Stephenson's Rocket, also known as The Rocket, and Stephen in the television series, is a very old and wise tender engine who works on the estate railway at Ulfstead Castle, taking visitors around the castle grounds and across the rest of Sodor. He is owned by Sir Robert Norramby, and is the oldest engine on Sodor. The real Stephenson's Rocket is an early 0-2-2 steam locomotive, and was one of the first successful steam engines to be made. A replica of the original engine was built in 1979, and works at the National Railway Museum on the demonstration line.
The Railway SeriesEdit
Stephen was built in 1829 by Robert Stephenson and Company to compete in a series of races against other experimental engines, and he was declared the winner of the competition. He used to work at the mines and harbours on his railway, but as bigger and stronger engines were being built and put into service, Stephen was no longer needed and was abandoned in a shed. He was later found by Sir Robert Norramby, who brought him back to Sodor to have him restored at the Sodor Steamworks.
The Earl planned to have Stephen restored so that he could take visitors around the estate at Ulfstead Castle, but he did not plan to tell Stephen until work on the castle was finished and told the other engines to keep it a secret. However, when Stephen became depressed when he had nothing to do, Thomas told him that the Earl had a surprise job for him, but did not specify what job specifically. Stephen became too excited to wait any longer, and left the Steamworks to try and look for a new job that he could do. However, no matter where he looked, Stephen was unsuitable for almost every job he tried to do, as he was too small, weak and slow. After a suggestion by Skarloey, Stephen went to Ulfstead Mine, but found that the mines were closed. Before he could leave the mine, Stephen was forced to run into the tunnel when a runaway train of stone trucks ran down the hill and onto his line, knocking his funnel off in the entrance of the mine and becoming trapped when the opening became blocked.
Stephen tried to search for a way out of the mine, but could not find a way no matter how hard he tried and was beginning to run low on fuel. When Thomas came to the mine, Stephen used the last of his steam to whistle to him and let him know that he was stuck, and with some assistance, Thomas managed to rescue Stephen. Stephen was given a new funnel and was present at the grand opening of Ulfstead Castle, where King Godred's golden crown was displayed, which he had found while he was stuck in the mine. (TVS; King of the Railway)
When James was teasing Percy and tried to scare him, Stephen tried to reassure Percy that there was no such thing as ghosts. However, when James pretended to be the ghost engine, Stephen became scared and derailed, falling into the dried-up moat beneath the castle drawbridge. Stephen and Percy both decided to get back at James by whistling at him from under the drawbridge, frightening him. (TVS; The Phantom Express) Later, when Percy was having a day of bad luck, Stephen gave him his lucky horseshoe to help him feel better. However, Percy lost the horseshoe almost as soon as he left the castle. (TVS; Percy's Lucky Day)
The Earl later put Stephen in charge of collecting the ingredients for his afternoon tea. Stephen gladly did the job, but as he was concerned about his speed, he had other engines push him to the castle so he could get the job over with in record time. On one such occasion, however, Stephen came into the castle too fast after being pushed by Spencer and hit the buffers, spilling the jam needed for the afternoon tea. Fortunately, Stephen managed to resolve the problem by having the Earl's afternoon tea on a trip around Sodor. (TVS; The Afternoon Tea Express)
When the Earl was expecting a special shipment from the Mainland, Stephen and Millie both waited for the order to arrive, when they saw Marion running away from what appeared to be large dinosaurs. They later discovered that these were, in fact, model dinosaurs and the Earl's order. (TVS; Marion and the Dinosaurs)
Once, as he was taking visitors around the Island of Sodor, Stephen noticed that the Sodor Suspension Bridge was making strange noises, and figured that there was something wrong with the bridge. His suspicions became true when he found out that the bridge was in danger of collapsing, and he safely got his passengers across the bridge before stopping Gordon just before he could cross, just seconds before the bridge fell apart and collapsed. Stephen was declared a hero for his actions, and brought in more tourists as a result of this. (TVS; Slow Stephen)
When the Great Railway Show was being held on the Mainland, Stephen wanted to go to the show, so the Fat Controller brought him along with him and the other Sudrian engines so that he could take visitors and the brass band around the railway show venue. (TVS; The Great Race)
Stephenson's Rocket was built by Robert Stephenson at his company in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1829 to compete in the Rainhill Trials, a competition that was held to select the best locomotive design to power the railway. Rocket won the trials, and its innovative design laid the foundation for future steam locomotives. A few years after being built, the Rocket was overhauled with a smokebox, less angled cylinders and the firebox capacity was enlarged.
The Rocket worked on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway from 1830 to 1836, when it was sold to the Brampton Railway, a mineral railway in Cumberland which had been recently converted to standard gauge. It remained at Tindale until 1862, when it was donated to the London museum. The Rocket is currently on display in the Science Museum in London, England, and is featured in its post-Rainhill design.
Many replicas of the Rocket have been built, but the most famous was built in 1979 for the 150th anniversary celebrations. The Rocket replica is based at the National Railway Museum in York, where it pulls trains along the demonstration line.
Stephen appears to be a mix of both the post and pre-Rainhill designs for the Rocket; he has a smokebox, similar to the post-Rainhill modifications the Rocket received, but his cylinders are much more angled than they are on the original engine, which is how the Rocket was first built. He is also fitted with wooden bufferbeams, buffers and a permanent lamp. Strangely, neither of his coupling hooks have chains on them.
Stephenson's Rocket was painted yellow and black. It had golden boiler bands, and the exhaust pipes and domes were brass. It also carried two brass nameplates reading "Rocket" in black writing on each side of its boiler, and the engine was fitted with a tall white funnel. The water barrel on the tender was painted brown. It is now however faded to a rusty brown/black colour, and no longer has his tender. The 1979 replica is in the original livery.
Prior to being overhauled, Stephen was in an almost identical state to the original Rocket's current state.
After he was overhauled and put back into service, Stephen was painted exactly like the original Rocket and the 1979 Replica, although his funnel was originally painted black. However after he lost his original funnel when he ran into Ulfstead Mine, Stephen was given a white funnel with a gold finial like the original. He also received a lamp and front coupling hook after his overhaul.
- The Rev. W. Awdry had a model of the Stephenson's Rocket, which was converted from an Airfix kit. The model is currently on display at the Narrow Gauge Museum in Twywn, Wales, as part of "The Awdry Collection".
- Many prototype versions of Stephen for the merchandise ranges depict him with a cab. This suggests that he may have originally been designed with a cab until it was removed.
- Stephen is named after his designer, Robert Stephenson.
- Stephen has a lucky horseshoe that he keeps with him, as shown in Percy's Lucky Day.
- Many merchandise ranges show Stephen with the Ulfstead Castle crest on his tender. However, Stephen does not carry this crest in the show.