The world my trains inhabit is a freelance one, meaning it does not seek to represent any real railway companies, but is purely imaginary.
The Rev. Awdry went to great lengths to create a world for his stories to live in, and his book The Island of Sodor; Its People, History and Railways fleshes out the universe, tying it in to real legends and historical events. I wanted to take this a step further and create a grittier, grimier world that felt like good enough ‘plausible nonsense’. Fun but almost believable.
I’ve used Awdry’s book as the backbone of this world, and used it to build a database of information to draw from. I’ve tried to break down my universe changes into sections below.
Overall I want this world to feel muckier. Weathered locos and stock, detritus left lying about. The original Island of Sodor is a bucolic backwater filled with beautiful rolling countryside, great for a children’s book. Here’s an outline of thematic changes I’m going for:
-Industrialisation of the Island much earlier.
In the books, the railways barely exist before 1915 when the mainland had stopped building ‘main lines’ some years before. This Sodor has started to export raw materials and establish itself as a modern community in the 1800s. With this, the railways that pre-date the NWR are much more expansive, and link up and work together.
-Expansion of towns and population.
Every railway needs a reason to exist, and destinations to go to. Along with moving my ‘early Sodor’ timeline earlier, this allows towns like Tidmouth to become large industrial concerns, dark industrial landscapes with smoke belching from factories. Large marshalling yards and docklands, businesses competing ruthlessly with one another for trade.
For example, the china clay workings at Brendam have been backdated from 1952 to 1870 to become the prime reason the Wellsworth and Suddery (Later the West Sodor) Railway was built. Bulk materials are always a good bet for railway construction.
-An enlarged fleet.
A friend once said ‘every modeller will manage to come up with reasons to have more locos’ and this is no exception. I did not want to number my locos 1, 2, 3 which works for a story book, but creates problems where you want your new loco to fit nicely in between numbers 2 and 3! I have used a numbering system based on LMS power classifications. For example, the eponymous hero Thomas has gone from No.1 to No.301, being a class 3 loco and present at the beginning, when the railway was formed in 1915.
My increased traffic flows require a grand fleet of locos, and whilst I, like the Reverend, am ‘a sucker for oddities’, I wanted to create distinct classes and batches of matching locos. The NWR needs to be able to operate in isolation without relying on its rival, the LMS, for motive power.
Edward, the first engine appearing in the first book, was the first name that popped into Awdry’s head as he came up with the story to cheer up his poorly son. The other early characters were similarly named. Later on, Awdry had many subtle in-jokes and references with names which I liked.
I wanted to give more of a reason for locos being given their names, and came up with some naming conventions, you can read about them here.
Everything had to have a full and proper name and a reason for it. Our hero becomes Thomas Allen, a real-life person who would have lived near to or on Sodor had it existed. Edward himself becomes Edward Faragher, another local hero.
–The fortunes of the Sodor & Mainland Railway are reversed. In Awdry’s universe this line closed in 1901, but here, it is much more prosperous despite constant financial troubles. I have had it link up with the WSR and operate through trains from one side of the island to the other. By the time of the formation of the NWR in 1915 (In this world, a merger of the S&MR and the WSR rather than Awdry’s W&S merging with the TK&E), the Sodor & Mainland is being entirely operated by the Furness Railway under contract.
The NWR groups these two lines (the TK&F remaining independent until 1923) and takes on sole responsibility for operations after 1918. It is with government funding that the bridge over the Walney Channel replaces the train ferry, and the line to Arlesburgh is completed.
–Some of the locos are real. Awdry tended to create locos by adding an extra one on to production runs or having them as one-off builds. I haven’t discarded this completely, but have changed some of my backstories to include real locos that were scrapped in the real world.
A few examples:
-‘Duke’ of the MSR is a rebuild of the Ffestiniog Railway’s England 0-4-0TT ‘Mountaineer’, which in real life was scrapped in 1879, the only one of these locos not to be rebuilt into an 0-4-0STT
-‘Oliver’ the GWR 14xx 0-4-2T is now the real life 1402, which was the first to be withdrawn in 1956
-Likewise ‘Toby’ the LNER J70 is now former No.7138, withdrawn in 1942.