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Thomas the Train takes a hit in the name of gender and economic equality

Thomas the Train is #1 in the hearts of boys and girls.
Thomas the Train is #1 in the hearts of boys and girls.

Despite all the troubling problems out there to be concerned about, what's apparently uppermost in the mind of one Mary Creagh, a member of the United Kingdom's parliament, is Thomas the Tank Engine. That’s right, it’s now his turn to take some of the blame for life's unfairness. The reasons: he’s a train and he’s male. Thus, she figures, it’s his fault that, in the U.K at least and probably here, too, there is a dearth of female train engineers.

No surprise, I suppose, in this age of political correctness and the quest for equality in all things--everything from income and healthcare to marriage, education, and, yes, gender, too. Even the Marines are in on that last one now.

Writes the AP: “More than half of female Marines in boot camp can’t do three pullups, the minimum standard that was supposed to take effect with the new year, prompting the Marine Corps to delay the requirement, part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.”

That decision begs the question of whom you would prefer to carry you out of harm’s way on the battlefield, but back to Thomas ...

Thanks to the measles, Thomas eventually came to be. You see, Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s two-year-old Christopher was isolated with a case of the measles and needed some entertaining. The reverend's solution: draw some engines, as described in the rhyme: “Early in the morning, down at the station, all the little engines, standing in a row ....”

Awdry drew faces on each: one smiling, one distinguished-looking, one stern, and yet another sad-faced. The latter came to be known as Edward, and the rest, as they say, is history. Because of Mrs. Awdry, the first Railway Series was published in 1945. The second series of stories, this one introducing Thomas, came out the following year—and he became the most beloved engine of all.

Once grown, Christopher picked up where his dad left off, creating stories for his son Richard. His first, “Really Useful Engines,” was published in 1983, followed by one a year for the next thirteen. To this day, Thomas and his friends are on TV, in the movies, and read by both boys and girls—drawn to the life lessons embedded in the stories and their message of kindness, hard work, and doing the right thing.

Regardless of all that good, here’s MP Creagh's take on Thomas and company: “In the Thomas the Tank Engine books, there are almost no female engines. The only female characters are annoying, a nuisance, and, in some cases, a danger to the functioning of the railway.”

"That’s not true. Most of the girl trains are good and always helpful, like Rosie and Lady," says eight-year-old Asher, a Thomas the Train expert. And, believe me, he would know. No matter to Creagh, though. Like many, she has an agenda, and, calling it a “national scandal,” she says, “There is a preponderance of men in the transport industry, and I am very keen to unpack some of the myths that stop women from taking up what are often highly paid and highly skilled jobs.”

And so she lays all this unfairness at the “feet” of Thomas and his cronies whose moralistic tales offer teachable moments to kids of both genders. Truth be told: Life is not fair, never was, and that women are not attracted to the transport industry is a load no toy train should have to carry.

Meanwhile, though, and close by in Phoenixville, the Schuylkill Valley Model Railroad Club’s doors open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on January 11 and 12, 18 and 19, 25 and 26. Boys and girls will thrill to this remarkable 1,000 square foot layout, watching as the trains speed along the 700 feet of tracks, heading from the yards of Philadelphia to Reading and back. It’s simply not to be missed.

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