James is a mixed-traffic engine, which means he is just as capable of pulling coaches as trucks. 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.
The Railway Series
James was bought by the North Western Railway sometime between 1924 and 1925, and he came to Sodor with a goods train. Unfortunately, the silly trucks pushed him on, and when his brake-blocks caught fire, James failed to control the train and derailed at a bend, crashing into a field. He was rescued by Thomas and the breakdown crew, and was sent to the Works to be mended and repainted. (TVS; Thomas the Tank Engine)
Following his accident with the trucks, James became very vain and boastful, and caused several problems for the Fat Controller. He ruined his top hat after wheeshing steam at him, then almost forgot to stop at the station to drop off most of his passengers. The Fat Controller threatened to paint James blue if he did not behave better and made him shunt his own coaches, which only resulted in making James even more cross. The following day, he bumped into his coaches so hard that, during the journey, one of the brake-pipes began leaking, forcing his crew to mend it with a used bootlace and some newspaper. Afterwards, James was shut up in the shed.
Eventually, James was let out of the shed by the Fat Controller, and was allowed to take a goods train to Killdane. Despite some of his trucks breaking away on Gordon's Hill, James managed to get the train over the hill and to the station. The Fat Controller praised James for this, and allowed him to keep his red paint. Later, when Gordon got lost and was switched onto the loop line, James took the express while Gordon did his shunting, and the two became friends. (RWS; James the Red Engine)
Sometime later, James chose to go on strike along with Gordon and Henry, who believed they were being mistreated by the Fat Controller. Until the three could behave properly, the Fat Controller shut them up in the shed and had Thomas, Edward and Percy do their work on the Main Line. James, Gordon and Henry apologized to him, and they were allowed to come out of the shed. (RWS; Troublesome Engines)
When Toby and Henrietta came to the railway, James made fun of them and referred to them as "dirty objects", due to their shabby paintwork. However, as he was taking a slow goods train, James got his comeuppance when he lost control of his train on Gordon's Hill and ran into a siding at Maron, destroying a train of tar tankers and was covered in tar. Toby and Percy both came to clear up the wreckage, all while teasing James for his accident. (RWS; Toby the Tram Engine)
After Gordon had an accident when he ran into a ditch, James pulled the express while he was forced to do shunting duties in the yard. When Gordon warned James that the hill was slippery from leaves, James laughed at him, but regretted this when his wheels slipped on the rails and the heavy coaches dragged him down the hill. Luckily, Gordon came to his aid, and helped him over the hill. When Queen Elizabeth II was visiting Sodor, James was of the opinion that he would be chosen to pull the Royal Train. (RWS; Gordon the Big Engine)
James later became annoyed with Edward when he was running late, believing he was too slow. However, when James became a runaway when two boys fiddled with the controls in his cab, Edward was the one to save him, and he apologized to him. (RWS; Edward the Blue Engine) After being tricked by Percy, James and Gordon both tricked him into believing that backing signals were real. When Duck came to the railway, James was one of the engines who teased him, but received his comeuppance when Duck and Percy both blocked the entrance of the sheds from him and the other bigger engines. (RWS; Percy the Small Engine)
James was later given the task of pulling the express while Gordon had a rest, which made him conceited. After Toby ran out of water and stopped in the middle of the main line, James refused to push him to the next station, but was forced to do so. Upon arriving at Crovan's Gate, James became infuriated when some boys believed he had broken down and Toby had been the one to help him out. Sometime later, James was one of the engines the Fat Controller took with him when he and the other famous engines of Sodor were visiting the Mainland. (RWS; The Eight Famous Engines)
When Diesel came to the railway on trial, James was flattered by his compliments. However, Diesel began spreading lies about Duck to the trucks, claiming that he called him "Rusty Red Scrap-Iron" once. James, along with Gordon and Henry, turned against Duck and refused to let him enter the shed, so Duck was sent to work at Wellsworth. Upon finding out about Diesel's lies, James felt sorry for Duck and welcomed him back to the big station. (RWS; Duck and the Diesel Engine) James later told Duncan that he had been the one who had sent Diesel packing, even though this had actually been done by the Fat Controller. (RWS; The Little Old Engine)
As work on the North Western Railway was begging to increase, James began complaining about the extra work. In order to ease the engines' workloads, the Fat Controller bought a mixed-traffic engine from Scotland to help with the goods work, but ended up receiving two: Donald and Douglas. After Donald had an accident with a signal-box, James had to do his goods trains as well as his own, much to his annoyance. Sensing James' fury, the Spiteful Brakevan and the trucks held him back, so Douglas worked as his back engine, accidentally destroying the Spiteful Brakevan when the trucks held back on Gordon's Hill. James took support of the twins when they were worried that they would be sent away, and was delighted to find out that they would be staying. (RWS; The Twin Engines)
When Duck and BoCo were having a conversation about Bill and Ben, James interrupted them and told Duck not to listen to BoCo, claiming that bees were only insects and he could simply wheesh them away. At the big station, two porters accidentally destroyed a beehive, and many of James' passengers fled the station. The bees, looking for a warm area, gathered around James' boiler, but James became cross and whooshed steam at them. One bee burned its foot on James' smokebox, so it stung him on the nose. James ran away from the station, and was ridiculed by the other engines about it later that night. (RWS; Main Line Engines)
James was one of the first engines to be informed that Oliver had been rescued. (RWS; Enterprising Engines) He later praised Oliver, but this only made him rather conceited. (RWS; Oliver the Western Engine)
For a long time, James was still prejudiced against diesel engines, and the only ones he accepted were BoCo and Bear. He had an accident in the yard at the big station when one of his wellwagons was switched onto two different tracks, causing it to glide along the line sideways and knocking down a signal. When his injector froze, James was rescued by the Works Diesel, who was so kind and friendly that he finally gave up his prejudice against diesel engines. (RWS; James and the Diesel Engines)
The Fat Controller later chose James to fetch the Thin Clergyman's bust from the Mainland and bring it back to the big station. James collected the bust and returned to Sodor, when the entrance to Henry's Tunnel caved in behind him. He attended the unveiling of the bust at the big station. (RWS; Thomas and his Friends)