)
- Capsule Plarail (normal and metallic)