"Reach for the steam, Shining Time Station
reach for the whistle,
go where the rail may run
Reach for the words,
reach for the story,
Follow the rainbow, son
To a Shining Time Station,
where dreams can come true,
Waiting there for you."
was a children's television series created and produced by Britt Allcroft which ran on PBS
from January 29, 1989 to June 11, 1993, with reruns airing on the network until 1998.
It primarily concerned station manager Stacy Jones (Didi Conn), scheming arcade manager Schemer
, and Stacy's nephews, Matt and Dan, both of whom became friends with Tanya and Kara, the granddaughters of Harry Cupper, the titular station's engineer and mechanic.
The children would often be told stories of Thomas the Tank Engine
by the magical Mr. Conductor, a strange six-inch tall man who secretly lived at the station. These stories would occasionally have elements that paralleled events at the station.
In addition, various characters would request songs from the jukebox, and these songs (typically re-arranged versions of classic folk songs like "Jesse James" and "Cannonball Blues") were played by a band of puppets who lived in the jukebox, courtesy of Flexitoons.
The show, though geared at children, also appealed to adults, and generated a few "family specials".
This show contains examples of:
- Big "NO!": Mr. Conductor's Evil Twin does this when Kara uses glue to turn him back into a picture.
- Breakout Character: Schemer became the most popular character on the show and even had a series of home videos dedicated simply to his character.
- Catch Phrase: Various (especially Stacy): "There's just something about this place..."
Stacy: Shining Time Station, Stacy Jones speaking.
- And Schemer's inversion: "This place is haunted!"
Schemer: Genius time!
Schemer: He's a doer, he's a dreamer, he's absolutely Schemer and he's me!
- Chroma Key: Used for Mister Conductor.
- Cousin Oliver: Schemer's nephew Schemee, added sometime later in the show.
- Easy Amnesia: Stacy once lost her memory after sniffing some flowers that Mr. Conductor had sprinkled with a potion that was supposed to make bees forget they had to take nectar from the plants. Her nephew and Mr. Conductor jogged her memory, and she made a full recovery after taking a nap.
- Evil Twin: George Carlin's Mr. Conductor had one that could be brought to life from a picture with sparkle dust and caused trouble around the station. This may have also been what introduced kids to George Carlin's darker side, and since then, the episodes with Mr. C's evil twin have gained a somewhat small following.
- Framing Device: Mr. Conductor's stories of Thomas the Tank Engine, which were episodes of the television series.
- Glad I Thought of It: Schemer does this in one of the episodes.
- Green Aesop: The episode "Stacy Cleans Up." The local dump closes and garbage bags pile up around the station, and an engineer with a trainload of garbage keeps picking up more, but no one wants to let him unload it in their town. The solution ends up being to weed out the recyclable materials, which ends up reducing the volume.
- Heel-Face Turn: J.B. King, the superintendent of the Indian Valley Railroad, where the station resides, goes through this when he initially intends to close down the station in favor of a much larger one in another town, but changes his mind when he finds out that Mr. Conductor lives at the station. In a later episode, he reveals that when he was a boy, he had missed his train home and Mr. Conductor kept him company until adult help arrived.
- Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Schemer's mother can be recognized (off-screen), by a hat with a plastic skunk on it.
- In the Blood: Schemer's nephew Schemee could out-scheme his uncle.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Schemer, occasionally.
- Large Ham: Brian O'Connor, the one time stand up comic who plays Schemer is a walking personification of this trope. From his hysterical histrionic breakdowns to the very loud, very ugly suits he wears.
- Lethal Chef: Schemer in one episode tries to make a sandwich spread from his mother's recipe, but mistakes "C. Powder" for cocoa powder instead of chili.
Schemer: Sure I know the difference. Chili powder you use in chili con carne, and cocoa powder you use in cocoa con carne...
- Long Bus Trip: The original Mr. Conductor (played by Ringo Starr) leaves kind of abruptly, and we think it's just for a while. But then the other Mr. Conductor (George Carlin) takes over and we never see the original again.
- Harry was put on the bus twice — first to explain why his brother was working at the station in the Christmas special, then with the big cast change in the Season 2 premier. He does show up again, though, in one of the last specials.
- Man Child: Schemer is a full grown adult and doesn't know how to take care of himself
- Meaningful Name: Would you buy a used car from Schemer?
- Stacy Jones is aunt to Matt (Season 1)and Dan (Seasons 2 & 3).
- Schemer is uncle to Schemee.
- Billy Twofeathers is uncle to Kit in the Family Specials.
- JB King is uncle to his bullying nephew Buster in the episode "Bully for Mr. Conductor".
- Niche Network: When Schemer introduced the kids to television, one such channel was of footage of babies crying.
- Odd Couple: Stacy and Schemer. Also Midge Smoot, the zany town gossip, and Ginny Johnson, the straight-laced farmer, usually end up filling this role.
- Once per Episode: The Thomas stories, the musical number from the jukebox, the music video from the picture machine (although this only appears in maybe half of the episodes).
- Rhymes on a Dime: Mr. Conductor's evil twin.
- Rich Bastard: Hobart Hume III, the leader of a club which Schemer tries to join (until Schemer refuses to cut off his hair curl to be accepted in.
- Scenery Porn: Admit it, you really wish you were inside Shining Time Station right now.
- Shout-Out: In one episode the kids ruminate on forming a band. "I used to play in a band", Mr. Conductor (AKA Ringo Starr) chirps. And toddlers all over America wonder why Mommy is falling off the sofa laughing....
- Mr. Conductor (George Carlin) once mused that a wise man told him there are no blue foods - an obvious reference to one of George's best known routines.
- Spot the Impostor: One of the girls was once challenged to use glue to turn Mr. Conductor's Evil Twin into a drawing. She remembered from earlier that the real Mr. Conductor's whistle sounded different than usual that day, so she asked both Conductors to blow their whistles, then dumped the glue on the one whose whistle made the normal sound.
- Stock Footage: Except for using original songs, many of the picture machine's music videos are remarkably similar in style to modern-day Fan Vids.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The second season replaced half the cast with different characters in essentially the same role: Matt and Tanya were displaced by Dan, Kara and Becky; Harry was replaced with Billy Twofeathers; and Mr. Conductor was replaced with... a different Mr. Conductor. The in-universe reasons for all of this are laid out at the beginning of the second season's first episode.
- Averted in a few episodes of season 2, which feature the Matt and Tanya alongside the new cast of kids (mostly for group activities like baseball).
- Ultimate Job Security: Despite renting out space in the station, Schemer does some outrageous stunts, and is often rude to the children and Stacy. Yet, he is rarely punished severely for any of it by Indian Valley Railroad.
- Schemer came awfully close in one episode to subverting the trope where J.B. King was trying to get Schemer to sign a new lease for the arcade. Schemer is extremely rude to King due to an earlier misunderstanding, to the point where King leaves mad and threatens to evict Schemer. It's only after an "Oh Crap!" realization and some begging/pleading that Schemer is able to sign the lease and stay at Shining Time Station.
- Subverted in one episode where Schemer tries to host a live radio show out of the arcade. He goes on unprepared, forgets what he's been asked to announce, and everyone in the station tries to get in on the show. He then gets a call from the station, saying they pulled him off the air.
- The Villain Sucks Song: "Bad Guy" from "Bully For Mr. Conductor".
- Weaksauce Weakness: On one occasion when Schemie is caught misbehaving (insofar as you could call it "misbehaving" given the example he follows), Schemer unfairly, and quite reluctantly, punishes him by combing flat the family cowlick.