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The Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends ERTL models are a set of die-cast models of the characters from the Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends TV series and The Railway Series books, by ERTL. The range originally consisted of only the main characters, but it eventually extended to include almost all the characters.
Ertl created their first Thomas model in 1984. It came with a decal sticker sheet so you could alter Thomas' face to make him have a different facial expression. This year they also released a larger, motorised version of Thomas.
Later during the year, James and Henry were released. They featured only their happy face. The sticker faces were soon replaced with fixed plastic faces.
The Ertl range has made new engines nearly every year. During the range's popularity, they made miniature models of each engine, as well as Gold rail models. Some were only released in America, such as Thomas with Annie and Clarabel, Percy and the Troublesome Trucks, as well as Toby, Henrietta and a truck. These were quite big, and lacked in detail, but they were still fun to play with.
Also all packaging from 1993-2000 featured a detailed illustration of the character and with a wonderful background with it which were drawn by the talented Owain Bell.
- Thomas (with Decal sticker sheet until around 1985)
In 1985 the ERTL's range started over. Thomas, Henry and James were given red buffer beams to replace the older white ones. Series 1 had now fully aired.
- Annie and Clarabel (could only be released in a 3-pack with Thomas or Percy until 1990)
During this time ERTL were facing demands from the general public to produce more characters. ERTL listened to these demands in 1990.
1990 was also the year that marked the end of sticker faced engines. They were now replaced with plastic faces. This was most likely due to the fact that the sticker faces were prone to falling off. Models were now released annually.
- Troublesome Trucks
- The Fat Controller and Porter
- The Old Coaches
During this time, the new sub-range, the minatures range came out with playsets, however they only lasted until around 1992 before going out of production.
Series 3 had now fully aired
- Milk and Tar Wagons
Mavis was the last character to be produced in the classic packaging
The ertl brand was then given a re-vamp. The packaging changed. The packaging featured a highly detailed painting of the engine on the packaging and dependant on the type of vehicle they were, the background slightly differed to others. A few models were introduced during 1993:
- City of Truro
- Sodor Fuel Tankers
- Sodor soft side truck
- Breakdown Train
- Sodor mail coaches
- Scrap Trevor on a flatbed – (Trevor, smothered in 'rust' paint, on a well wagon labelled "Saved from Scrap")
- Express Coaches
Series 4 had now fully aired. The narrow gauge engines were introduced.
- Sir handel
- Peter Sam
- Lord Harry
A small handful of models were introduced:
- The Diesel D261
This was the year that the metallic engines came out.
- Chinese Dragon
- S.C.Ruffy with a Truck (until 1999)
Series 5 had now fully aired.
- Iron 'Arry
- Iron Bert
- Defusit Gunpowder Wagons
- Sodor canal boat
- Sodor soft-side truck
- Lorry 2
- Lorry 1 on Flatbed
- Lorry 3
- Sodor Mail truck
- The crane
- Silver Millenium Thomas (limited edition)
During this time, the miniatures range came back for a short while, however, they were now a key ring range and certain characters were not featured like in 1991. In July 2000, the packaging changed AGAIN. This one is rather bland. Just blue with the character's name in yellow and had a picture of Thomas with the logo underneath. During this time, Thomas the tank engine and friends was renamed Thomas and friends. Also there was a selection of Thomas engines released in Thomas and the magic railroad packaging including those that had a small part in the film.
- Old Slow Coach
These new characters appeared in both the 3rd packaging and Thomas and the magic railroad packaging until 2001:
- Diesel 10
- Mr Conductor (could only be purchased with Thomas as a 2-piece set (special release))
New models were released. these ones are indeed bright and cheerful, but quite detailed as well
- Gordon's Special Coach
- Sodor Flat truck
- Sodor crane
- Pump Truck
- Narrow Gauge slate trucks
- Flying Scotsman
Afterwards, around September 2001 the ERTL's range had been discontinued in America and instead the Take along Thomas and friends range was moving in to take it's place. The UK would also see production ceased by 2004.
The UK are still making them this year. The packaging changed again. The packaging is now the engine's name in red, with a little cartoon of the character in the top right-hand corner. The coupling style now changed from the basic "Hook and eye" style to a U-hook. it is believed to be sturdier, and lasts longer.
- The Silly Trucks
- Spiteful Brakevan
- Falcon (Renamed from Sir Handel with the same desgin)
Series 6 had now fully aired
- D7101 "Bear"
- Catherine the mountain coach
Series 7 had now fully aired, also it was the last series to carry out the original Thomas and friends theme tune.
Jock was the last character to be made by ERTL and he is the rarest character of all. In September 2004, production on the ERTL thomas the tank engine range had been discontinued in the UK, but before this happened, the miniatures range was re-released in new style packaging with new models such as Henry and Mavis. They were replaced with the Take along range. Collectors are still scrambling to complete their collections on their ERTL Thomas engines, however the value of some rarer models shot up if they remained in their original packaging, for example Emily, Jock and Spencer, given the short supply they found themselves in fetching up to £60 on eBay.
There have been a few special edition Ertl toys, which are even rarer:
- Motorised Thomas
- Motorised Percy
- Money box Thomas
- Remote controlled Thomas
- Golden 50 year Thomas
- Metallic Thomas
- Metallic Percy
- Metallic Rheneas
- Metallic Duncan
- Metallic Duke
- Metallic Sir Handel
- Metallic Rusty
- Metallic Lord Harry
- Metallic Engines set – (includes Metallic Thomas, Metallic James, & Metallic Henry)
- Silver Millenium Thomas
- Thomas with Mr Conductor
- Musical Thomas
- Thomas Christmas Train (Thomas with Christmas Hat, Flatbed with Tree and The Fat Controller as Santa)
Around 1991, Ertl started to produce several miniature models of Thomas and his friends. These versions had sticker faces that were previously used in the regular models. They were packaged with random parts of a railway, and, once all were collected, formed a playset. In later years the models were adapted into keyrings and the models had plastic faces then. The models that existed were as follows:
- Troublesome Trucks
- Henry (Included in the re-release of the range)
- Mavis (Included in the re-release of the range)
However when they came out as keyrings in 2000, Bertie, Annie and Clarabel and the troublesome trucks were not featured in the key ring range. A re-release of the range included Henry and Mavis. An advertisement for the sets featured Troublesome Trucks with tan (china clay) instead of black (coal) tops.
The playsets included:
- Station & Siding
- Level Crossing
- Loop track
- Ramp pieces were also included and later on viaduct connector pieces were included.
Collector cards were introduced from the 2nd packaging. They were on the back of the packaging and you cut them out. By 1999, there were 70 models to collect. Seperate collector cards were inroduced in 1998, each pack contained characters from the series. When the packaging changed in July 2000, the 3rd packaging did not come on a collector's card. When the packaging changed again in 2002, collector cards were reinroduced on the back of the 4th packaging with a different design with over 100 models to collect.
Gold Rail series
ERTL also made another short-lived line in the 90's called the Gold Rail Series. The models had magnetic couplings, and had no tracks. The models in this range were a bit smaller than an HO scale train, and were extremely similar to the Bandai range made in Japan. Rather surprisingly, the range included Bill and Ben but omitted Henry although shown on the back of the packaging. These are the models included:
- Troublesome Truck 1
- Troublesome Truck 2
- Henry (appeared on the back of the packaging but was not made)
Playsets were also made.
- Ffarquhar Station
- Lower Suddery Station
- Engine Sheds