By: Connor Lenahan
This post has been a long time coming. Without question the defining show for my childhood was and is Thomas The Tank Engine. There is no second place. This show is an integral part of who I am. It is a part of my identity.
When I was a little kid I had to go to the hospital for some illness that does not matter. Even though I can barely remember what I did yesterday, I can still remember sitting on my hospital bed and watching the tape my Aunt Diane had brought over for me to watch. I vividly remember a small orange engine coming to help a small green engine who had been in an accident. These were Rusty and Peter Sam respectively. The episode was “Rusty Helps Peter Sam,” or “Trucks” depending on if you were watching in the United States or England.
These five minutes almost two decades ago changed my life forever.
Thomas was my first real friend. When I was a really young kid – four to six years old – I would be at home constantly. This was the stretch of time where I was at my most fragile. I would break bones fairly regularly in comparison with every other point in my life. By 1998 I was already obsessed with the little blue tank engine, but then a slip and fall actually elevated my fandom.
Thomas caused my first broken leg. When I was only four years old I slipped on a cardboard box in our living room of my old house. The cardboard box was for a Thomas the Tank Engine train set that was somewhere in our house. I fell and broke my left tibia and fibula. When my mom came over to check on me she did what she knew would calm me down. She put me on the couch, elevated my leg, and put on a Thomas VHS. When it finished and the swelling of my leg was apparent, we went to the hospital.
I can remember that night clearly, and it was a decade and a half ago. That Thomas VHS was a pain reliever. It was more effective than Tylenol, Motrin, Morphine, Vicodin, or anything else could ever be. Thomas was there to make me smile. He distracted me from the injury entirely. It made the first of ten broken bone experiences relatively calm, because I was with my friend.
I’ve remembered my favorite episodes since my childhood exceedingly well. I distinctly remember the episode “Thomas and The Special Letter” being one I fell in love with as a toddler. It’s taken me until adulthood to probably understand why.
Thomas is going to travel with all the other engines on a vacation. Right before he is set to depart Thomas gets in an accident and breaks his front buffer. It appears as though his vacation will have to be canceled. Thankfully the menders fix his buffer in time for him to still go on the trip.
Last summer, I was set to go on a vacation with the other members of my family. Right before I was supposed to go on the trip I fell and broke my left tibia and fibula. It appeared as though I wouldn’t be able to travel with my family. Thankfully, the doctors fixed my shin and I was able to go after all.
I relate to this episode in a frighteningly strong way. Other people have been known to have a God complex, or a Napoleon complex. I think I might have a Thomas complex.
My other favorite episode as a child was “Escape.” This is Edward pulling off a heist/rescue mission that, to this day, is more harrowing and entertaining that 75% of Hollywood blockbusters.
I rewatched this while writing this article and it’s still entertaining today. It’s impeccably directed for a five minute short made with models and narrated by the genus mind behind “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.”
On that note, George Carlin is undoubtedly my favorite comedian of all time. He was also probably the third most important male voice to my ears growing up behind my father and grandfather. For some reason, it’s never been odd to me that the same man who once told me stories about Duck, my favorite character, coming to the rescue, also explained in detail the faulty logic of the Ten Commandments.
And, for the record, the closing image of Thomas, Duck, and Percy looking out on the sunset has been the wallpaper on my laptop for all of 2014.
I’m also convinced that Thomas The Tank Engine was the catalyst for my love of heavy artistic works. This is a stretch to say that a tank engine is the reason why I love artists like Fiona Apple or shows like True Detective, but I think there might be some merit to it. This makes sense, given it’s my own argument, but I grew up with episodes where the score was the equal of a top notch horror film in “Percy’s Ghostly Trick.”
Let’s also not forget when Thomas birthed the most demonic looking stone in film history while also actively having a destroyed shed catch on fire.
Plus there was the episode where an engine plunged into a river from a bridge high above never to be seen again. I watched this when I was less then ten years old. This is heavy stuff for a guy who could barely open a soda by himself. In fact, it’s fairly heavy stuff for a guy who’s now a sophomore in college.
For the longest time as a kid I wanted to live on the Island of Sodor with Thomas, Percy, Toby, and everyone else. I wanted desperately to be a part of their world.
That’s what made my discovery on vacation one of the highlights of my life. When shopping around in Dublin, my mom and I stumbled upon a rack of Thomas The Tank Engine wooden trains. In my basement back home, I have enough trains and tracks to build a model continental railroad. This isn’t an exaggeration.
Simply for old time’s sake, my mom and I looked at the wooden trains. That’s when we found one of the newest characters. His name was Connor.
This is when I got far more excited than I though I could ever be at almost 20 over a toy.
Earlier today I made a point to find and purchase a Connor train for my room. I called a local toy store and, on the fly, made up a fictitious younger cousin named Connor who I was buying the train for. Way easier to do that than explain why an adult with no children is looking for a toy at 1:30 PM on a Tuesday.
It wasn’t just finding out that there was a train with my namesake. It was finding out that there was a train with my namesake that shares a frightening amour of personal traits with me.
I looked up an online profile of Connor. Here’s what it said.
“Connor is excitable and energetic,” this might actually be lifted from BU Today on me. “He loves to race the other engines.” I have been known to participate in wheelchair drag races on occasion. “Although it is probably unintentional, he can come across as being somewhat smug.” Okay this is actually a little too on the nose. “Connor is friendly and eager to get other engines to join in the fun with him.” Yeah this is getting spooky. “Connor is rather vain and doesn’t like to get messy or dirty.” I am a train.
There’s even an episode where Connor almost gets into trouble for running a red signal. I once accidentally ran three red lights in a rain storm. I am actually a train.
Thomas The Tank Engine will always have a special place in my heart. I will come back to it every so often because it makes me smile. It always does. It always has. I always will. I owe the creative minds behind this show a great debt of thanks for putting a smile on my face time and time again when I would be stuck home with nothing to do after an injury.
Even better yet, a dream I had as a kid is now a reality. I’m, kind of, able to live in the world of Thomas. It may be vicariously, but it’s as close as I will ever be.
I will take that gladly.
Connor Lenahan (@ConnorLenahan) is a sophomore at Boston University, majoring in journalism.