Thomas the tank engine model

Paul’s been in touch with a clever way to get a Thomas the tank engine model running on your layout without spending a fortune:

“My two year old grandson is a big fan of Thomas the Tank Engine, so I thought I’d purchase one for my n scale layout.

After a lot of searching, including a number of hobby shops in Japan, I finally found one on the Plaza Japan’s Ebay store.

It was on auction so I had a punt at US $75. (all prices estimated in US $s) It finally went for close to $200! Seems Thomas and friends are in very short supply!

My “toy bashed” version based on a Fisher-Price diecast toy, worked out at around $22.

A WARNING from the outset!

The Fisher-Price Thomas is over scale, so you may have to fiddle around a bit to get Thomas to make it around your n scale layout. My layout has several tunnels and Thomas was unable to get through some of them. Signals and station platforms might also be too narrow on some layouts. However, with a few minor adjustments to Thomas and to my landscaping, I was able to get Thomas around a simple routing avoiding the major trouble spots.

Thomas The Tank Engine, Take-n-Play By Fisher Price ($4)
Kato 11-105 Powered Motorized Chassis, n scale mechanism, Plaza Japan ($13) plus $5 postage to Australia. North America and European postage will be slightly dearer.

thomas 1


Small vice (optional, but useful)
Small file
Hobby Dremel (Rotary tool) with cutting disk and small burr.
Small snips
Power drill


The difficulty in ‘bashing’ any Fisher-Price toy is a testament to the quality product this company puts out! They can be tough to crack!

To remove the diecast shell from its plastic base, drill out the rivet like ends of the small retaining posts holding these parts together. The rear post is metal and will require some gentle pressure on the drill to sever it from the plastic chassis. I had to complete the job with a sharp tap on metal punch. The front post is plastic and burs out easily.

thomas the tank engine model

Remove the three blue wheel sets. Cut the wheel axles and remove the wheels. File or grind down the small studs in the back of all wheels and set aside for now. . The black plastic portion of the chassis can be discarded.

thomas the tank engine model

The Kato mechanism measures 58mm x 15.3mm. (Sorry Americans, Burmese and Liberians, but metric only!) As it turns out, the inner portion of the red chassis is also very close to 58mm long. For a perfect fit, a ‘whisker’ might need needs to be filed off the end of the mechanism. (either an imperial whisker, or a standard metric whisker will suffice! )

Cut out the base of the red chassis to accommodate the mechanism. This is very much a ‘cut and file’ process until the mechanism fits snugly. Cut off the ends of the mechanism’s cowling as shown. below.

thomas the tank engine model

Now cut and grind off the plastic and metal posts on the diecast shell. I added two packing strips to the red plastic chassis to lift the chassis a little higher (see photo) to avoid major grinding out of the diecast shell. The opening for the couplers will also need to be enlarged to allow the bogie to swing freely.

thomas the tank engine model

Optional LED light
An LED and 600 ohm resistor will fit neatly behind Thomas’s face and with a little careful burring-out, to thin the plastic; Thomas can have spooky glowing eyes!)


I then glued the shell to the chassis and very lightly glued the mechanism into the chassis. (This final joint can be easily levered open if required.)

Cut the wheels just above the raised hub and glue them to the side of the chassis.


Thomas is now happily chugging around dragging a couple of vintage DB Rail coaches. My next project will be to ‘toy bash’ a couple of Fisher-Price “Clarabel and Annie” coaches.

thomas the tank engine model

Best of all, 2 year old Jack (aka Captain Chaos) just loves HIS Thomas.


Well, I have to say, I never thought Thomas would be appearing on this site – but I’m glad he has, it’s an excellent ‘how to’ what ever cab you use.

A huge thank you to Paul for sharing his Thomas the tank engine model ‘how to’. It really did make me smile when I saw it in my inbox.

And if it’s got you thinking too, there are lots more like it here.

Please do keep ’em coming.

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here. Some cracking stuff about at the mo.



30 Responses to Thomas the tank engine model

  1. George Lush says:

    This article made me smile too. Although he is very young, little two year old Jack will remember Thomas the Tank Engine on Granfather Paul’s layout the rest of his life. It was a really sweet thing to do. Nice going, Grandpa Paul!

  2. Bob Tucker says:

    Great Gift for Captain Chaos (I can only imagine how the name came about).

  3. tracy penman says:

    Thank you! I always admire people’s resourcefulness when presented with a problem or situation.

  4. Dave Whatley says:

    Very good taking the time to remake this train for your love ones, you are a true modeler.

  5. Bill says:

    Thanks for the article on the N scale Thomas conversion. I have looked for one in N scale, but to no avail. Now I am all primed to do a conversion.

  6. Dr. Bob says:

    On a recent excursion to Australia for a job relate venture, I came across several shop areas where Thomas the Tank Engine is poised for sale. Not quite the quality you would expect for American standards but none the less functional and adept in three scales n, ho, s scales. Also did not make any note of the costs (wasn’t really shopping for Thomas or my grandson at the time) but the store did seem reasonably priced for items I did purchase.

    Wonderful story and bashing of your project for your grandson. I too have a 2 1/2 year old grandson we call ‘Tornado Tony’! Thanks for bringing back some memories.

  7. Don Garner says:

    This is great! Thomas has graduated from toy to model railroad. This could be the beginning a whole new line of products for Fisher-Price. Let’s see if they have the guts to venture forth. Paul has demonstrated there is no limit to human imagination and creativity in model railroading. That’s what makes this site so superior. Keep up the great work Paul and Al.

  8. paul Otway says:

    You should put some side rods on it, mind you it looks good.

  9. John Parker Clayton, CA says:

    Very well done…my grandson (now 6) Loves to see Thomas run on my “O”
    gauge layout… so why not add to the n & ho layouts too… good on you OZ…

  10. John Ortis says:

    That was neat.

  11. Paul says:

    Thanks for all the positive comments. “Captain Chaos’ is just a BOY. Never stops! Drives his older sister (10) crazy! I’m building him a ‘chaos proof’ mini-layout so he can rip Thomas around at top speed with minimal damage to himself, our furniture or Thomas!


  12. the best EVER post on this site
    excellent bashing and in N scale
    I dont know how you guys work with that small scale stuff…..
    congrats to Captain Chaos….
    this is surely a lifetime memory for him
    Kudos to grampa Paul..!!!!!!!!!

  13. and Kudos to Al for posting this!!!!!!

  14. Ron Schultz says:

    This proves us grandpa’s are the best thing for grand children . But just wait until the great grandson takes your little finger and Says ” Come on poppy lets go down in the basement and run the trains .” I have an HO lay out with Thomas to run on it . Poppy and Tristan have been running the trains together for 4 1/2 years .

  15. Bill Logan says:

    Hi Al and Paul.
    I downloaded the article last July,purchased the bits and pieces and finished the unit today.Could only test it on a piece of train line as i do not have a layout at the moment (next project).
    I will have to look into another “project” before the track.
    Any bright ideas and can i expect some help from Al and Paul
    Regards to both of you and keep up the good work.

  16. hUGH Muller says:


  17. Fred says:

    Best thing I’ve seen in an age ….. way to go ….fun fun !

  18. Gary M from Long Island says:

    Thomas is GREAT…….. All the things this hobby is about……..using our imagination and skill to bring smiles to our faces. What a great project.

  19. Brian Rockey says:

    Very creative Paul, looks good.
    I was fortunate enough to pick up the N-gauge Tomix Thomas, Annie and Clarabel set (Japan based, probably the largest model railway manufacturer in the world) a few years ago at a very reasonable price. I also have James and Percy, but neither run well at all even after a fairly intensive strip-down and investigation. The detail on the Tomix N Thomas range is very good, but I would question the engineering quality.
    Looking on the Web including Amazon, UK and Japanese suppliers, the range seems to be out of stock everywhere, and some grossly inflated prices from Japan! I’ll send a video of my Tomix Thomas to Alastair, and maybe he’ll post it for all to see that when it does become available again, it might be worth a punt.
    I did write an article for the N Gauge Journal a few years ago reviewing the Tomix Thomas range and the history and background of Thomas if anyone is interested in receiving a copy of the article.
    Just to add, my Grandson loves seeing Thomas with Annie and Clarabel running on my layout.
    Happy railway modelling to all.
    Brian, Wokingham, UK

  20. DJfromNJ says:

    Hats off to YOU, G’pa! I know the joy the li’l guy felt, seeing his very own train whiz around the layout. Take it to the bank, the memory will be permanently etched in G’son’s brain. Well done!

  21. Graham Smith says:

    Brings back memories and regrets this article. About 7 or 8 years ago while building/modifying my layout I saw an ad for Thomas and friends, going for around £80 for a set of Thomas and 2 carriages from Japan, I think. I was tempted and thought I’ll get that when I’ve finished the layout. Of course, when I finally got around to it they were like hens teeth and going up in price, if you could find one. Now the grand kids are getting to being beyond Thomas’ friends
    Moral of the story? If you get a good idea – get on with it! Don’t put it off until you’ve finished whatever it is you’re doing. For 5 minutes just do it while it’s there, then go back to where you left off with the first project.
    A great project this though. Did you try putting the plastic body in the washing machine with the weekly wash? It might have shrunk it down to size, it always works when my wife puts something of mine in there!

  22. Mike Street says:

    Lovely do it yourself Thomas, good bit of kit bashing. Funnily enough I used two of these N gauge chassis to motorise an HO Kibri gantry crane using n gauge track either side instead of a single rail as per prototype.
    Cheers Mike Street

  23. joseph ernst says:

    I have lived in the shadow of FP all my life and now have a son in law supervising an engineering section. I enjoyed the comment about the quality of their product as that has been the backbone of this business since founded in the 1930’s at a small commercial complex down the street from where I live. Loss of the manufacturing to Mexico and China in the 1980’s was a blow to the community but their design and administration remain . Geo Trax trains were another big FP seller 20 plus years ago and the grandsons still drag them out to build railroad empires.

  24. Anton says:

    You grandson must think you are the coolest Grandpa EVER!!!

    Funny story along those lines…I model in HO, and the four year-old grandson of my upstairs neighbor say me working on my layout. He wanted to see it up close, so I put a chair that he could stand on so he could watch me run trains. What was the first question he asked? “Do you have Thomas?” Sadly, I had to tell him no, but he did love seeing a couple of my 0-4-0 tank switchers run the layout.

  25. Lee adkins says:

    Excellent article, thanks for posting. I can now give my grandson something really special for his next birthday.

  26. Erick says:

    Pretty Neat.!!!!! I wish i could run Thomas on my train board.

  27. Mark Houck says:

    Great job! smile on his face and joy of see it!

  28. Dave Karper says:

    Anton, paint eyes on smokebox front paint the loco blue and green. Then introduce Terry, Thomas’s brother

  29. Larry Baucom says:

    I have a 5 year old great grandson who loves papas smoke engine im into steam of the 1800s Thomas would look good on my track think I will try building a cardboard overlay on one of my steamers before trying to strip down the engine and building a good Thomas engine Donnie would LOVE that!!

  30. Steve Nichol says:

    I love building things from scratch but in this case I bought a DC Thomas engine (Bachman) from Walthers and had a Soundtraxx DCC decoder installed for just a bit over $100.00 US.

    Walthers item number- 58791
    Decoder- model MC1Z102SQ
    Part number- 851002

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *