One Tank Trip

One Tank Trip: Thomas and Friends: Explore the Rails

READING, Pa. - It could have just as easily been Gordon, Edward or Henry out in front. "Thomas the Tank" often steals the show, but in reality, he wasn't even part of the story until years later.

It's one of the Thomas tidbits you'll learn at the Reading Public Museum. Its newest traveling exhibit, "Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails," goes beyond the TV series and back to how it all began.

The story of Sodor was dreamed up by the Rev. Wilbert Audry, who had always been fascinated by the steam engines he saw on the rails in the English countryside. Those trains were the inspiration for stories he would later tell his son.

Once put on paper, those stories became The Railway Series. Audry wrote 105 stories for the series, and the first was published in 1942, featuring Gordon, Edward and Henry. No Thomas in the story. He didn't show up until 1946.

"And then I think, of course, the television show is what really has made it explode. It's been around since 1984, and so that's how a lot of people know it," explained John Graydon Smith, the director and CEO of the Reading Public Museum.

Familiar? Just ask the kids who walk in the door of the museum. Excited is an understatement.

"It's been a great opportunity for families to come out and explore the land of Sodor and learn about Thomas and his adventures and really go into his world, but do it together as a family," Smith said.

Together, like the creator and his son Christopher Audry, who began contributing to the series in 1982, two years before it first appeared on TV. Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr was the narrator.

"The TV shows have featured very famous people as narrators," Smith explained.

George Carlin and Alec Baldwin lent their voices.

Thomas got a makeover in 2010, switching from live-action model animation to computer-generated animation.

Now, the trains are telling their own stories.

"It's interesting," Smith said. "I don't know why, but it does seem to be a universal love of trains. In fact, for Christmas, my father gave my son the first model train that he got in 1950 and my 2-year-old is as excited about it as my father was back in 1950."

Maybe it's the adventure of it all. The idea that you can get somewhere, remembering it's the journey, not the destination that matters.

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