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Thomas the tank engine toys buying guide

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Introduction to Thomas the Tank Engine

Thomas the Tank Engine is a fictional steam locomotive that was created by the Rev. W. V. Awdry. He is one of the characters in the Railway Series books, which were published in the 40s. Thomas is a blue steam train with large water tanks on each side of his boiler. He’s a cheeky little engine who wants to pull the express train, but his inexperience prevents this prestigious job. However, after he rescued James, another engine, following an accident, Sir Toppemhat, the boss of the Sodor Island railway, called Thomas a Really Useful Engine and gave him his own branch line. With coaches Annie and Clarabel, and sometimes help from Percy and Toby, two other engines, Thomas continues in this position.

In 1979, British writer and producer Britt Allcroft discovered the books and mortgaged her house to produce the Thomas and Friends TV show. It proved to be a good decision, as the award-winning show has become a huge commercial success, spawning a large array of products. The show has been narrated by some famous actors, including Alex Baldwin and the late George Carlin.

Thomas is joined by several friends in the show, including other engines, coaches, a crane, a helicopter, and a bus. This variety of characters means your child can enjoy many different toys to recreate Thomas’s world.

With the numerous different toys available in the Thomas series, it could be overwhelming trying to make up your mind. Price Inspector will help you sort through the choices, and then we’ll make sure you can buy a cheap Thomas toy that your child will love.

Here are some of the Characters

One of the great things about the Thomas series is that there are so many characters. However, it can sometimes be challenging to keep them straight. It makes shopping much easier if you know the characters, at least a little.

  • Thomas is the favourite for most children. After all, he’s the star of the show. He’s always blue and has a number 1 on his side. He’s called a cheeky engine, often getting into mischief. His coaches are Annie and Clarabel.
  • Donald and Douglas are lesser known characters. They are twins from Scotland, always getting in trouble. They are black and have coal tenders. They have their names on the side. Donald has a number 9 on the coal tender and Douglas has a 19.
  • Gordon the Big Express Engine is a large blue engine. He has a coal tender with a number 4 on it. He pulls the express train, and because of this, he usually thinks he’s better than anyone else.
  • Harold Helicopter loves being able to fly. His speed and versatility have caused rivalries with the engines, including a race with Percy. He’s a friend to the railway, however, often helping the engines.
  • Harvey is a rusted red towing engine used to clean up after a train crash. He is friendly, hard-working, and a useful engine.
  • Percy the Small Engine is a popular engine featured in many of the DVDs and books. He pulls the mail truck and is playful like Thomas. Percy is green, small, and has a number 6 painted on his side.
  • Spencer is a light blue, very long engine. He has a sloped back face, making it look like he’s going very fast. He’s not mentioned in many of the stories, so it’s probably a good idea to buy this character only if your child asks for it or you’re trying to collect all the engines.
  • Toby the Tram Engine has siding over his wheels that help him work on the roadside tramways. He’s a fair negotiator, and his coach is Henrietta.

Trains, Tracks, and Sets

The Thomas the Tank Engine railway comes in several different types of engines: Wooden, die cast metal, and motorized plastic. The most popular is probably the wooden ones. These are the most expensive, but also the most expansive. You can get hundreds of different characters, destinations, and accessories for the wooden trains. Some of the trains are only available in the wood version. There is also a battery operated Thomas that works with this set.

Die-cast trains are heavier and smaller. Their tracks are plastic and don’t have rails. They don’t have as many sets, destinations, and accessories as the wooden version, but they are less expensive. They are probably second in popularity.

Plastic, motorized trains are battery operated, and all the characters move. There are far fewer characters and sets available, but you have the fun of watching the trains move by themselves.

There are also numerous play-sets for the Thomas the Tank Engine set. Popular choices include a goldmine, engine shed, and engine wash. Some of the sets are self-contained but can attach to other sets of the same type, such as the James at Boulder Mountain set. It comes with enough track to build a figure-8 loop. The battery-operated James engine travels around the track, and at the top of the mountain, a boulder is released that chases him. In the tunnel, there is a switch that changes James’s face from smiling to frowning. Other sets, such as the roundhouse, come with a few pieces of track that connect to a larger set, but not enough to form its own loop.

Other Toys

Regardless of your child’s age or interest, there is certainly a Thomas the Tank Engine toy to suit. A pedal train lets your child ride on the train and pedal around. Skates and bikes are other popular outdoor toys.

A Thomas the Tank Engine game lets your child experience Thomas in a new way. Choose from classic favourites like dominoes that have the characters instead of numbers, or choose an educational computer game. There are several popular Thomas the Tank Engine books, from the easiest for beginer readers to slightly more advanced stories. One simple story even has magnetic pages and engines, so your child can move the engines throughout the story.

If your child loves the show, consider buying a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD. There are easily dozens to choose from. Each DVD usually has a common theme to the episodes on it, such as featuring stories about a particular engine. If you have a favourite character, this is a good way to learn more about him.

If you don’t have a train table, consider buying a Thomas the Tank Engine mat. This will give your child a fun, comfortable place to play with the trains. Puzzles and colouring books let your child be creative, while a Thomas the Tank Engine ball gets them up and moving.

Don’t forget about clothing and decorations. Whether you want to throw a Thomas birthday party or completely decorate your child’s room in the theme, there are numerous choices available. With everything from caps to shoes, backpacks to lunch boxes, your child can be covered head to toe in Thomas characters if you like.

Things to consider before you buy Thomas the Tank Engine

  • If you’re buying a train for someone else’s child, find out if they already have some, and if so, which version. There are 3 primary styles of track: wood, blue plastic and beige plastic. The different track sets are not compatible, so it’s easier to build a train track if you stick with one style of track.
  • Find out if the child has a favourite character. Each of the engines has a different personality, and having several different characters will make it easier to create a story line.
  • Consider buying a generic wooden track to save money. Brio makes a wooden track that is compatible with the wooden trains and the licensed Thomas the Tank Engine track. The licensed tracks can get very expensive, and while your child might want the actual characters from the show instead of Brio’s generic trains, he probably won’t care who made the track.
  • For younger children, consider buying an easy starter set while they are still learning how to put the train tracks together. Older children might enjoy a more complex system, including the Thomas the Tank Engine Lego building sets.
  • Consider buying a train table. It makes it easier for your child to play with their trains, and you won’t have to worry about anyone stepping on the trains or having to take them apart and set them up again every day. You can buy a Thomas the Tank Engine table, or you can find a less expensive but similar one from another manufacturer. Most have a drawer underneath for storing the pieces when not in use.

Buying Guide to Thomas the tank engine toys
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