The International Steam Pages

Miss Selinka and Individual Hating, Steam in Poland 1983

Robert Hall writes of his experiences in Poland. Further tales are linked below:

You may also want to read his Polish Steam Primer or view a map of the route taken.

For those who would like to see the kind of steam locomotive described here, Robert recommends the following galleries of Polish steam:

Robert has also written an epilogue, a two week trip to Poland in July 2010.

My visiting Poland in September 1980, in seemingly not the most propitious of circumstances (as previously recounted) proved a wise move – the widely predicted political “day of reckoning” in Poland came some fifteen months later, in the form of martial law being declared. There followed a bad time for very many people, including (in the “from the sublime to the ridiculous” department) for railway enthusiasts, who craved visiting this, by far Europe’s best remaining steam country. For a fair number of months, western tourists were not allowed into Poland on any basis. Things began gradually to ease up, and a few organised railway tours – under strict and often frustrating constraints – were permitted. As at early 1983, though, it was generally felt that for the time being, the only possible way to make a railway visit to Poland would be via the organised-tour route. If independent travel were to come to be allowed once more, people felt that it would not be viable for even camera-less gricing. The country was tense and jumpy, with martial law only “suspended”, and dissident activity back in strength: it was feared that foreigners travelling around widely and seemingly randomly, would be targets for intense suspicion.

I am, as a rule, no lover of organised tours – preferring to be in control of what I do and where I go -- but having caught the PKP steam bug “to the max” two and a half years previously, I greatly wished to see more of what Poland had to offer. Weighing and considering various possibilities, an organised tour seemed better than what was seen, otherwise, as likely nothing. From my perhaps hard-to-please point of view, maybe not all that much better. All the tours on offer seemed to focus rather heavily on the south-western extremity of Poland (part of the Lower Silesia region) especially the area around Kłodzko. As recounted elsewhere, there were clear reasons for Western enthusiasts to have fixed on this area as the star of PKP’s steam show, and to be keener to go there, than anywhere else in the country. My own tastes were such that I disagreed with the consensus of enthusiast opinion on this – in the first place, because of the very restricted range of steam classes in the area concerned.

However – beggars, choosers, and all that – I decided in the end to bite the bullet, and go for the tour which seemed the least bad from my point of view. The one which I opted for – run by an undertaking of good repute in this field – aimed to provide “action” with all PKP’s surviving steam classes. The majority of its eight days’ duration would be in the far south-west, with its fine scenery but mere three classes; toward the end of the tour, though, it was planned to move further north to cover the steam specifics which the Silesia area could not furnish. The tour’s provisional programme, setting out these intentions, warned that with the unsettled state of things in Poland, the intended itinerary might have to be modified at short notice. As things came to occur: boy, did it ever…

Upsides to downsides, and vice versa: had I not gone on the -- for me not totally enjoyable -- organised tour concerned, I wouldn’t have met one of the more (pleasantly) memorable people whom I’ve encountered in fifty-plus years of this hobby. This piece is in part, a tribute to this gentleman – Jerzy Wasilewski, employee of PKP / Polish Ministry of Communications, liaison man with numerous Western railway-enthusiast tour groups, and impassioned railfan, and steam enthusiast and supporter, in his own right. Jerzy – who died in 2002, only in his early fifties – was a larger-than-life bod. Among other things, he did more than anyone else to implement the concept of “Steam Preservation Centres” in Poland, which initially made possible the continuing beyond 1992, of regular steam operation at Wolsztyn.

Mr. Wasilewski was a large, slightly chubby guy, with horn-rimmed glasses and a little moustache. I’ll refer to him hereon as “George” (English version of his Christian name), which was what many Brits who went on tours shepherded by him, came to call him, with a mixture of affection and irritation – he wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. He had numerous passionate interests, on the railway scene and elsewhere, and was a chatty and sociable character with a delightful sense of humour, and a great liking for talking about what interested him – but with perhaps a bit of shortage of empathy with others, as regards their maybe not being so fascinated, and not wanting their ears bent to such a degree. He and I happened to hit it off – we had a similar focus on many things in the hobby – but I can see why not everyone loved him. On this tour he certainly was, for good or ill, the “most unforgettable character”, to quote the “Readers’ Digest”. We had three Polish “minders” on the tour; George, representing the Ministry of Communications, and two other chaps from the agencies which, in a “standard” fashion, looked after foreign tourists. The latter pair were pleasant, and conscientious in their duties – but inevitably, they have in comparison rather faded from memory.

George was, one understands, a keen supporter of the Solidarity movement, and as such, took considerable personal risks – but I feel that if he were still here to read these words, he would not be offended by the suggestion that he was keener still on the joys of steam traction in his homeland, and on sharing same with like-minded visitors from further afield. In the martial-law era, once organised group railway tours were again permitted, George in his Min. of Comm. capacity did a great deal to smooth the way for photography, often well beyond the limits laid down by the authorities. Those limits for organised tours in general were often irksome, even with rules bent to the max in the gricers’ favour – but, all honour to George for his efforts.

He indeed was – or wished to be -- a good friend to non-Polish railway enthusiasts. With English being the chief medium of communication for this pursuit, he had thus learnt the language – which he spoke with more enthusiasm and eloquence, than accuracy. (His two “non-transport” colleagues for our tour, had considerably better English – but it’s George and his sayings, that stick in memory.) I really shouldn’t mock – his command of English was ten thousand times better than mine of Polish – but a prominent aspect of the Tower of Babel, is its comedy-potential. Some lovely mispronunciations are recalled. In George-speak, you always kitted yourself out with “equipement”. Discussing the keeping of coaching stock warm in cold weather, I remember him speaking of “a tube for individual hating”. And, regarding eloquence: recalled from a long train journey – as well as a passionate railfan, George was a keen outdoorsman, and an enthusiast for the mountain ranges in the south-west of Poland, close to the Czech frontier. One of our standard-tourist-liaison guides spoke up (conversation in English, to include us clients) in favour of the Tatra mountains, further east in Poland’s southern borderlands. George wasn’t having any of that – he boomed out in rebuttal: “The Tatra is from paper ! The Tatra is not for real men ! The Tatra is for stupids !” Collapse of the opposition…

Myself aside, the participants on this particular tour didn’t much appreciate George. Am tempted to greater cruelty – at a quarter-century’s remove – to my tour-mates, than they truly deserve. It’s been said – by someone who was a railway enthusiast himself – that “people who like railways, tend to be people who have given up on people”. Some truth there: or at least, many railway enthusiasts are – anyway while wearing their gricer “hat” – very highly focused, most often on getting the maximum possible number of artistically-worthwhile steam pictures, and not interested in anything that gets in the way of that (including conversation / interaction). My “fellows” on this tour, exemplified this trait in a high degree – plus, even off-duty, they seemed to be rather dour characters, taking no great joy in conversation or exchanging of impressions. I like to talk about my interests, with people who share them; but with many gricers, this is clearly not a thing on their agenda. Most of the tour members did not take to George – they dubbed him “Motormouth”, and didn’t want him spouting at them, at length, what they regarded as totally uninteresting twaddle. Not that this bothered George – he had confidence in plenty, and spieled happily on, regardless of what his audience thought. I genuinely found his stuff interesting, and was glad to listen and ask…

The tour began with arrival by air at Warsaw one early summer afternoon in 1983, and assembling of the group – about a dozen of us, all Brits with the exception of one Swiss gentleman -- and meeting with our guides; George, and his pair of “civilian” colleagues. A late-afternoon express rail departure was made from the capital for Wrocław – route electric throughout; but first sighting of steam was a class Ty2 2-10-0 on freight at Zgierz, junction for a non-electrified route running north. Night fell about halfway to Wrocław. Overnight stay in a hotel in the city, and kick-off for steam action the following morning. The intention was for a “fun, and different” start to the tour, in the form of reaching Kłodzko, some 75 km to the south, not via the main line, but by means of a steam special travelling over a string of country branch lines. The special comprised four 4-wheeled coaches (wooden slatted seats – highly “period-authentic”) hauled by preserved 4-6-0 Ok1-359: elderly machine, Prussian P8 type, none then left in PKP regular service. Have doubts as to whether this imaginative idea pleased the “punters” as greatly as its instigators no doubt hoped. As already mentioned, the tour’s clients were a phlegmatic bunch, except when in the throes of photting-ecstasy – I seemed not to discern much interest on their part, for good or ill, in the whole thing with the special. And I was, regrettably, set on approaching the whole tour in a perverse and unpleasable frame of mind: felt that, although a nice loco and an interesting route were on the menu, I’d have preferred the real thing right from the outset, to “circus antics”.

In the routeing of this special, I suspect the hand of George – taking the chance to indulge one of his many passions. The part of the country which we were now in, had featured in the “adjustments” of 1945, which involved the nation of Poland’s moving bodily a couple of hundred kilometres westward. Wrocław, Kłodzko, and the rest, had till 1945 been German territory. A big feature of Germany in the railway era has been, on top of the extensive State Railways network, a profusion of privately-owned minor railways, both standard and narrow gauge. In the parts of Germany which fell, one way or another, into the Soviet orbit post-1945, the imposition of Communism of course brought this kind of nonsense to an end – all private railways were nationalised. Nonetheless, George was fascinated by the history and quirks of the various one-time German Privatbahnen which continued to exist as part of PKP, in those areas which passed from Germany to Poland after World War II. He enjoyed sharing this fascination, with his captive audience, more than most of them enjoyed having it shared with them…

Two of George’s “pets” of this kind, at one time physically connected, spread over a wide area of country north and north-east of Kłodzko. Being aware that the small details of this kind of stuff are a minority taste; and not wishing to afflict readers here, the way George afflicted most of his tour “victims”; I’ll refer to them just as “System A” and “System B”. Happenstance over the previous four decades or so had meant that as at ’83, all of System A was still in service under PKP; whereas there remained of System B, only something under half of its maximum extent – at its southern end, and only part of that with a passenger service. (Incidentally, System B had in its heyday spanned a modest local mountain range, doing so with the assistance of a rack section – something very rare indeed in “Poland-then-or-now”. The “rack bit” belongs to very distant history – abandoned in 1931, long before this region ceased to be German.) No part of this pair of one-time private railways has a passenger service today. A few kilometres of System B are known still to be in freight use, serving a stone quarry; as regards surviving freight on any others of these lines – anybody’s guess.

On its “backdoor” journey to Kłodzko, our special traversed 27 km of System A – a basically Y-shaped affair which at that time was served by meagre but ingeniously planned passenger workings. At the junction where we rejoined the “orthodox state-railways” network, we encountered one of those workings – a TKt48 on two coaches. Subsequently, the special ran relatively tamely along main lines, till arrival at Kłodzko.

On this first day in “steam Mecca”, we weren’t yet finished with George’s Privatbahnen. We embarked on an early-afternoon local on the Kudowa Zdrój branch, TKt48-hauled, and travelled up the scenic line to the last station before the terminus; where we disembarked, and were shepherded onto a waiting road coach, which took us on the short run to the little town of Radków. Here we met the last bit of abovementioned “System B” – the 9 km branch to Ścinawka Średnia on the Wałbrzych line – to retain at that time a passenger service (though a vestigial one). The inventive planning for the day let us travel on one of that service’s workings: the 1756 ex Radków, which proved to be a “mixed”: TKt48 + two wagons of stone + one coach. At the other end, we got on to the road coach once more, to our accommodation for the several days in these parts, in a rural location some 10 km out of Kłodzko in the Wrocław direction – within easy sight of the main railway line, so that passing steam could be “valued” from one’s bedroom window. This place where they parked us, functioned at other times as a convalescent / rest-and-recreation centre for coal-miners from the Upper Silesia area.

The envisaged point of some of the tour’s agenda continues rather to mystify me (perhaps the exigencies of “suspended martial law” were to blame) – the succeeding couple of days, being an example. A certain amount of justice was done to the immediate Kłodzko area – there was a visit to Kłodzko shed, and a journey up to the very end of the Kudowa Zdrój branch, and back again, on a long-distance train with TKt48 double-heading, and footplate rides for all who wished… but two successive days were devoted to “doings north-westwards”, reached over the Kłodzko – Wałbrzych route. This line is one of Poland’s most scenic, and all our runs over it were normal-everyday steam (some Pt47, some TKt48) – nonetheless, the repeated shuffling up and down it (local trains took a standard hour-and-a-half for 51 km) started to become for me, just the slightest bit tedious. One of these day-long odysseys was, admittedly, fascinating; I found it difficult to see much purpose to the other. The rest of the group just seemed to take everything as it came, with great stolidity – seemingly they weren’t bothered as to what happened, so long as they were somewhere with lots of steam action and freedom to photograph it, and were not troubled by anybody wishing for human interaction with them. I suspected at times, that they’d have been happier if by some magic, all the Pt47 / TKt48 / Ty2 concerned, could have been transferred for a brief while to Britain, to do relevant stuff there – where they could phot them without having to travel to a strange and irritating foreign country, and be pestered there by gabby lunatics, some of whom butchered the English language most horribly…

I shouldn’t be unkind to my fellow-group-members; they were on an intense photographic mission, from which they didn’t wish to be distracted, any more than Napoleon or Rommel, at the most pressured and complicated peaks of their military campaigns, would have wanted to be plagued by their underlings wishing to chat casually with them at great length, about unrelated subjects. I ought to have just accepted the situation, and vis-à-vis my fellow-punters, “speaked” only when I was (rarely) spoken to, and otherwise imitated them by going into quasi-Trappist mode.

First such day-excursion (the interesting one) took us to regions north-west of Wałbrzych. It started on a longish-distance all-stations working (on this day, TKt48-hauled) which ran Kłodzko – Wałbrzych and then beyond. A minor derailment which had occurred at Wałbrzych meant a delay, and some backing-and-filling to change tracks in the station, including our train being briefly taken in the reverse direction by a Ty2. This was our only Ty2 haulage on the entire tour. Another criticism, seemingly just on my part – the tour’s emphasis seemed to be on quantity, but with little attempt to provide variety. Numerous branch lines in the south-west had regularly-scheduled Ty2 passenger haulage; but planning to include any of that, was apparently not considered. All our normal steam travel in the south-west, was behind Pt47 and TKt48 – mostly the latter. Attractive locos, and by the 1980s, PKP’s only remaining tank-engine class – but even a diet of foie gras and champagne palls after a while, and after a few days I found myself thinking, “enough already ! I’m sick of the little bleeders !” A quarter of a century after, I’d consider parting with a limb, in exchange for a re-run by time machine, of our dullest day in the south-west; but things are relative, in so many different directions.

In the area to which we were headed, the steam situation waxed and waned on a daily basis, and flexibility was necessary. If things had worked out as a “best possible case”, we’d have had a trip on another of George’s Privatbahn friends – but it wasn’t to be. An especial weirdness – in a country which specialises in the weird – obtained at least then, in those particular parts. Germany’s first big railway-electrification scheme, long before World War II, had involved this mountainous area near the Czech border. There came to be included in the same, a private railway in the shape of a 7 km branch up to the town named, since 1945, Karpacz – spectacularly steep, maximum 1 in 25. From 1934 on, the private line – hitherto steam-worked – was integrated with the area’s expanding German State Railways electrified system. Sadly, not for long: the 1939 – 45 unpleasantness intervened, and at war’s end the victorious Soviet Union took, as war booty, the whole system’s electric wiring and motive power; leaving the inheriting PKP to work the lines with steam. In 1983, along these once-electrified routes, the old masts for the electric catenary were, eerily, very often still in place (that may still obtain today, on those parts of the system which remain in use).

PKP did what they often did, and integrated the Karpacz branch with an adjoining secondary line, in one timetable, with rather thin, but cunningly-planned, passenger workings. In summer ’83, the passenger service on this whole table was shared more or less equally between TKt48, and diesel locomotives – “what worked which train”, was decided ad hoc, day by day. On this particular day, with the variables of chosen motive power, and at what times we could be there – a run up the 1 in 25 into Karpacz behind a 2-8-2 tank engine would have been marvellous; but the train up the branch which we could have got, turned out to be headed by a large diesel loco of class ST43. The connecting train on the companion line – running east-then-north to link Mysłakowice junction, with Marciszów on the main line – was however TKt48: so that’s the one we caught. 2-8-2T on two coaches, running mostly through lovely low-mountain scenery: an experience at once delightful, and disconcerting. The train had a fair complement of passengers who were “real people”, as well as our group; but it largely exemplified what was felt to be a thing – preserved in increasingly-eccentric Communist aspic – which further west, would have been gone a quarter-century or more ago; and wouldn’t have been tolerated there, other than on Emmett-ish private railways, even well before that. The line’s track was highly grass-and-weed-grown; and as per the published schedule, our train covered its 40 km journey at the rate of some twenty-five kilometres per hour . As at that time, Poland was full of branch lines in similar condition, running on similar timings – many steam, more diesel-loco-worked. Artificially and amazingly kept on, by a system which basically couldn’t and didn’t cut it: it was very clear that when said set-up came to an end (as most people felt that it had to), this scene on the railways would vanish in the twinkling of an eye – and less than a decade later, indeed it did.

The days went by, and we were done with the Kłodzko / Wałbrzych region, and set out east from Kłodzko, travelling on Pt47-hauled semi-fasts heading for Katowice; one of same as far as Nysa, where we broke off for a shed visit (chiefly featuring Ty2, and no new classes); then another from Nysa to the “start of the wires” at Kędzierzyn Koźle, and thus on, electric-hauled, to Katowice. Remembered from this journey, a cherished “George moment” or two – including his magnificent dismissal of the Tatra mountains. I also recall him gloating in “mad conqueror” mode, over a PKP timetable diagrammatic map of the system, and holding forth about all the lines on which – and all the classes with which – steam working should / would be reinstated, in response to the political / economic difficulties which were then subjecting Poland to an oil shortage. (I have to feel that George made wishful thinking into a fine art.) In his monologue, there cropped up some kind of other and more detailed map of the system, which at that time was in very short supply. He mused (loudly): “If I make a pleasure of our secretary, Miss Selinka, perhaps she will give me a copy of this map !” I wanted badly to say that he seemed to have this part of the facts of life, a bit wrong – but with none of the others in the group seeming to see the humour of the thing, I held my tongue. As indicated, they basically didn’t “do humour”.

The following day was spent in the Upper Silesia industrial area – which has always struck me as analogous to the libel on Texas, cherished by non-Texan Americans – (I modify) -- “if I owned both Hell, and Upper Silesia, I’d rent out the latter and live in the former”. Everything has its compensations: this part of the country played host to two rather hard-to-get, post-World War II “pure Polish” 2-10-0 classes, hunting down which was the designated day’s work. This exercise accomplished by road coach. First of the two “in our gunsights” was class Ty45 – getting rare in the early eighties. PKP’s depot at Pyskowice, 35-odd km north-west of Katowice, had an allocation of some of the beasts – but on our getting there, it seemed to be “last knockings”. One of them was in steam; five more cold on shed. During our day’s peregrinations, a couple more Ty45 were noted at work on PKP lines; plainly, though, the class was on the way out on the state railways.

The other class involved, was Ty51 – massive machines, designed for heavy freight duties. Their heyday was not immensely long, with the onset of diesel locos on PKP having been directed first and foremost, to the freight scene. By the early 1980s, Ty51 remained active on rather few parts of PKP’s system; and some of those on which they did, were in sensitive “border” areas. From the tour-organisers’ point of view, sense was made by concentrating pursuit of the two scarce classes, for the foreign nutters who wanted to phot them -- let this be in Upper Silesia, where they obtained in close proximity. PKP’s Pyskowice shed initially took care of Ty45 – not far away was a venue where class Ty51 prominently strutted its stuff.

Coal-mining is a famously problem-filled enterprise – including the fact that taking the coal out, makes potentially hazardous gaps where the stuff had formerly been. In the Upper Silesia coalfield, this is dealt with by filling up the excavated areas underground, with sand – another material plentiful in the region. There was (probably still is) an industrial railway system with a total length of some hundreds of kilometres, for the specific purpose of conveying the sand to the mine workings. An important centre of this system, was the community of Kotlarnia; English-speaking railway students called the undertaking the Kotlarnia Sand Railway (its Polish title was long and intricate). In 1983, a large proportion of the KSR was electrified; but on one line, the approx. 25 km between Kotlarnia and Pyskowice, steam ruled – in the shape (providentially from our tour’s point of view) of the two uncommon “Decapod” types, Ty45 and Ty51. These locos were mostly either on lease from, or inherited from, PKP. On our adjourning to the KSR’s yard at Pyskowice, we witnessed and photographed several of each kind in steam – and there was footplating for those desirous of it. Most impressive was the departure of one Ty51 – lovingly polished, with its black livery adorned with red and green trim – on a heavy train. Even in my then sullen mood, “dischuffed” by being fobbed off with an industrial line, I had to admit that this particular movement made a fine scene.

Another speciality of Upper Silesia was (and still, just, is – in a “preservation” context) a very rare gauge – 785 mm. PKP had one public line on this gauge (as at 1983, long dieselised); plus there was connecting convoluted great industrial kilometrage on this gauge in the area. In our comings and goings by road re the standard-gauge steam venues, we encountered the 785 mm industrial scene, a number of times. It was gathered that there was some steam action on the industrial lines of this gauge, but for whatever reason, that was not featured in the tour. “They were in the driving seat…” 

And at long last, away from Silesia; on an evening electric express northward up the main line inaugurated between the world wars, to link the Upper Silesia coal-and-industrial belt with Poland’s then only port, at Gdynia. Darkness fell quite soon; around midnight, “detraining” at the rail nerve-centre of Inowrocław, and transfer by road coach to Żnin, and bed for the night at a not-exactly-hotel establishment, rather of the same ilk as the one where we’d stayed near Kłodzko.

On a tour whose leitmotiv for me was frustration, the following day was, for certain, the most frustrating. Poland being a prominent narrow-gauge country, it had clearly been ordained that we get a ration of narrow gauge. As recounted, the 785mm had been briefly glimpsed in Upper Silesia. The scope available to the tour gave no means of including the also rare (in Poland) metre gauge – lines of that width, especially ones with steam, were just too far away. However, the country’s other two narrow gauges were feasible; and “Żnin day was 600mm day”. The system based on this town was at that time just one of several on the 600mm gauge then still operated by PKP; but it was the only one on which steam could be guaranteed. Oddly, its regular passenger services had been withdrawn twenty years previously; but freight had carried on, and at an intervening point in time, the system had been declared a museum venue, with passenger workings accordingly, over 12 km of one route and at optimum days / times for visitors.

Picking this particular bit of 600mm gauge made sense, in a context of clients highly desirous of photographing steam; but I was dismayed to find that the great majority of the day was to be devoted to the narrow gauge, including copious amounts of time “up the line” – short though said line was -- to visit both the static museum en route, and a non-rail tourist attraction or two at the far end. This seemed to me almost criminal, when there were fairly plentiful standard-gauge steam doings – in a new area, with new classes – to experience, close at hand. As mentioned earlier, in the run-up to the tour, participants had been advised that last-minute changes were possible: this had indeed already occurred, further abbreviating our (already short per original plans) time on the standard gauge up here in the mid-north. Now, little was being made even less. I had to, and have to, feel that the tensions of the times included directives to keep us away, as long as possible, from the “real scene” up in these areas – including copious feeding of us with innocuous-to-“them”, tourist pap.

This impression might be a bit exonerated from the charge of paranoia, by the response to my attempted escape from the day’s “tourist-twerpery”. I had begged our guides to be allowed to forgo the museum line, and “go solo and independent” for the day – no further away than the big junction of Inowrocław, no great distance off, and served then by several lines on which steam featured. I undertook to give my camera into the guides’ keeping for the day, and not to behave suspiciously in any way while doing my own thing. They felt it – regretfully – necessary to turn down my plea: if it were to happen, however remote the possibility, that I were apprehended as a possibly dodgy character, their heads could roll for letting me strike out on my own from an organised tour group. The point was taken – we were in a country on a quasi-war-footing -- but I set out on our 600mm gauge excursion in a not very happy frame of mind.

In point of fact, our time on the “two-foot” afforded a certain amount of pleasure. This line is still active today, though now purely in a museum / preservation context, and with only the 12 km museum section (Żnin – Wenecja – Gąsawa) still in existence; at the time of writing, the trains are, I believe, always diesel-hauled. In the light of the aforesaid, I won’t mega-describe what can still be experienced.

This used to be a compact but complex little system, spreading out over the area south-west of Żnin. In 1983, most of it – including the museum section -- was still in use for freight traffic – chiefly with diesel traction, but according to George, a couple of branches remained regularly steam-worked (sometimes for him, “wishes were horses”…) Perhaps because our visit was on a Saturday, the only activity we witnessed was the museum train: 0-8-0 tender-tank Tx4-564 (a delightful machine, set aside for this duty) hauling what were to my mind, garishly-painted and blatantly artificial semi-open coaches. We stopped off to “do”, extensively, the 600mm gauge static museum at Wenecja – plenty of fascinating content, over which George, thoroughly in his element, discoursed knowledgeably and at length, while most of his charges just wished that his flood of boring drivel could be stopped, permanently, at source. As said before, I try to put myself in the shoes of my groupfellows, and not to be too uncharitable toward them; but a lot of the time, they truly redefined “tunnel vision”…

Finally, in mid-afternoon, we got back to Żnin on the museum train; then, to my fury, we were taken back to our accommodation for an early supper. This sealed my conviction that we were deliberately being kept clear of standard-gauge steam for as long as possible. (“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you”.) I ventured a remark or two along those lines, to groupmates: they seemed perfectly content with the way things were going, and honestly bemused as to what I was getting into such a stew about. I don’t know – it would seem, two radically different sub-species of “homo gricens”. At long, long last, our minders conveyed us in a “crocodile” through the little town of Żnin to the standard-gauge station. In my chagrined state, the situation seemed appropriate: feelings of being treated like a delinquent schoolkid, were strong.

And in the end we thus received the Scrooge-like ration meted out to us, of standard-gauge action in this area. Chance to tick off the last two s/g classes which had hitherto eluded us – Ty43 and Ol49. As mused on earlier – what I cursed and chafed at then, I’d treasure now; but in the case of this particular supremely frustrating day, probably not to Faustian-bargain lengths. Concerning matters of the “tick-the-box-and-then-no-further-interest” calumny, applied to gricers, ornithologists, and probably many other hobbyists – I have no record of any encounter on this tour, with class Ty42. Certainly no problem for me, with my feeling that Ty42 was a bogus class, identical for all practical purposes, with the much more abundant Ty2. The distinction was only a function of PKP’s bee-in-bonnet about “who created a particular loco type” – regarding the World War II era, it was important to them whether the machine had been built by Germans, or by Poles resentfully obeying German orders. I did eventually, “for certain-sure”, four years later, get a ride behind a definite Ty42; but have to admit that my life would not feel incomplete and ruined, if that had not occurred. “Different strokes…”

There’s now no standard-gauge passenger service at Żnin, neither on the near-two-hundred-kilometre east-to-west secondary line which at that time ran through it, nor on the 19 km branch, then linking it by three workings each way per day, with Szubin to the north. In 1983, though… We reached Żnin station in time to log and photograph the 1730 passenger arrival from Szubin, Ty43-hauled; and the same line’s 1850 departure likewise – same loco and train. In the meantime, an eastbound freight came in and laid over for a while, headed by a Ty2. The 2035 passenger for Wągrowiec (an hour’s run), on which we embarked (in late May in northern Europe, still – just -- enough light for photography) was hauled by an Ol49 2-6-2 – graceful mixed-traffic type, and my favourite PKP steam class, whose all-but-absence from this tour, irked me greatly. This happens to be the class which has survived best in Poland, to date, in “active” terms – well, “with hindsight, all men are wise…” 

We travelled through the growing twilight, in double-deck coaches, on the 2035 behind the Prairie. Encountered at Damasławek junction en route, in very last light, Ty43 crossing each other on opposing passenger workings on the intersecting north – south branch-line route. On westwards to our terminus of Wągrowiec: connection-point with secondary main line Poznań – Bydgoszcz, on which passenger position then was, through workings diesel, intermediate locals steam (Pt47 / Ol49). We changed on to a diesel “Bydders-to-Pozzers” train, duly depositing us at the latter around 2330. A late-night hour or so on Poznań (Głowny) station, regaled by a Ty2 coming through on a long freight (bound in the direction of Piła, it was suggested), and by anecdotes from George, about his spell of conscription – which most of the group plainly found about as interesting, as detailed accounts of the civilisation of ancient Babylonia…followed by embarkation on an overnight train (with sleeping berths for us) heading east along the electric main line to the capital, as far as Sochaczew.

Last item on our narrow-gauge menu, chosen as a representative of PKP’s “sub-standard”, and by far most abundant narrow, 750mm gauge, was the line running north from Sochaczew. It was 100% steam, with the only steam class then still in use anywhere on the gauge concerned – the Px48 0-8-0. A charming line, with some unusual features, but in a rather sad run-down and lightly-used state: perhaps for this very reason, a good candidate to let us and our cameras loose on, with its not really mattering any more. It was closed by PKP late the following year, but subsequently revived in part, as the national museum centre for the 750mm gauge. For a fair number of years, steam museum trains ran regularly here, albeit chiefly at weekends during the summer season. This museum venue appears to be in “low water” nowadays, and to receive few visits from non-Polish railfans.

We had a return run on the rather meagre service to one of the two outer termini – Wyszogród on the River Vistula. Closer in toward Sochaczew, the line had some intriguing complexities. It ran a sort of mini-suburban service between Sochaczew and Chodaków, 6 km out. Also, there was an interesting box-and-cox situation between the 750mm gauge, and standard-gauge industrial lines. At Chodaków there was a factory of some description, served by a s/g line from Sochaczew main station which ran side-by-side with the narrow gauge for most of the 6 km distance. The s/g works branch was operated by at least one class TKh 0-6-0T (looking superficially rather like Britain’s USA class), which we saw in action. Steam on industrial lines was something of a rarity in Poland by 1983. The Kotlarnia sand system, a large-scale outfit, was an exception: the great majority of industrial trackage in shorter and lesser compasses, was worked by small diesel locos. And standard gauge continued yet further north from Chodaków, for 4 km and two stations on to a brickworks – this section (s/g working understood to be diesel) with three-rail formation.

And so an early-evening electric run to Warsaw – farewell dinner, and last hotel night. There was a visit the following morning to the railway museum then located at the old Warsaw Główny station (chiefly standard-gauge exhibits, but some narrow-gauge); and an early-afternoon flight to London. A memorable air journey, thanks to my happening to be seated close by a group of rowdy young British guys whose loud and nonsensical exuberance made things less than delightful for their neighbours. They seemed to be a bunch of intellectual Hooray-Henrys (if that is not a total oxymoron), on their way back from some cultural happening. They clearly had a joke of their own invention, involving the made-up words “adge” and “adgent”, which pleased them enormously and which they were eager to share. One of them found it appropriate to shout out, every few minutes throughout the flight, “I’m all adged-up, oh-oh !” And people say railway enthusiasts are peculiar…

This trip has to rate as my least enjoyable ever, to Poland; nonetheless, it carries with it some colourful memories – the best of them involving George: he was a card, for sure… hope that he made it to heaven, and is now happily gricing together with Bryan Morgan and Teddy Boston and Cecil J. Allen and all the rest, in the blessed realms where it’s perpetually 1922 – or whenever in history would be one’s ideal period for the pursuit.

Rob Dickinson