Issue 22
Volume 6 Number 1
January 2001

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 •  Editorial
 •  Do Artists Dream of Electric Shepherds?
 •  The Rocket's Red Glare
 •  Flay Your Friends And Family
 •  Santa's Little Helper
 •  Occupational Stresses of Sentient Locomotives
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 •  Great Airplane Disasters of OurTime

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Occupational Stresses of Sentient Locomotives

Cambridgeshire J Psych 64:22-23, 1999

JM Duckworth1, J Hawkins2, K Rose3

1Department of Nuclear Psychology, Hayster Drive Research Institute, Cambridge;

2Department of Clinical Cytogenetics, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge;

3Department of Experimental Nomenology, University of Cambridge

Received 28th October 1999, accepted for publication 1st November 1999.

© 1999 by the Cambridgeshire Society of Imaginary Psychology. All rights reserved.


Sentient locomotives are subject to stress caused by lack of control, the threat of unemployment, persecution and workaholism. This stress is expressed only in physical ailments and signs of mental distress are not tolerated by the management.


Although sentient locomotives are widely known and are, indeed, very popular members of our society, it is less well known that they suffer from severe psychological stress. Since their first description1 it has been clear to the psychologist that they occupy an invidious position, with a status superior only to the wretched coaches and trucks that they pull.

To illustrate their difficulties, we shall list those actions which it is possible for a sentient locomotive to perform. They can talk and whistle1-11, and let off steam2a. They can be either gentle or rough with trucks1. They can refuse to start1b, but can only start themselves if their fire is ready3. They can choose to go fast in order to race4 but they cannot stop themselves5. That is the sum total of the control that they have over their lives. They cannot choose their direction2b. They are entirely dependant on their coal and fireman as well as their driver6. They can be attacked or sabotaged by their trucks and coaches7,8.

It is well-established that work-related stress is greatest for those with least control over their lives. Thus the Fat Controller suffers the least stress, then his drivers, and most of all his engines.

But this is not the only source of stress suffered by the steam trains. They are also inveterate workaholics. Nothing pleases them more than to be given extra work9 and their punishment for misdeeds is to be denied work10. This workaholism further denies them any opportunity for family life or recreation. You never see a train spending time with his children or playing golf with his friends.

A further shadow over the lives of our subjects has been the threat of unemployment, and the concomitant persecution by diesel engines11. The near universal replacement of steam locomotives by diesel and electric trains has led to a justifiable nervousness and paranoia amongst the sentient engines of Sodor.

So what are the symptoms of stress amongst steam trains? Excessive talkativeness or moodiness? Numerous engine problems? Refusing to start in the morning? It is difficult to tell.

Throughout their existence our subjects have maintained an unbreakably professional exterior, refusing to admit the possibility of any mental torment. Perhaps they are wise—with a complete lack of any kind of workplace counselling and no Non-human Resources department, only physical ailments have been admissible, only brake-failures and derailments have gained any sympathy. For example Henry, not wanting to go out in the rain (agoraphobia, perhaps?) was punished by being bricked up in a tunnel for a considerable period of time1b. For as long as such a harsh and uninformed system prevails, the locomotives of Sodor will continue to suffer in silence.


We thank TJ Duckworth for help in locating references and for valuable discussion of the manuscript.


1a. Edward's Day Out: The Three Railway Engines: Rev W Awdry 1945

1b. The Sad Story of Henry: as above

2a. James and the Top Hat: James the Red Engine: Rev W Awdry 1948

2b. James and the Express: as above

3. Off the Rails: Gordon the Big Engine: Rev W Awdry 1953

4. Thomas and Bertie: Tank Engine Thomas Again: Rev W Awdry 1949

5. Percy Runs Away: Troublesome Engines: Rev W Awdry 1950

6. Coal: Henry the Green Engine: Rev W Awdry 1951.

7. Thomas and the Breakdown Train: Thomas the Tank Engine: Rev W Awdry 1947

8. Sir Handel: Four Little Engines: Rev W Awdry 1955

9. Edward's Day Out: The Three Railway Engines: Rev W Awdry 1945

10. Leaves: Gordon the Big Engine: Rev W Awdry 1953

11. Escape: Enterprising Engines: Rev W Awdry 1968

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Dear Dr Plokta

Since assuming supreme executive authority over the United States of America, I've been having some technical problems uuith my extensive neuu computer netuuork, as you may have read in the press. Do you have any advice on accessing uuebsites such as your ouun under these circumstances?

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Spot the Moose #2

Lots of people have sent us moose recently. Anders Holmström has sent us a rear view mirror moose, and Jae Leslie Adams sent us a moose jigsaw. Many thanks. But the piece de resistance was the moose paraphernalia from Kate Yule. A moose book, some moose bumper stickers, and a moose cookie cutter.

We seized on the last with glee and began making gingerbread moose for the Christmas tree. They looked very fine, but we quickly discovered why our gingerbread tree ornaments recipe specified small cookies. The moose proved too massive for their own good structural integrity. One by one, they plummeted from the heavens and were dashed into a thousand pieces on my hardwood floors. Undaunted, we baked a further batch, and the moose now nestle gently among the majestic pine forests of the bay window, and no longer hang from anything.

Not so much fly as plummet