The International Steam Pages

Steam in Turkey 2003?

I have received this (27th December 2002) from Vic Allen who runs Enthusiast Holidays Email: There is a brief update (30th December 2002).

"I just returned from Turkey and thought you might be interested in the latest developments there.

You know from previous adverts etc. that Enthusiast Holidays is trying to resuscitate steam tours in Turkey. Of course I realise there is no question of re-capturing the heady atmosphere of the tours run from the 1980s until regular steam in Turkey more or less fizzled out in the late 'eighties; but there does appear to be a market for a tour which is partly steam, and partly cultural, recognising that many gricers of the 'eighties have now acquired wives who are interested in the historical and archaeological sites of the country; or who may indeed have become interested in such things themselves.

In May of this year I understand that Dietmar Kramer arranged a steam tour which was supposed to have 5 locos, in fact had 3, one of which (the "Skyliner") failed in the process, which was rather unfortunate as the damage was quite severe and that is a rather popular loco

However the tour did begin to demonstrate to TCDD that there is reviving interest in their steam locos, and I decided that it was about time that the Brits did something similar, and so we started to devise a tour which has been provisionally put on the market as the "Midnight Blue Express" - the name deriving from the film "Midnight Express" which of course was set in Turkey; and the fact that we told TCDD right from the start that we wanted all the coaches on the train to be the same colour - e.g. midnight blue -not the multi-coloured consist that has blighted some tour trains of the past.

Always in the past, from the very inception of our steam tours in Turkey from 1982 onwards, organizer in Turkey has been Mehlika Seval (see section "Fairy Story" for further details of her contribution to the British railway enthusiast movement) and these proposed tours of the future will be no exception.

A couple of weeks ago we went by appointment to TCDD HQ in Ankara and spent a day with the Commercial Dept. who arranges and costs special trains; and the Locomotive Dept. who obviously are responsible for the locomotives requested.

Given that the May 2002 German tour had only 3 steam locos and one of those got buggered up, it was important for us to make clear to the loco Dept. that we would need more than 2 working steam locos to "sell" the tour to British gricers, and so the discussion mainly revolved around those steam locos that were known to be in "almost workable" condition, and whether they could be put back into commission at a reasonable cost.

TCDD was prepared to make minor repairs; however, although they were now taking on board the concept of having a "fleet" of working museum locos to operate special trains because they were persuaded that such trains could earn foreign currency (haven't I been preaching this elsewhere? Kenya etc...) locos that needed major repairs would have to wait.

Unfortunately this included the "Skyliner" 56359; the other "Skyliner" at Cankiri; and also 2-10-2 57009 which is at Usak but which needs major boiler repairs.

However, TCDD conceded that certain other locos could be put back into working order within their meagre budget, but in order to be sure they would have to arrange inspections of the locos in steam.

Accordingly arrangements were made to steam 56548 at Halkapinar (a suburb of Izmir) on Dec. 16; 44071, 56508 and 46104 at Usak on Dec. 17/18; and 46052 and 56009 at Konya on Dec. 19.

I had expected that TCDD HQ at Ankara would simply give instructions to the depots to undertake these inspections but to my utter amazement, they sent a 5-man delegation to Izmir and Usak, and doubtless (although I was not there personally) to Konya, for this purpose, which surely demonstrates that they are taking the proposals seriously.

The steaming of 56548 at Halkapinar was uneventful and the loco was declared fit for (relatively) local work as it stood; at Usak they steamed 46104 (the Stephenson) and 44071 (the Prussian G8) and both were declared fit subject to minor repairs - the Stephenson needed some elements replaced on the brake pump, and the G8 needed some work on its boiler tubes, but the loco Dept. said they had absolutely no problem with the provision of spares, and the work was within their budget. "Krieglok" 56508 was never in any doubt anyway, having worked on the German May 2002 tour.

Hopefully 46052 will be found equally repairable at Konya - I should get a report about that soon. That report should also confirm 56009 (the standard 2-10-0)'s fitness as this was the other engine that performed faultlessly on the May 2002 tour.

I'll keep you posted. "

Postscript (30th December 2002)

"Further to previous communiques, 46052 (at Konya) has been pronounced fit (subject to a few minor repairs which are within budget) to operate specials; oddly enough 56009 has not. That was one engine we thought (based upon the May Kraut tour experience) we could rely on 100%. I am not sure what is wrong with it that will take more than the "minor repair" budget to fix. But for our next tour I had only intended for it to be 'spare' anyway. "

"Fairy Story"

Once upon a time there was a beautiful young Turkish tour guide called Meli.

Every day, sometimes twice a day, she would conduct groups of tourists from all over the world - mostly English-speaking countries like Britain, America, Australia etc. - around the abandoned Roman city of Ephesus, south of Izmir, on the Aegean coast of Turkey, and one of the most complete Roman cities in the ancient world. She loved her job, and she did it very well, telling her groups the most interesting details and the most fascinating stories about this wonderful place. Sometimes the groups would arrive by bus - stopping briefly as part of a longer tour of Turkey; most commonly, they would arrive on a cruise ship, that put into the nearby port of Kusadasi for a morning or an afternoon. But after explaining Ephesus for the forty thousandth time, Meli sometimes wished that the horizon would extend beyond Ephesus - much as she loved it - and she could sometimes spend longer with her tourists, and show them more of Turkey - after all, she knew that there was much, much more for them to see. She had, once previously, been asked to conduct a group of Lesbians on tour - but that's another story!

And then, one day, came a handsome (!) English travel agent and tour operator called Vic. He was on holiday with his wife, Liz, and like hundreds and thousands of tourists before him, he got off the cruise ship at Kusadasi, and picked - at random - one of the tour buses with a sign saying "English", and off they went to Ephesus. By the greatest of good fortune, it was Meli's bus he had chosen.

After the visit to Ephesus, Vic told Meli about the specialist tours all over the world that his company ran for "steam train enthusiasts". Even 20 years ago most European railways had given up using steam trains, but Turkey still had plenty. There had for some time been a steady stream of British railfans coming to Turkey to see, travel on, and photograph them, but Vic's idea was different - he also wanted to charter a train, for two weeks, covering most of Anatolia (Asiatic Turkey) and pulled by a different type of steam engine every day!

Vic's organization had a ready market for such a tour in Britain and elsewhere. He also had access to detailed information as to which routes to take and where the best steam engines were located. But how to make contact with the Turkish Railways; how to find, and make reservations with hotels in the out-of-the-way places they needed to go? Meli immediately provided the answer. Not only would she be delighted to help organize the trip, but she would also give up her beloved Ephesus for a couple of weeks, to be the tour guide and to make sure that everything went according to plan!

So after a few weeks Meli and Vic went by appointment to the Turkish Railways HQ to negotiate the charter of the special train. Turkish society, although much more liberal than in many Moslem countries, still sees few women in high places, and Turkish Railways HQ was no exception. Moreover, the man in charge of charter trains was a sandwich short of a picnic, and only in his job because of family/government connections. They were all quite unprepared for the arrival of this energetic, clever, determined, and sexy girl in their midst - they must have thought a whirling dervish had descended upon the staid and musty environs of Turkish Railways Headquarters! They were also quite unused to being shouted at, reasoned with, pleaded with and generally outmanoeuvred by this amazing fireball, and she negotiated a contract in record time such as Richard Branson would have been proud of! It turned out later (fortunately after the tour) that the Turkish Railways had, in their haste and confusion, even forgotten to include the cost of the coal, which was the fuel for the steam locomotives!

A few days of driving around Turkey (Meli's very liberated mother had lent her her car) to check on the hotels, and quite a lot of frantic letter writing, and Meli had arranged everything for the tour - train, hotels, bus transfers etc. and everything was ready for the off on 1st October.

To cut a long story short, the tour was an outstanding success. The train consisted of perhaps a dozen different steam engines (of course); a restaurant car, a day carriage with seats, and a couchette car for the group to sleep in when they were not overnighting in hotels. Fundamental to the plan was to stop the train in scenic locations so that people could get out and take photographs of the train doing a "run-past". Meli had the train crews - train conductors, drivers, firemen, guards etc. etc.eating out of her hand - indeed she spent a lot of time on the steam engines themselves so that she could tell the drivers where to stop, and what to do when they had stopped - and between shouting at them, cajoling them, begging them or just using all of her (very considerable) feminine charm, the tour ended up with just over 100 photo "run-pasts" - a record for any tour of its kind.

The trip was so successful that it was repeated annually, and with variations, for several years afterwards - until the Turkish Railways finally gave up using the old fashioned steam engines for its trains! And Meli continued to organize them, and to guide them - she would have made much more money flogging Turkish carpets to gullible American tourists, than she did sharing a train for two weeks with 60 or so dirty men! (from the coal dust and the smoke from the steam locomotives). But it made a change, and she loved it, and the tours - and Meli - are still talked about with affection wherever railfans meet.

That chance meeting on the dockside at Kusadasi had resulted in the chance for Meli to organize and run - entirely by herself - a major tour of Turkey, and one which turned out to be 110% successful. And they all lived happily ever after!

If this all sounds to you like a fairy story, it isn't - it is all true! That first tour was arranged in 1982 - twenty years ago - and the rest is history! Melitour is now one of the most successful specialist tour operators in Turkey, taking- as always - a personal, (and almost proprietorial!) part in showing visitors whatever there is to see in Turkey that survives from the ancient world, and informing her tours with her in-depth knowledge and her very special brand of customer care that makes every one of her clients a cherished part of her family whilst they are on tour - and for decades afterwards!

Rob Dickinson