In 1969 it was discovered that a veteren Hunslet steam locomotive was about to be disposed of by I.C.I. Dyestuffs Division from their Works at Blackley (Manchester). This was HE686/1898 which had originally worked on the Manchester Ship Canal Railway until 1963 when steam traction was replaced by diesel. A successful bid (of £250) was made by the Warwickshire Industrial Locomotive Preservation Group to secure the locomotive for preservation and following a hectic dash down the M6 Motorway it arrived at Bridgnorth (Severn Valley Railway) in July 1969. Following a quick repaint and a few minor repairs the locomotive was steamed in August 1969 to act as Station Pilot and to give footplate rides at Bridgnorth. It was also used on works trains and became a favourit with many Film & TV crews, appearing in a number of Films and Adverts. In 1972 it was withdrawn from traffic for a lengthy overhaul and finally returned to use in late 1981 complete with vacuum brake controls, new shape cab windows (round) and a sliding cab roof ventilator (as well as an improved livery). Initially moved to Bewdley to act as Station Pilot, it also went on loan to the Birmingham Railway Museum at Tyseley (1983 & 1986) and to the Crewe Heritage Centre (1988) but at the beginning of 1989 was again withdrawn with wasted smoke tubes.
In 1992 the S.V.R. decided to start holding 'Thomas the Tank Engine'
Events and thus in 1993 HE686 was given a complete overhaul, painted bright blue and started a new life as 'Thomas' in 1994. The locomotive was registeredas an official 'Thomas' with the License Holders and hired out to many Preserved Railways each year as well as appearing twice a year on the S.V.R. In October 1998 the locomotive was temporarily repainted into Black M.S.C. Rly. Livery appearing at Bury (E.L.R.), Leeds (M.R.T.) and
finally Kidderminster (S.V.R.) where it worked a passenger shuttle service to Bewdley before reverting back to blue
'Thomas' livery in December. HE686 continued in its role as 'Thomas' until the end of 1999 when it was taken out of service for major boiler repairs (including fitting a new inner firebox), which
were carried by Roger Pridham in Devon. Unfortunately these repairs were not completed until 2001, and although the locomotive was rapidly re-assembled and successfully steam tested in November,
it did not resume its 'Thomas' duties until early 2002. Since then the locomotive has performed well
and has become even more well travelled with visits across the channel to Holland (Z.L.S.M.) in 2002-6 and to Germany
(Krefeld) in 2005. However, in mid 2009 the locomotive was again taken out of use with more boiler problems and other defects. Due to a downturn in 'Thomas' bookings the S.V.R. decided to delay any repairs, so at our
request the locomotive was cosmetically restored in red livery as 'The Lady Armaghdale' and placed on static display in The Engine House Museum at Highley in October 2010. In March 2013 HE686 was
moved out of the Museum for a few days to take pride of place on the Visit Shropshire Stand at the 'Best of Britain' Exhibition held at the N.E.C. in Birmingham. The S.V.R. Engineering Department have recently inspected the
locomotive and a report has been issued on what work is required to put it back in traffic and how much this will cost. However, it is not expected to overhauled until sometime in the mid 2020's.
In mid June 2018 HE686 was moved outside to SVR Highley station for a few brief hours whilst a shunt took place to re-arrange exhibits in The Engine House.