Thomas the Tank Engine Wiki
Main Page

“Once upon a time there was a little engine called Edward.”
― The first line in The Railway Series

The Three Railway Engines is the first book of The Railway Series.


In 1942, Wilbert Awdry's son Christopher had measles and was confined to bed. To prevent their son getting bored, Wilbert and his wife Margaret Awdry told him stories and nursery rhymes. Most of them eventually lost their entertainment value, but one that continually appealed to Christopher was the rhyme "Down by the Station". Wilbert subsequently drew a picture of several engines standing in a row based on the rhyme and for fun gave them faces with various expressions. One sad-looking engine appealed to Christopher, as it shared his mood and he asked what his name was. Wilbert replied with the first to come to his head: Edward. Through a series of questions and answers, the story of Edward's Day Out was created. Eventually, Christopher began asking for more stories and Awdry obliged him with "Edward and Gordon" and "The Sad Story of Henry", the latter being inspired by another rhyme he was fond of. Christopher would constantly ask for the stories to be retold, even after he recovered and to ensure consistency between tellings, Wilbert wrote them down on the back of old church circulars.

Margaret Awdry also liked the stories and told her husband to get them published, as she felt they were better than most children's books in circulation. Awdry was reluctant, but Margaret persisted and mentioned the stories in a letter to Wilbert's mother, Lucy, who replied that she knew the author Michael Barsley and asked that the stories be sent to her so she could forward them to him. At Margaret's insistence, Wilbert did so. Barsley's attempts to find a publisher were unsuccessful, so he showed the stories to his agent, Edith Ray Gregorson, who liked them and agreed to pursue the matter further. Her attempts to find a publisher were initially no more successful, as most were suffering paper shortages due to the Second World War, but in September 1943, Edmund Ward agreed to publish them. Like most publisher's of children's book of the time, Ward bought the copyright of its titles for an outright fee, rather than pay an advance and royalties, and bought the copyright of Awdry's stories for £25. Ward refused to commit to a publication date, to Wilbert's annoyance, as wartime shortages made it difficult to acquire paper.

Initially intended to be published as separate books, Ward opted to publish them as one. In October, Ward wrote to say that the stories would be published as one book entitled The Three Railway Engines but that he required rough sketches for his illustrator to base his pictures on and a fourth story to finish off the book, which were submitted in November 1943. While Awdry was annoyed at the requests, since Ward had already rejected his drawings, he agreed and wrote "Edward, Gordon and Henry".

Ward paid artist William Middleton £62 to illustrate the book, after the Awdry's illustrations were deemed inadequate for publication. Middleton did not think the book would be a success as it was about "dirty old locomotives." As a result, he did not put much effort into his drawings.[1] Middleton was inexperienced as an illustrator, had little sense of scale, and was clueless when it came to drawing people. The engines in his pictures each had a flat disk (giving the appearance of having been drawn by tracing around a coin) stuck on the front of the smokebox, on which faces had then been clumsily drawn.[2] The illustrations were considered dull, poorly coloured and wanting in line subtlety. Awdry was severely disappointed in the illustrations, having emphasised through his agent that the engineering details needed accuracy. Middleton's illustrations ended up causing many problems, particularly in regards to Henry: whereas in Awdry's original illustrations Henry had been drawn as a 4-4-2, Middleton drew him as a 4-6-2 and virtually identical to Gordon, a problem exacerbated by Henry's repaint at the end of the book. A more glaring continuity error was in the depiction of Henry's Tunnel. The text stated that the tunnel had only one bore prior to Henry getting stuck in the tunnel, with a second being constructed afterwards. Middleton, however, illustrated the tunnel as having two bores from the start.

Printing finally began in February 1945 and the book was published on 12 May 1945, with an initial print run of 22,500 that had cost Edmund Ward £1569 to produce. The book was an immediate commercial success, quickly selling out its initial print run of 22,500 copies and two additional print runs of 17,000 and 16,000 were issued within a few months. Awdry was happy to see his book in print. Due to the poor standards of the illustrations, Middleton was not invited to illustrate subsequent books.

The book was later re-illustrated by C. Reginald Dalby from the eighth edition onwards in October 1949.

Foreword (1998 Edition)

Dear Friends,
When The Three Railway Engines was first published in May 1945, a foreword to it was probably not considered. Within six months, however, it became clear that the book wasn't going to be the slight affair that had perhaps been expected. Twenty-five books were to follow, all with forewords, in a sequence that became known as The Railway Series; and yet, despite numerous reprintings, the little book that started the wheels turning remained without a preface.

Now, for this new edition, more than 50 years later, a foreward is thought appropriate. I feel very privileged, not only to have been asked to write it but to have the chance to dedicate the stories to the memory of my father, their creator.

Christopher Awdry
The Author's Son


Edward's Day Out

The big engines are teasing Edward that he will not be allowed out because he is too weak, but when the driver sees him upset he offers to take him out. Edward goes to get some coaches, and, after a few moments of panic waiting for the guard, they start off and Edward has an enjoyable day.

Edward and Gordon

Gordon is bragging about pulling the express, but he comes past with a long goods train while Edward is shunting. Gordon deliberately stalls at a hill and Edward comes as a "banker". At the top of the hill, Gordon races ahead, and Edward gets puffed out but is pleased with the prospect of a new coat of paint.

The Sad Story of Henry

One rainy day, Henry stops in a tunnel and refuses to move. His crew, the passengers, another engine and even the Fat Director try to get him to move, but to no avail. Eventually, they have him bricked up, and they bore a new tunnel.

Edward, Gordon and Henry

Gordon is pulling the Express when he bursts his safety valve outside Henry's Tunnel. Edward tries to pull the train, but cannot. The Fat Director lets Henry out of the tunnel so that he and Edward can pull the train. They later help Gordon home, and Henry is rewarded with a new blue coat.


Edward's Day Out

Edward and Gordon

The Sad Story of Henry

Edward, Gordon and Henry

  • Edward
  • Henry
  • Gordon
  • Sir Topham Hatt I


Edward's Day Out

Edward and Gordon

The Sad Story of Henry

Edward, Gordon and Henry

  • Henry's Tunnel
  • Vicarstown Sheds
  • Tidmouth (mentioned)


  • The Rev. W. Awdry did not intend for the first three stories to be based on the same railway, before publishers convinced him to write a fourth story.
  • In the Middleton illustration, the Red Engine is in between Gordon and 98462. In the Dalby illustration, the Red Engine switched positions with 98462. Dalby also drew two different versions of the Red Engine.
  • This is the only book to feature 98462, 87546 and the two red engines, who were never seen or heard of in later books.
  • The Japanese version includes a foreword message by Wilbert Awdry, written for Japanese readers in 1973.
  • The 1998 Egmont edition included a foreword message by Christopher Awdry.
  • An illustration from The Sad Story of Henry was released as a Royal Mail stamp in 2011 to mark the Reverend W. Awdry's centenary.
  • The book was released digitally for Apple products on 11 May 2012.
  • A 70th Anniversary print was released on 16 April 2015.
  • A personalised version of the book was released by Signature Publishing.
  • The fourth illustration of Edward's Day Out features a coach without a front coupling. Awdry explained that one of the big engines was pulling the coaches so roughly that the coupling fell off. When Edward arrived to collect the coaches, they had not fitted a new coupling and hook. This took some time, so the guard went off home to his "elevenses". This also explains why Edward was waiting for his guard.
  • Edward and Gordon is based on the common instances of trains stalling on the Lickey Incline near the Awdry family's home in King's Norton.
  • The BBC disastrously adapted The Sad Story of Henry for television on 14 June 1953 using 00 gauge models. Some points had not been set so Henry derailed. Since, in accordance with BBC standards, the program was broadcast live, the viewers (including The Railway Series editor Eric Marriott) were surprised to see a large hand pick up the train and place it back on the rails.
  • Dalby drew the engine that tried to push Henry out of the tunnel in The Sad Story of Henry as James, but children mailed Awdry letters asking why James was red before he was black in the following book, so Awdry decided to make the Red Engine a different character altogether.[4]
  • The events of this book take place in 1923 bar The Sad Story of Henry, which takes place in 1922.
  • A painting book based on Dalby's illustrations was published in 1950.
  • The book was first published on George Carlin's eighth birthday.
  • This book was published in 1945, the same year Michael Brandon, the US narrator for Series 7-16, was born.
  • A mirrored version of the sixth illustration of Edward and Gordon is included on the wall of the 2022 Knapford Station Wooden Railway set.


  • In the first illustration of Edward's Day Out Gordon, 98462 and 87546 have yellow stripes instead of red ones. Also, Henry is seen on the very left side of the sheds, even though he was shut in the tunnel by the time the story takes place.
    • It's possible the events of the first illustration occurred before Henry was shut in the tunnel.
  • Between the first and second illustrations of Edward's Day Out, 98462 gains outside cylinders.
  • In the second illustration of Edward's Day Out, Gordon's boiler is shorter than it should be.
  • In the second and third illustrations of Edward's Day Out, a post appears between 98462 and Gordon.
  • In the third illustration of Edward's Day Out, Gordon is missing his tender, and 98462 is missing his wheels.
  • In the fourth illustration of Edward's Day Out, Edward collects three coaches, but in the next illustration, he has five coaches with him.
  • In Edward's Day Out, the shed has six berths, but in the first illustration of Edward and Gordon, the shed has seven berths.
  • In the second illustration of The Sad Story of Henry, Edward is seen travelling through the other bore in the tunnel. However, in the fourth illustration, Edward is seen again coming in the same direction.
  • It is stated that a second bore was dug after Henry was shut up, but in all the illustrations prior there were two bores shown.
  • In the first illustration of Edward, Gordon and Henry, Edward was incorrectly depicted as a 4-4-2. This was later fixed by Dalby.
  • In the second illustration of Edward, Gordon and Henry, Gordon's buffers are black instead of white and his headlamp/code is a "pick up goods" one instead of "Express".
  • In the fourth illustration of Edward, Gordon and Henry, Gordon and Edward's handrails are missing.
  • In the final illustration of Edward, Gordon and Henry, Gordon has circular buffers.
  • Throughout the book, Henry loses and gains trailing wheels. His correct wheel arrangement is 4-6-2.
  • Gordon's steampipes continuously disappear and re-appear.
  • Gordon is portrayed as already having LMS running gear, square buffers, and a six-wheel Fowler tender.
  • In all illustrations of the Middleton editions of the book, the running boards of the engines and tenders are connected.

In Other Languages

Language Title
Chinese Mandarin 小火车登场啦!
German Thomas die Tenderlok und andere Eisenbahngeschichten (1981)
Japanese 三だいの機関車 (1973-2004)
3だいの機関車 (2005)
Korean 세 기관차 (1996)
세 기관차 이야기 (2005)
Swiss-German Drei Dampfloks werden Freunde (1987)
Welsh Y Tri Injian Tren


Wooden Railway

Name Released Discontinued Highlights Image
60th Anniversary Henry 2005 2005
  • The variant resembles Henry with his new shape; however, chronologically, Henry still sported his old shape at the time of the story.
  • Henry's face is unique and different from all his other variants.
  • It includes a story card of "Edward, Gordon and Henry".