A Train That Inspired a 'Thomas the Tank Engine' Character Is Turning 100 - Atlas Obscura

A Train That Inspired a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ Character Is Turning 100

Duncan is based on a locomotive called Douglas.

Douglas the train shows off its new blue livery.
Douglas the train shows off its new blue livery. Courtesy Talyllan Railway

In the Thomas the Tank Engine junction, Duncan the train is not Mr. Popularity. “Pushy puffer,” huffs one engine. “Bossy boots!” adds another. He is mean-spirited and lazy—with a steaming temper. But far from the Thomas universe, in Gwynedd, North Wales, lives a train called Douglas. This train might have inspired the fictional Scottish steam train, but the similarities end there: Instead, the No. 6 locomotive is beloved, Welsh, and has been merrily chugging along for 100 years, the BBC reports.

The Talyllyn Railway is Britain’s oldest continuously operated narrow gauge railway, founded in 1866 to ferry slate and passengers 7.25 miles from the quarries above the remote Welsh village of Abergynolwyn to the main station at Twywn. Douglas the train was originally built in 1918 for the Airservice Construction Corps—for the first 28 years of its service, it was used by Britain’s Royal Air Force, before beginning service at the Talyllyn Railway in 1954.

The railway has been run by volunteers for many years, among them the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, the creator of the Thomas the Tank Engine books. Many of the stories and trains from the series were inspired by real-life events from this very junction, including curmudgeonly Duncan.

To celebrate its centenary, Douglas is getting brand new livery. For decades, it has been painted red, under the guise of “Duncan,” to the delight of many visiting pint-sized Thomas fans. Now, however, the train has been repainted blue in an RAF-themed design, to coincide with the air forces’ own 100-year anniversary.