The Rosses Men’s Shed in Donegal were delighted recently to win the €750 first prize in the MyWaste #UpcycleChallenge.

The competition is a collaboration between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and My Waste, an initiative of the Regional Waste Management Offices on behalf of the Department of Climate Action, Communications and the Environment.

The idea behind the project is to reduce waste by reusing materials that would otherwise be disposed of. Participants make something completely different but still usable.

The train was made from an old oil tank.

We spoke to shedder Pat Bonner who told us about the inspiration behind the eye-catching, life-sized Thomas The Tank Engine that the members of the shed assembled for the competition.

“The inspiration for our project came from a shed member’s better half. She decided to brighten up their back garden by painting a Thomas The Tank Engine face on their oil tank.

There was an extra dimension to building a train, says Pat: “Railways unfortunately disappeared from Donegal in the 1960s, so we decided to try and recreate and build our own ‘Thomas’ as a reminder of those days.”

The structure is truly upcycled, consisting of material that can be found in any workshop, farm or shed. The men started with an old oil tank and pallets. Some Perspex for the porthole windows was added and an old aluminium chimney cap was used as Thomas’s smokestack.

The completed Thomas The Tank Engine.

The construction of the piece wasn’t all plain sailing. “We were aware that the project had to be completed with strict adherence to Government guidelines. Masks had to be worn at all times and social distancing maintained.”

Not only that, it was essential to protect the work-in-progress from the wild Donegal elements. “The fact that it had to be assembled outdoors provided a number of problems, the weather being one of them,” says Pat. “Thomas had to be tethered during high winds and covered when it rained.”

In the end, the hard work paid off – not only in terms of prizes but in provoking a sense of fun, purpose and energy during the stressful period of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Of all the projects we have done over the past four years this task has generated the most enthusiasm among the members. It may sound like a childish proposition but as they say, ‘Adults are just children at heart... but with a few more wrinkles’.”