reach for the whistle,
go where the rail may run
Reach for the words,
reach for the story,
Follow the Rainbow Sun
To a Shining Time Station,
where dreams can come true,
Waiting there for you."
Shining Time Station was a children's television series created and executive produced by Britt Allcroft and Rick Siggelkow and presented by WNET New York. It ran on PBS for three seasons, from January 29, 1989 to June 11, 1993, with reruns continuing to air until June 11, 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. Completing the main cast were engineer Billy Twofeathers (who replaced Harry after Series 1) and Dan and Kara's close friend Becky.
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. One of the series' main purposes was to introduce the Thomas brand to America, which it succeeded at doing.
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". It also, less felicitously, spawned the movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad and the Spiritual Successor The Noddy Shop.
This show contains examples of:
- Adult Fear: When Stacy and Billy stay late in hopes of catching a suspected burglar, the kids learn that there are things even adults are afraid of.
- Always Someone Better: Schemer gets jealous when Barton Winslow looks after his arcade, finding success by combining it with a general store.
- April Fools' Plot: On March 31st, the kids are dreading Schemer's April Fools' Day pranks, so they decide to prank him by making him think it's April 1st. At first they find it funny when Schemer pranks confused bystanders, but then he starts mistaking serious things for pranks, like Mr. King trying to get him to renew the lease on his arcade.
- Bad "Bad Acting": The play in "Billy's Runaway Train".
- Bankruptcy Barrel: Worn by Schemer in "The Joke's on Schemer", after he gets itching powder on his clothes
- Before I Change My Mind: Uttered by Schemer when he gives the kids his prize money in "Once Upon a Time".
- Big Damn Heroes: Stacy and J.B. King in "Queen for a Day". They take a switcher out of the yard to cut off the jewel thieves at a crossing, saving Schemer and the Queen.
- Big "NO!": Mr. Conductor's Evil Twin does this when Kara uses glue to turn him back into a picture.
- Boastful Rap: Schemer and Schemee perform one while auditioning for Felix's concert.Schemer: What do you think?Felix: Don't call me. I'll call you.
- Bottle Episode: All the action took place inside the station (except for the specials, which included additional sets and location shooting).
- Breakout Character: Schemer became the most popular character on the show and even had a series of home videos dedicated simply to his character.
- Brick Joke: The Jukebox Band's slogan entry in "Jingle, Jingle, Jingle".
- Camping Episode: Stacy, Kara, Becky, and Mr. Conductor set up a tent in the station to spend the night. At the same time, Schemer takes Schemee and Dan on a scout camping trip in the woods, with disastrous results.
- Cassandra Truth: When Mr. Typo is looking for a story to report, Dan tells him that there's a little man living in the signal box on the station's mural.
- Catch-Phrase: Various (especially Stacy): "There's just something about this place..."Stacy: Shining Time Station, Stacy Jones speaking.Schemer: This place is haunted!Schemer: Genius time!Schemer: He's a doer, he's a dreamer, he's absolutely Schemer and he's me!Ginny: Hey hey hey! What do we say?Barton Winslow: Kudos, what's the word?
- There was also "Schemer's System of Success", which referred to something different every time.
- Chroma Key: Used for Mister Conductor.
- Comically Small Demand: In "Schemer's Alone", the few people Schemer pays are satisfied with a nickel.
- Cousin Oliver: Schemer's nephew Schemee, added in Season 2.
- Credit Card Plot: "Schemer's Alone", although instead of a credit card, he hands out IOUs.
- Delayed Reaction: When Schemer introduces his "pie flinger" in "All's Fair":Becky: I get it, it's like a catapult - only stupid!Schemer: That's right, it's like a catapult— [Double Take] Dearest Becky, isn't it time for your twenty mile hike?
- Deus ex Machina: Often averted when the kids ask Mr. Conductor to use magic to help out.
- When the telegraph is broken, he says it would be unfair to fix it after all the work Stacy and Harry put into it (though he does give them a hint about what was wrong with it).
- When the kids want to help out a struggling magician, he tells them it'd be better for them to give him some words of encouragement.
- Easy Amnesia: Stacy once lost her memory after sniffing some flowers that Mr. Conductor had sprinkled with a "Forgetting Dust" in order to shoo away some bees. 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.
- Faux Horrific: In one episode, Schemer finds a slug in his arcade.
- Foil: Barton Winslow, the owner of the town's general store, is this to Schemer, as unlike Schemer, he is a purely honest businessman who does not try to cheat his customers and actually sells products that are important to people. Also overlaps with Cool Old Guy, as despite being in middle age, he uses a motorcycle as transportation, and also wears a leather jacket on occasion. In fact, whenever Mr. Winslow puts on the leather jacket, his manner of speech immediately changes to "hip talk" slang from 1950s America, which Stacy often has to translate into layman's terms for the kids.
- Framing Device: Mr. Conductor's stories of Thomas the Tank Engine, which were episodes of the television series.
- Friendship Moment:
- In "Mr. Conductor's Big Sleepwalk", after everyone is finally cured of their insomnia, they fall asleep around the station. Mr. King and Schemer wake up a while later leaning against each other. They're both flustered at first, but then Mr. King suggests they grab some coffee and watch the sunrise, and they walk out together.
- In "Once Upon a Time", Schemer tries to change his image to make Stacy like him more. When he finally explains himself, Stacy tells him that she liked him the way he was.
- In the unreleased video "Tribute to J.J. Silvers", J.J. thinks the band didn't attend his ceremony because they don't like him. Then they show up - and tell him how grateful they are for getting them the gig in the Shining Time jukebox.
- Full-Name Basis: Schemer sometimes does to "Miss Stacy Jones" when he is being especially patronizing to her.
- Generation Xerox: In "How the Station Got Its Name", the ancestors of Stacy, Billy, Schemer, and Mr. King all look similar to the present-day characters.
- In "Once Upon a Time", Stacy is able to recognize Ned Kincaid's great-grandson.
- Glad I Thought of It: Schemer does this in one of the episodes.
- Greek Chorus: Often, the Jukebox Band.
- 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.
- In-universe there's an environmentally-friendly superhero toy called "Envirobot".
- Guardian Entity: Mr. Conductor explains that this is his job.Mr. Conductor: I was the Indian Valley Railroad's special conductor. Every special train that went out, I was there just to make sure that nothing ever went wrong.
- 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.
- High-Class Glass: The turkey who occasionally visits the Jukebox Band.
- Horrible Camping Trip: Schemer's camping trip with Schemee and Dan, because Schemer isn't as great of an outdoors-man as he claims to be.
- Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Schemer's mother can be recognized (off-screen), by a hat with a plastic skunk on it.
- Infinite Supplies: Schemer always seems to be able to afford new gear (up to and including a robot) for whatever scheme he's cooked up. This despite the fact that 1) his arcade machines all cost only a nickel and 2) by his own admission, he can't get nickels out of the jukebox.
- Insistent Terminology: Tex and Rex's idea of camping involves a trailer with a kitchen and a TV set. Didi tells them that real camping means sleeping in a tent.Tex and Rex: Oh! She means "roughin' it"!
- In the Blood: Schemer's nephew Schemee could out-scheme his uncle.
- Invited as Dinner: Subverted when the Jukebox Band invites a turkey to dinner in "Billy's Party":Rex: So Tito, what's for dinner? (Scare Chord)Tito: Vegetables!Turkey: Oh, happy day! You guys are a turkey's best friend: vegetarians!
- 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.
- The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Schemer's list of big stars:
- 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...
- Literal Genie: The wishing star. It doesn't seem to realize that Schemer is being sarcastic when he wishes he and Stacy could switch places or when the mayor is speaking metaphorically about "ascending" and "rising above".
- 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.
- Love Potion: Mr. Conductor acts annually as Cupid's helper, carrying a "love dust" that causes someone to fall madly in love with the next person they meet. Unfortunately, he drops some as he's leaving, and Stacy falls in love with Schemer...
- Manchild: Schemer is a full grown adult and doesn't know how to take care of himself. He also doesn't seem to understand the value of a dollar, as he thinks a nickel is a valuable amount of currency. (Even in the '90s, any self-respecting arcade machine would cost at least a quarter to use.)
- Taken Up to Eleven in "Schemer's Alone", where his mother goes away overnight.Schemer: "Take out the trash, make your bed, say please and thank you." I mean what does she think I am, some kind of mature adult?
- Taken Up to Eleven in "Schemer's Alone", where his mother goes away overnight.
- Meaningful Name: Would you buy a used car from Schemer?
- Mind-Control Eyes: When Becky, Dan, and Kara, watched too much TV in Mr. Conductor Gets Left Out.
- Mistaken for Prank Call: J.J. and the Jukebox Band call Schemer a few times in "Once Upon a Time". He has no idea who they are.
- Mistaken Identity: The Jukebox Band dresses in costume for their song in "Scare Dares", and everyone compliments what they assume is Didi's ghost costume. Then the real Didi shows up wearing a Carmen Miranda-esque costume, and the ghost flies away.
- Mustache Vandalism: Buster in "Bully for Mr. Conductor" was about to draw a mustahce on one of the people in the mural wall, though Becky stops him and decided not to after the ink of his marker dried up.
- Mythology Gag: Before "Come Out, Henry!" starts in "Does it Bite?", Mr. Conductor denotes that it's a very sad story; a reference to the episode's original title, "The Sad Story of Henry".
- 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".
- Never Say "Die": Averted. In "Second Chances", Billy explains that his nephew Kit has been getting in trouble since his father died.
- Niche Network: When Schemer introduced the kids to television, one such channel was of footage of babies crying.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mr. Richhouse in "The Mayor Runs for Re-Election" is a parody of Richard Nixon.Mr. Conductor: I just wish I knew more about the mayor's opponent. He's a very mysterious figure.Stacy: I know. I've seen his picture, and he looks awfully familiar...
- The repairman in "Do I Hear" resembles Elvis Presley (and wears a jacket saying "King Repair").
- Not So Different: Initially Mr. Conductor is doesn't appear in front of Harry because he's afraid they wouldn't have anything in common. The others convince him to introduce himself, and soon after they start swapping stories about working on the railroad.
- 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 episodesnote ).
- One Degree of Separation: When Harry first meets Mr. Conductor, they find that years ago, they both worked on the same train when the president was riding on the Indian Valley Railroad.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Schemer's attempts to spy on the arcade when Barton Winslow briefly takes over.
- When the baseball team is short one player in "Second Chances", Schemer tries to pass off Midge as one of the kids.
- Paranoia Gambit: Pulled on Scheme in "The Joke's on Schemer".
- Percussive Maintenance: There are times someone would try shaking the Jukebox machine. Nothing happens except everyone inside gets shaken up.
- Performance Anxiety: Billy is reluctant to play his guitar in front of other people. He eventually decides the only way to find out if he's comfortable with an audience is to try.
- Personality Swap: In "Becky Makes a Wish", Schemer wished that he would swap places with Stacy. The wishing star that escaped granted it, not only making the two act like each other, but looking like them as well. This was reverse after Mr. Conductor caught the star and Becky wished everything back prior to the first wish.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Matt and Tanya were Put on a Bus both because the actors were getting older and because production had moved from New York to Toronto after Season 1.
- George Carlin's schedule was part of the reason why they decided the film four hour-long specials instead of a full fourth season.
- Max Okowsky comments on the roughness of his voice - his actor, Jack Klugman, had recently had throat surgery.
- Reformed, but Rejected: Just as Kit starts fitting in, he gets accused of spraypainting the baseball scoreboard. Kit runs away, and the adults have a My God, What Have I Done? moment when they learn the board wasn't defaced - it was in the middle of being repainted.
- Remember the New Guy?: The Jukebox Band's manager, J.J.
- Reset Button: In "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" and "Becky Makes a Wish".
- Rhymes on a Dime: Mr. Conductor's evil twin.
- Mr. Conductor, who Speaks Fluent Animal, claims that parakeets will bend the truth if they can make it rhyme.
- 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.
- Schemer: No prizes for guessing who fills this role, complete with a new zany Get Rich Quick Scheme every episode.
- Secret Keeper: The repairman in "Do I Hear" opens up the jukebox and sees the band inside.Repairman: Shh! You can trust me. I won't tell. Better get back to work now.
- Series Fauxnale: "How the Station Got Its Name" was produced with the knowledge it might be the final episode, though the specials were being discussed at that point and there was no wrap party.
- Signature Laugh: When being sarcastic, Schemer would spell out his laughs.Schemer: H-A, H-A, H-A.
- Snake Oil Salesman: Schemer's grandfather, Jebediah Schemer.
- Speaks Fluent Animal: Mr. Conductor sometimes mentions conversations he's had in animals, and in "A Dog's Life" uses this ability to discover that the dog Schemer found belongs to Ginny.
- Spiritual Successor: The "flying saucer" segments from the first season are this to Teeny Little Super Guy from Sesame Street. Same creator, same set, same animation style. Both use stop-motion to depict inanimate kitchen objects as living characters.
- Spot the Impostor: Kara 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 AMVs.
- 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.note 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).
- Team Mom: Stacy Jones. She tends to be the voice of reason along with Mr. Conductor and Billy, and frequently offers motherly advice and support, as well as occasional discipline, to practically everyone at Shining Time Station.
- Team Dad: Billy Twofeathers. He also tends to the voice of reason whenever Mr. Conductor is absent and also frequently offers fatherly advice and support, as well as occasional discipline, to practically everyone at Shining Time Station.
- That Syncing Feeling: Schemer and Schemee try to lip sync to the jukebox. Subverted in that they don't fool anyone.
- Throwing the Fight: In "Second Chances", the coach of a rival baseball team offers Schemie a nickel for every ball he drops.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Kara and Becky. Their Halloween costumes (train engineer vs. Princess Classic) make it clear which is which in their first appearance. Their everyday clothes are subtler, but if you pay attention to the series, Kara almost always dresses and acts more boyishly.
- Too Smart for Strangers: A rare aversion for the late 1980s happens on the second episode. The song "Don't be Afraid" is all about having the courage to reach out to unfamiliar, including strangers. It points out a bit of Fridge Logic: "In their eyes, you're a stranger too."
- 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.
- Where the Hell Is Springfield?: We never got a clear answer to that- there was a real Indian Valley Railroad in California, but it was long gone by the time the series was on the air. Many businesses in the Philadelphia suburbs are named "Indian Valley (x)", but they don't really have any rail service to speak of. The Season 1 episode, "Mapping it Out", featured a map of the Valley that, according to one fan-site, places it in the Southeastern part of Wisconsin. Thomas and the Magic Railroad just muddles things further, what with the connection to the Island of Sodor via Muffle Mountain....
- The Wild West: This seems to be the period that Becky and Kara travel back to in "How the Station Got Its Name". The math really doesn't work. Don't even try to make it work.
- Wipe That Smile Off Your Face: In "Becky Makes a Wish", Billy Twofeathers accidentally wished that Midge Smoot would zip her lips when he meant it metaphorically, which the wishing star causes to actually grant it. This was reverse at the end.