The island of Sodor is surrounded by beautiful blue sea. It has fields of green and sandy yellow beaches. There are rivers, streams, and lots of trees, where the birds sing. There are windmills and a coal mine, and docks where visitors to the island arrive. The island also has lots and lots of railway lines.
Who's that puffing down the track?
Hello, Thomas. Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Island of Sodor.
Oh look, there goes Edward the Blue Engine. Edward is a Really Special Engine. He’s a mixed-traffic engine, and runs his own branch line. He doesn’t have quite the strength he used to before the war, but he makes up for it by being kind and caring. Edward is such a sad sweet engine that he brings out the best in the others. All except James, that is.
“Hmph,” Jimmy chuffs, surveying Downton Sheds. Of all the engine depots in all the world, his has the most duffers, and no mistake.
There's Alfred, to start. He's the green number 3 engine, and he's a useless slow coach, if Jimmy's any judge. He's always chuffing and puffing when he ought to be working, and he sleep-whistles more nights than not - which is worst for Jimmy since their stalls in the sheds are right next to one another. And Afred's nothing special to look at, not like Jimmy.
Still, somehow all that doesn't matter to Carson, the number 4 engine. He's the oldest and biggest of them, and a terrible bossy boiler at that. He's got the express line, does Carson, and he never lets any of them forget it. They've even got to give him a respectful toot-toot every time they cross tracks or they won't ever hear the end of it. He's got the Controller's ear, what's more, and he's been using that power to send Alfred on all the good jobs and Jimmy on all the awful ones. Honestly, if Jimmy gets put to one more run for empty trucks while Alfred gets to cart holidaymakers to the seaside, his boiler will just burst, it really will.
“I think your boiler looks just fine,” Daisy always tell him when he’s wheeshing about the unfairness of it all in front of the coaches.
“Yes,” Jimmy sniffs, “Well, you would.” And he always turns his nose up and ignores the way Thomas gazes at him just then, like he rather thinks Jimmy’s boiler looks just fine, as well.
Alfred’s not the only useless engine in the yard, of course. There’s also Molesley, the useless old tram. He’s brown and quite dirty-looking, which is just a disgrace to the railway, really. He’s slow, too, and not much good at anything – except maybe drinking so much at the water tower that he overfills and has to go off and rest. Quite unprofessional, that, and yet he’s still got Carson’s favor over Jimmy. Some of the time, anyway. He does get to work rather closely with Thomas, though, them having the same branch line and all, and it makes Jimmy quite cross to think of it, so he doesn’t. Instead, he prefers to think about how he, Jimmy, got the job on his looks and talent and daft ol’ Molesley got the job because the Controller felt so bad he was being put out of work. At least he’s got a cow-catcher on him, and that’s his one saving grace, because if Jimmy had to work the quarry on Thomas’s line in Molesley's stead and wear an ugly thing like that – well, he doesn’t think he could bear it. Very un-engine-like, cow-catchers, and if anyone compared him to a tram, Jimmy’d probably go off and die of shame somewhere.
There’s Elsie, of course, as well, and she’s a bossy boiler if there ever was one. She orders them all about something dreadful, and if any of them dare complain, she gives them such a stern look that their wheels start to quiver. She even bosses old Carson, and that’s certainly something to watch.
“Now, Mr. Carson,” she might say sternly after Carson’s gotten finished thundering at Molesley, and Carson will get all red-cheeked and blustery. Of course, Jimmy doesn’t care if anyone sticks up for Molesley, but fact remains that Elsie’s got a soft spot for Thomas, too – and since Thomas in turn has a soft spot for Jimmy, it all works out, really.
And then there’s Edward. Edward’s blue like Thomas, but not half so cheeky. He’s actually pretty sad most of the time. Or, well, not sad, exactly, but quiet-like, and respectful. He does the jobs no one else will take and he’s happy to do them, because even shunting trucks in the yard makes him feel useful. It would have to, with a clunking old engine like he’s got. He’s not so very old, not much older than Thomas, but he is slow, and so creaky Jimmy’s embarrassed for him.
No one could ever mistake Edward for a Really Useful Engine, not in Jimmy's opinion, but last time he'd said that out loud, Thomas had gotten cross and biffed him so hard his buffers hurt for days. There's something between them, Thomas and Edward - something special - and damned if it doesn't put a scowl on Jimmy's face to think it.
Jimmy’s tried all the tricks he can think of to put Thomas off liking Edward. Nothing's worked.
“Edward's an old slow coach,” Jimmy puffs, and he is.
But Thomas just frowns when he hears this. “He was in the war,” he chuffs crossly. “At the Front an’ all.”
“You were at the Front,” Jimmy reminds him. “Came back with a hole in your funnel.”
“And don’t I know it,” Thomas wheeshes, eyes rolling up to glance at the off-colored patch of blue that is his war-wound. “Never been the same since.”
Jimmy doesn’t know about all that – he really thinks Thomas puffs the most steam on all the island. But still, that’s not what he was getting at. “There you are, then,” he says, point proved. Thomas isn’t an old slow coach and he was injured, so what right does Edward have to be so useless?
Thomas just sighs, letting out a great plume of steam. “S’not the same,” he says. “I never had a bomb go off inside my firebox, did I?”
Jimmy hisses and tries not to think of that sort of injury. He hadn’t know that about Edward, but it does sort of make sense, he guesses. It doesn’t make it better, exactly, that Jimmy’s got to wait time and again for Edward to get out of his way at a junction while Edward’s late every time, but it does make Jimmy feel a bit worse for going on about it so often.
It doesn’t matter anyway, really, what the reason is behind Edward’s slowness. Because, if JImmy’s really, truly honest with himself, he knows his dislike for Edward has nothing to do with speed. It’s nothing to do with Edward, even.
It’s all about Thomas.
Thomas is a cheeky engine, built for speed and for wit. He’s nasty in all the right sort of ways, and he’s Really Useful besides. He’s Jimmy very best friend, no denying that. If Jimmy had his way, Thomas would spend all his free time looking right at Jimmy and admiring how splendid and red his coat is, how nicely his polished dome sparkles in the sunlight. Thomas could wheesh to Jimmy about all his problems and Jimmy would listen to them and only laugh a very tiny bit before helping him out. Thomas could spend all his days with Jimmy, and all his nights, and Jimmy would be just fine with that. But Thomas never does. Because while Thomas might be the most important engine in Jimmy’s world (apart from Jimmy himself), the fact remains that Jimmy is not the most important in Thomas’s. Oh, he’s one of them, right enough, and Thomas spends an equal amount of his time admiring Jimmy and talking to Jimmy and wheeshing after Jimmy. But the other half of his time, the half that Jimmy hates to see him spend, is filled admiring and talking to and wheeshing after someone else – after Edward.
Thomas has two favorite engines in the world, and while one of them is Jimmy, one of them isn’t Jimmy at all; it’s that old slow coach Edward.
And that, that’s how Jimmy knows that every single engine in the depot apart from himself, up to and including Thomas, is a right idiot.