Thomas Wooden Railway is a toy range of wooden train sets and vehicles based off Thomas & Friends. Learning Curve acquired the license to produce the line and commenced production in 1992 and continued work for nearly two decades. Learning Curve's parent company, RC2, was purchased by Tomy in 2011; production continued under the latter until 2013. The license to the range was subsequently sold to Mattel, and their subsidiary Fisher-Price has been producing the line until 2017, where it was redesigned into Thomas Wood.
Learning Curve was founded by John W. Lee in 1992. Following the success of the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends television series in the United States, the company gained the license to produce a wooden railway system based off the Thomas franchise overseen by Roy Wilson. The original vehicles were constructed mainly from painted maple wood with flat metal coupling magnets, axles and plastic for the wheels and faces, and stapled together underneath. These vehicles, which were primarily based off illustrations used in material such as the official magazines, were relatively simple, with simple wooden stubs for the funnel and dome, as well as painted coal in tenders. Buildings, destinations, bridges, tunnels, and accessories were crafted with printed illustrations, and the wooden track was designed as a standard plain track. Production took place in the United States.
In 1994, production of the range moved to China and the quality of the products improved with staples removed from the bottom of vehicles, and dates were printed on the wheels. The track was redesigned to a patented "Clickity-Clack" Track, which were grooved in order to make a sound when vehicles were pushed along. The sets did not use the "Clickity-Clack" Track until 1995. In 1995, vehicles received rounded magnets, but due to a surplus at the factory, many could be still found with flat magnets. The first volume of the Yearbook was released this year, and continued to be published annually until 2017 with the exception of 2012. In 1997 the vehicles were updated again with thicker wheels. Track Packs were also introduced this year featuring a Builder's Guide containing diagrams of layout ideas to expand with sets, which are still being produced. During the first few years of production, the line was gradually released internationally, and the amount of products expanded with more vehicles featuring characters that had recently debuted in the television series, as well as characters who were only seen in The Railway Series, and larger destinations and sets such as the Roundhouse. Products also began retiring in order to keep production levels consistent.
In 1999, the vehicles received more realistic plastic funnels and a lump of moulded plastic coal was used for the tender engines. Character Cards were also included with vehicles featuring a picture of the item with a description on the other side. The Character Cards continued to be included with vehicles in the US until 2010, although they continued in Europe until 2013. In 2000, the line received a new logo, and vehicles now had their names printed underneath. Products received toy awards during these years, and a range of home accessories incorporating the Wooden Railway were produced. Battery-Powered engines were also released during this year which were made with metal bodies, and have been the longest of engine variations produced.
In 2002, the line received one of its biggest changes. The main characters were updated with bodies made primarily of plastic, new designs with added details such as strips on boilers, and new faces based off the illustrations used on Thomas material at the time. Minor changes were added over the next few years such as particular details added on a vehicle, and ledges on the backs of vehicles removed. The track was also redesigned with realistic details printed and the rails added traction specifically for the Battery-Powered engines. A road system was also made, with the road being printed on the other side of the track and a range of destinations were made for the road vehicles. The road system was quietly scrapped a few years later due to its limitations of layout possibilities, as well as struggles with how to fit it in track layout plans. The road is still printed however on straight track pieces. Vehicles consisting of two interactive cars of rolling stock not seen in any Thomas material were gradually released during these years in order to hold children's interests. Most of these cars would be in production for a short time.
In 2004, the Sights and Sounds range was made, which featured several new buildings with added sounds and lights, although a portion of these products had been released in the previous two years. Deluxe versions of existing buildings such as Cranky and the Roundhouse were made in the range, and more were released up until 2008. In 2006, Lights and Sounds engines of Thomas, James, and the following year, Percy, were produced to tie-in with the Sights and Sounds line. From 2006, a yearly trend occurred with two to three previously discontinued vehicles were re-released for a limited time, usually for a DVD tie-in. Re-released vehicles had a new design, although some vehicles which were discontinued later kept the same design. The use of plastic in products increased over the years for cost effective reasons, however the track remained to be wooden.
In 2007, the line received an updated logo, although newer products would not receive a packaging redesign until the following year. Over 20 items currently in production using red and yellow paint were recalled this year due to containing lead. Another recall with a smaller number of items using grey and black paint occurred later in the year which also contained lead. Common products which had previously been affected were put back on the market the following year. From this year onwards, new products with occasional images were revealed several months before their release and various online shops, usually of characters and destinations that were yet to appear in the television series.
In 2008, the Talking Railway Series was made featuring engines with gold magnets and interactive destinations which enabled Sir Topham Hatt at those destinations to talk to the engines. In 2009, several products were released after the initial releases of the full year's range, however most of them were products intended to be new for 2010. The 2010 Yearbook acknowledges some of the vehicle releases as new for 2010, whilst the 2009 volume omits certain sets which were released that same year. A large amount of products were cancelled as well. Pamphlets were not included with items anymore from this year, however they remained in European releases. The pamphlets did return to vehicles in the US in 2013, however they focus only on engines. In 2010, the Early Engineers line was released. This was aimed at very young beginners with larger, chunkier engines, and simple playsets. The line also received a new logo and individual track pieces were discontinued in this year.
In 2011, engines had updated faces to match the design seen in the CGI television series. Various diesel characters were re-released to tie-in with the Day of the Diesels special. During this year, Tomy acquired RC2, and products were released the following year with the Tomy logo on the packaging. A deal with Mattel meant that the Wooden Railway was to be produced by Fisher-Price from 2013. In 2012, no new products were made by Tomy. New products which were released had already been produced by Learning Curve, however some products which were due to be released in late 2012 were cancelled since they were unfinished. Updated versions and re-releases of Narrow Gauge characters were released to tie-in with the special, Blue Mountain Mystery. Various other products were re-released to clear out remaining stock such as Pack vehicles, repainted destinations with engines, and smaller versions of sets.
In 2013, a new Wooden Railway was released by Fisher-Price. Products were redesigned to be safer for children. Vehicles also gained wheel dates corresponding to the year produced for the first time since 2003. Some destination and set designs originally made by Learning Curve kept the same basic design, and products cancelled the previous year were released this year. In August 2014, a dedicated online store and product e-catalog launched. The store featured unique items such as My Custom Engine and the Sodor Story Collection, containing new characters made especially for the sets such as Logan, Sam, and Dustin. In 2016, the online store closed and all stock was moved to Fisher-Price's main online store. From late 2016 and early 2017, some engines received a minor redesign to their faces, and a small range of new items were released. The Yearbook also ceased publication this year.
In late 2017, the Thomas Wooden Railway was replaced by Thomas Wood. Adapters were included with sets and track packs to connect Wooden Railway track to Wood track.