The Rev. W. Awdry, 85, who delighted generations of children with his tales of Thomas the Tank Engine, died March 21 at his home in Stroud, England. The cause of death was not reported,

Wilbert Vere Awdry produced his first book in 1945 and kept at it until "Thomas' Christmas Party" in 1984. A son, Christopher, had assumed main responsibility for the series in 1972.

The son of a train-loving clergyman, the elder Mr. Awdry started spinning tales of railway engines for his son.

"The stories built up by question and answer. Why is the engine sad, Daddy?' Because he's not been out for a long time.' What's his name?' Edward' -- because that was the first name that came into my head," Mr. Awdry said in a 1995 interview with Church Times, a weekly newspaper.

"When you're telling stories to a child, you've got to use the same words every time. Otherwise you're called to order," he said.

"So in self-protection, after we'd settled the outline version of the stories, I'd write them down in pencil on the backs of old circulars with a very rudimentary illustration."

The first book, "The Three Railway Engines," was written when Awdry was rector of Elsworth with Knapwell in rural Cambridgeshire. Thomas, a cheerful blue locomotive, made his appearance the next year.

Mr. Awdry's fastidiousness about detail put him at odds with the illustrator of his first book, just as he later criticized some of the animated television versions.

In "The Three Railway Engines," Mr. Awdry imagined the engines having different wheel arrangements. But the artist, a man named Middleton, made Henry identical to the engine named Gordon.

"I was so annoyed about Middleton's treatment of Henry that I endeavored to kill Henry off," Mr. Awdry recalled.

"That's why in Thomas the Tank Engine' Henry only appears once or twice as a Very Sick Engine, and he doesn't appear at all in the third book, James the Red Engine.'

"After that I got inquiries from children about Henry's health, so I had to bring him back again. We had Henry painted green again, but in the end the only thing to do was to be ruthless, and Henry had to have an accident and be rebuilt differently."

Mr. Awdry, who sometimes put himself in the stories as the Thin Clergyman, set his later tales on the fictional island of Sodor.

"I discovered that a bishop has the title of Sodor and Man, but has only the Isle of Man for his diocese. That is an oddity. I'm a pushover for oddities," Mr. Awdry said.

He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1995.

His wife, Margaret, died in 1989. Survivors include three children and seven grandchildren.