James is a vain mixed-traffic engine.
James was built by George Hughes at Horwich Works in 1915 as an 0-6-0 with a wooden brakes, James was once unable to stop due to his wooden brake blocks. After his first accident he had his front sandboxes removed, was rebuilt into a 2-6-0 with a proper brake and a Fowler tender and repainted red with gold stripes and blue lining. He was troublesome when he returned, ruining Sir Topham Hatt's new top-hat with his steam and jarring his coaches so much a brake pipe leaks. He was threatened to be painted blue (which James detests), but later made the line's worst trucks behave after being given a second chance.
From Tony Grigg's notes on "The Island of Sodor":
Number 5 "James"
James is an experimental 2-6-0 Hughes superheated tender engine. James is a mixed traffic locomotive and based at Tidmouth for the main line runs.
James is very proud of his paintwork. He hates pulling trucks, and believes that he should only pull coaches. He thinks himself superior to the others, and can be shallow, boastful and vain, particularly to those who appear old-fashioned, weak, slow or dirty. However, on a number of occasions he has found himself in need of help from those he has insulted, and is, in the end, apologetic.
James was the last engine to retain a prejudice against diesels. However, after stalling on a cold day he was rescued by the Works Diesel, and James had to admit that nothing was wrong with diesels. This appears to be one of the few lessons that has stuck.
In "The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways" it was claimed that James is based on a rebuild of a L&YR Class 27 locomotive from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and designed by George Hughes, who added a square Belpaire firebox and a Schmidt superheater and extended the footplate and sandbox. He was rebuilt with 5'6" wheels as opposed to the standard 5'1" wheels, extended the running plate for the fitting of the pony wheel truck and a low capacity Fowler six-wheel tender. However, as with most of the early Railway Series characters, this information was purely retcon.
Sodor "historian" Martin Clutterbuck has pointed out that James strongly resembles an G&SWR "Austrian Goods" 2-6-0 from the Glasgow and South Western Railway, but with the addition of a belpaire firebox. At any rate, the Reverend W. Awdry used an engine of this class to represent James on his model railway. It is possible that he rejected this prototype for James' official "biography" on the grounds that an English locomotive would be more likely to end up on Sodor.
James was originally painted navy-black with red lining before his accident and was given his red coat with yellow stripes and black lining to cheer him up. Sometime during the 1960s, James' black lining was repainted blue and gold. James has the number "5" and the letters "NWR" painted in bright yellow with a blue border on his cab and tender sides, respectively. He carries his number in gold figures.