The split amongst the Tankies seems to be 99% male and 1% female (females are called Emilies). The majority of men walk around with an odd assortment of outfits and declarations of their love for Thomas and Friends (T&F). When asked for comment some were enthusiastic about their visual signs of devotion and hand made outfits.
"I prefer just to screen print my favorite engine, James, onto a t-shirt. For me, getting plastic surgery to my face so that I resemble James' handsome facial features is the key. Love the engine, live the engine", said Connor Danders age 26.
"I loved Thomas since I was a child, but as I grew older, I felt the pull of Gordon's stoicism and reliability. That is why I created this costume with funnel and proper wheel alignment that works down my sides (points to motorized wheels spinning along his sides). When angry, I let off a little steam by pressing this button," steam popped out his funnel hat contraption, "When pleased, my whistle lets you know I am happy," said Gordon Langford age 21 who legally changed his name to match his favorite train.
"I like to wear a conductor's uniform because at home I have a rehabbed steamie of my own. I live as if I were on the island of Sodor. I told my parents to not waste the money they saved for my college education on a useless degree and instead chip in for me to purchase an old steam locomotive for me to refurbish. I gutted it, turned it into a living space, winterized it, added a coach and live in it. Where? Oh in the back quarter of my parents 5 acre lot. I'm actually in a polyamorous situation right now with two girls I call my "cabooses". We live together. One is big into Victorian era stuff and steampunk so she has helped with decorating the coach, and the other is a former heroin addict runaway turned cosplayer who dresses up as the third season villain from Rainbow Brite that was on for one episode but had cool purple hair. Thinking you are a train is rather silly, but I humor these guys as it is their escapism from rather horrible lives. Yes, I live on my parent's property but not with my parents, and I'm banging two chicks, that's awesome amiright?," explained James Demers age 23.
A lot of Tankies had shirts, enhanced clothing or cardboard, plastic and metal outfits to customize a train. The fan envisions the train they would be and then makes it so with time and help from mom and dad. Obese fans, and there were a decent amount, often walked around in top hats and tails dressed as Sir Toppam Hatt, owner of the trains and a magnate of Sodor island where T&F is set. Many Tankies suffer from the same delusions as any American where even if something is not about them, they have to make it about them.
Tankies often push of the story and plots as opposed to just continuing a source of childhood comfort and amusement well into adulthood as a sign of infantilization. What is lurking behind all of their deep reads on this children's cartoon is just a reflection of their inner demons, obsessions and personal views of the world that they have yet to come to grips with and resolve in the walk from boy to man.
"Look Mister, when Thomas learns that the lemonade bottles popped due to his actions, he felt guilty for destroying the cake and picnic. He learned to follow orders and be really useful. We all need to learn to do as we're told and be useful," Jonny Anderson age 24.
"Teamwork is the most critical thing on Sodor along with being really useful. Where else could you learn lessons about looking out for one another and working together to accomplish goals? A school play or musical/ I don't have any singing talent and my speaking voice is too soft for the stage. Sure, sports would be an alternative but my single mom didn't want me playing football, and I had a minor bowel problem that flared up when I became anxious. I never really got into sports," Billy McMasters age 27.
"I rather prefer to focus on the technical aspects of the show. I am a supporter of the older specials and episodes with the models and figurine sets. Far more authentic than the digital animation of today, and it appears that the engines truly come to life rather than the immediate set up that this is a cartoon. Ringo Starr, George Carlin and Alec Baldwin, push the story along with the grandfatherly feel to narration rather than specific voice actors in the newer episodes. Alec Baldwin doing his Sir Toppam Hatt always makes me laugh and snort into my juice box. I have an entire train set with different Sodor sets in my basement where I film my own scenes and put them on Youtube. I've received 10,000 fan subscriptions, and quit my day job at Best Buy," Mikey Durfhauser age 36.
"Kids' show? What the hell do you call Thomas facing his fears in the abandoned works with rattling chains? Thomas had to learn that ghosts are not real and that it is not right to tease others. It helped me overcome my fear of compact fluorescent light bulbs. If they break, the mercury will not kill me. I just need to be careful disposing them. Thomas overcoming that fear was representative of everyday people overcoming their deepest fears," Brian LeCroix age 28.
"Sodor Island is the perfect symbol of British supremacy. It is a time capsule to what once was and what could be. The island has a perfectly closed economy that does not need to export or import, but does serve the mainland if needed. The island is dominated by mass transit, there are green spaces and conservation of trees, and the island is free of pollution. Deeper yet, the trains are all focused on being really useful. They all have a use and a place in the hierarchy of the rail system similar to the old British class system. Sir Toppam Hatt is the aristocrat who owns and runs the island. Percy is the mail train. Thomas is fast and smart. Gordon is strong and pulls the express. Many other trains serve specific purposes like repair, emergency relief and even shunting. This is truly anti-capitalist and more feudal in set up. The odd mash of periods is due to the books being written decades before the television show and lends a rather timeless feel to the show. One obvious note is the lack of any religious imagery. Sodor is a bastion for the old ways of England that could enchant the engines into consciousness. They are like the island wood fairies of old trapped on the island but living forever on the rails. Only a neo-pagan revival of England will save it from its dysfunction and restore it to the old glory that Sodor represents," random British Tankie, Phillip Remington age 23, who then told me about his 50 different job searches, faith in Christianity, then revulsion with Christianity, and when challenged about the multiple Thomas Christmas specials with Christian moral messaging, spazzed out and ran off.
Noticing a lack of diversity and vibrancy, I sprinted as fast as I could when I spotted a black male with a square box framing his face. He was open to questions despite a rather annoyed look. Being a journalist for the day, I only could ask him questions pertaining to being black and how blackness related to the Tankie culture, and he complied with only viewing the world through a black lens.
"How'd I get into Thomas? Man, my mom read in Ladies' Home Journal that kids loved Thomas, but noticed none of her church friends talked about Thomas so she figured it would boost my test scores or some shit, so she forced this on me. My dad was shaking his head whenever he heard the theme song, and I almost gave up on Thomas. Then one day, when a white teacher lady was telling me about the struggles of Nelson Mandela for like the fifth year in a row at my school, it clicked for me. Sodor Island set up their trains in an apartheid system. Steamies puff white smoke, get plum assignments and are beloved by Sir Toppam Hatt. The steamworks is staffed, clean and perfect. Diesels puff dirty black smoke, are mean, angry, bitter troublemakers and the dieselworks was a hellhole. They was angry and trouble because the system held them down. The diesels then had to manipulate the youngest steamie, Percy, and trap Thomas so that they could riot and take over the steamworks. They were rewarded with Sir Toppam Hatt fixing up the dieselworks. It tracks along with the mid-20th century black inner city riots followed up by government programs. I wear this frame around my head and all black clothing to mimic Neville. Diesel solidarity. Put a Da in front of Neville, and it'd be a black name. My mom was right about the show helping. I graduated from college and now work as a diversity consultant in the marketing department at Wells Fargo," explained Marcus Johnson age 23.
As the day wound down, I noticed some handsome fellows in serious gear. I walked over and was introduced to the small gay subculture within the Tankies. The burlier types dressed as engineers in jean overalls and denim caps and are called "coal men" or "cranks". The more slender types wore conductor outfits with a rather flamboyant flair to the blue uniforms and preferred to be called "whistlers" or "ticketers". There seemed to be a twink Brony present who was a boyfriend of one of the coal men. They broke out of catty chatting with one another to answer some questions.
"Oh my God, the gay subtext is everywhere in Thomas. First, how many trains are female? Like Emily, who is a total fruit fly, and then it's all males. There are some daddies like Gordon, and they always want to blow off some steam. Just the nickname, "steamies" and how they dislike the "dirty diesels" is gay enough for me. They all sleep together, love to shunt and pull one another, and whistle at each other often. They all blow their whistles at each other. Helloooooo! During "Misty Island Rescue" Thomas is missing, and he said if he was ever missing he'd "toot" for Percy. >wrist flail + eyeroll< What did Percy do when Thomas was missing? He hunted for that toot! When he found him in the dark tunnel of trash that no one had used in years >suppresses laughter<, Percy let out the gayest sounding "THOMAS!". This was all roughly ten minutes after Thomas delivered the extremely soft, lispy sounding "This is a disaster". Even Frodo and Samwise weren't this obvious.... Wait, you're saying it might just be childhood friendship and not homosexual romance? No, this is the story, we all watched it and thought the same thing. Gay!", said Steven Phillips 38.
There is a huge sense of camaraderie, as well as inclusion as evident by the one woman, one black guy and dozen gay men. Everyone has a proper space and proper place to quote the fat Sir Toppam Hatts who would comically intrude on Tankie conversations. There was a darker subculture that I was directed to check out in rented, adjoining rooms at the inn. These were the "Steamies". While steamies is the term for the steam engines and not the diesels on Sodor, the "Steamies" here are generally marijuana users who smoke weed, steam up a room, and then watch episodes. They prefer to eat terribly hard cookies and drink tea to stay in the British spirit. There are a myriad of rituals that different "Steamies" follow for watching episodes and smoking marijuana. They all user water pipes in honor of the steam engines of Sodor, and many have named their bongs, bubblers and pipes after different characters.
|Thomas the Dank Engine|
After a long day of chasing down Tankies and breathing in the air of Tankie talk, BO and hysteria, I did not have the energy for the two separate dance venues. One was a rave style event with invitations that encouraged people to wear their cosplay outfits and be ready for industrial techno music from mix masters who blend techno with tracks for the show. The other was a smaller dinner and dancing event for the five Tankies with girlfriends. A large chunk of attendees at the Red Roof Inn's north conference room were picked up at 9pm by their parents for long rides home. I spoke to one father waiting in a Volvo.
"When he told me he was into trains, I told him to look into becoming a locomotive engineer or working for a logistics firm. Ehhh, he said that was a bit dirty and that his asthma might prevent him from working full time. When he said toy trains, I expected he meant the large gauge models that even I played with as a kid, which got me excited a bit that he might go to a design school and design toys. Uhhh, he well, he ended up explaining the Thomas thing, and yaknow, at least he's healthy and happy. The toys are relatively cheap, and it's not like it's a drug problem. An upside is that he stopped taking Paxil," remarked Dan Thibault age 48.
What to make of the Tankie subculture? It is most likely an offshoot of the man-child concept expressed in a different way. Why not? The world does not ask that they grow up. Even if there were a million Tankies, that would be only slightly more than the balloon fetishists and not even half of one percent of Americans. We have a nation of 310 million people. There are bound to be a million that that will dive into any show with enthusiasm and energy. Many are searching for a community as former bonds have been torn apart by modern society and families have disintegrated. There are bound to be 1 million that would rather watch a children's show sober than pick up Dostoyevsky, connect in real life through white water rafting, rock climbing or any challenging physical activity or just grow up.
*This is a parody of Bronies. Tankies don't exist.