The Wolztyn magic

by

Pm36 pacific about to depart on a Wolsztyn-Leszno turn
(photo by Charles Turner, more words and pics here)

In view of the current crisis at Wolsztyn following the sudden ‘suspension’ of the Wolsztyn-Poznan steam workings, we hope that BTWT readers will forgive us if this week’s articles have a heavy Wolsztyn bias. The continuation of scheduled steam workings at Wolsztyn is important for a number of reasons:

  • Wolsztyn is the last steam shed in Europe servicing steam locomotives that haul ordinary scheduled service trains (not steam ‘specials’ or heritage railway trains).
  • This brings a large number of visitors to Wolsztyn who spend their money in the town. (The Mayor of Wolsztyn has claimed that each Wolsztyn Experience visitor spends 1,000 euro in Wolsztyn and that excludes any payments to WE. If one adds the expenditure of all those who come to the Wolsztyn region to photograph and ride on the trains the direct economic benefit of the WE product on the local economy is in the order of 500,000 euro per annum.
  • Howards Jones has an agreement with PKP which was supposed to allow him to run the WE business on its current scale at least until 2010. The premature withdrawal by PKP of 2/3 of all steam workings at a time when WE has paid bookings to fulfill, coupled with other recent arbitrary decisions (see previous post) will give little confidence to international tour operators or others contemplating doing business with PKP.
  • Finally, although WE visitors traditionally flew into Poznan, went to Wolsztyn, did their driving and firing turns, and then returned to Poznan and flew out again, there is no reason why Wolsztyn could not act as an international portal for the Polish heritage railways and museums as a whole. Wolsztyn is known and respected internationally, many Polish heritage railways are virtually unknown beyond a couple of hundred Polish railway enthusiasts. Properly managed the potential for mutual synergy is enormous.

Until we finish our investigation into who is responsible for the sudden suspension of the steam workings to Poznan we are not asking our readers to put pen to paper, just yet. In the meantime we have ‘borrowed’ this brilliant account of a WE customers ‘first time’ from the national-preservation.com discussion group.

Sunday I arrived at Poznan airport and got a bus to the station. On the bus I met a SDR driver and a Swanage fireman who were out there for their annual trip. We quickly bonded over a beer and a sausage and before long it was time for the journey to Wolsztyn. We were on the 15.30 which is steam hauled so I got a look at the standard machine for the week, a Polish 0l49. The journey took about 1hr 45 and was a trip I was booked to do three times that week as driver so I concentrated on trying to familiarise myself with the line, difficult when there is 45 miles to remember! Once there we had a look round the beautiful depot and at the lines of withdrawn engines. It was then to the WE’s house where we were briefed for the weeks activities. I was introduced to my partner for the week and was given my duty for the next day, the 11:47 from Wolsztyn. There were seven other people there that week and we all went for a meal and got to know each other, and got thoroughly bitten by the local mozzies.

There are two Woltsztyn – Poznan trips each day, the earlybird (05:27 – 07:15 and 09:30 – 11:17 return) and the gentleman’s (11:47 – 13.30 and 15:30 – 17:15 return.) I was down to work the gentleman’s train. The system is that one guy drives one way while the other fires, and then vice-versa. I had done some firing in the UK but no driving bar a “driver for a fiver” at the Bluebell, so it was with some trepidation that I climbed into the cab of the 2-6-2 OL, essentially the Polish black 5, a mixed traffic engine that does a bit of everything. Howard Jones gave me a basic introduction to the cab and a guide to the three signs I had to learn, (whistle boards for the unprotected level crossings, the station warning boards 400m from the stations and the stop points at the stations) and then drove the train out of the station. After a mile or so he got up and pointed at me, and I took control of a loco, at 50 mph with passengers on board! The first stop was nerve-racking but once I had done my first stop I soon felt comfortable with the braking. There are 18 stops along the line, although the polish crews usually take over for the last two stops under the wires on the approach to Poznan. The starts have to be brisk, as the steam locos are operating to electric and diesel timings, so you are actively encouraged to “get on with it” and it is a pleasure to do so! We arrived at Poznan and I think my smile could probably have been seen from space! You have to option of going for lunch or going to the depot with the crew. Being a nosy I went down to the MPD to see what happened. The loco was turned and I then watered the loco while the crew oiled up and cooked some sausages. The firing on the way back was what I was most nervous about, but the Ol is a joy to fire. A firing plate at a perfect height and a large firehole door make it a very simple operation. Apart from a few instances where I was mid-swing when the loco hit a bit of rough track, it went quite well and I grew in confidence. We returned to shed after the run back and cleaned the wheels and motion while the crew coaled and watered the loco. We returned to the house to be told our turn for Tuesday, the Prairie at Wroclaw!

A 04:00 wake up saw us leave the house at 04:15, get a train from Leszno and at some ungodly hour arrive in Wroclaw, in time for a quick Big Mac before making our 07:30 departure. We wondered along the platform and there was 5521, a picture of polished Brunswick green, its airpump echoing through the station. The crew were English, from the Flour Mill and a polish driver was there as pilotman/translator. The cab is only big enough for four so one rides in the carriages while the other drives. I opted to catch some shut eye, so I slept for the first journey while my partner drove. The journey is about 20-25 miles and takes about 45 mins, the last 5 miles of track are awful and are covered at just above walking speed, but the first section is along a proper mainline with Intercitys and freights passing you! The middle section is through some beautiful countryside with some lovely gradients and curves. The prairie uses about 1100 gal of its 1300 gal capacity on the trip so after the run we returned to the depot for water, and sausages for the crews (Polish railwaymen exist on a sausage only diet.) Then it was my turn and what a joy the prairie is. Driving, you instantly noticed how responsive the regulator is, compared with the Polish locos. The Prairie’s acceleration is truly impressive and it really flies. You have to be smart about starting away as there could be an Intercity two minutes behind you. The English crew, Geoff and Dougie Phelps, were brilliant and I cannot thank them enough. I even managed to avoid slipping on the station on a heavy gradient where apparently everyone slips, so again my smile was a mile wide! Coming back into Wroclaw, the fairly extended use of the two-tone whistle saw the entire station turn and stare! A quick drink from a hydrant saw the Prairie ready for the final trip. There are three round trips, so you drive on three journeys, or one and a half round trips. An excellent day, on an excellent engine, whose appearance and quality are a true testament to the skill and quality of the Flour Mill boys. After driving a Prairie at 60mph, preserved lines in England don’t half seem slow!

Thursday we decided to have a play at Smeigel, the narrow gauge line. The track is awful, but the crew were brilliant and the loco is delightful, so I would urge anyone who goes to visit Smeigel, even if you are not a NG person. The station, station bar, loco, location and attractive guard all make it worthwhile. The run is quite short, and the pace is very sedate, but the state of the track make it quite trilling! You do a roundtrip each and one participant got off and declined to drive back as the state of the track scared him so much!

On Friday we made up for our half turn on the Wednesday by arriving on shed for our gentleman’s turn again to find not to find the expected Ol, but Pm36, a bright green pacific. Wow, what an experience that was. It was raining and I watched with horror as the Polish crew slipped and slid out of the depot to the station. The cab seemed massive, the boiler was gargantuan, everything seemed preposterously large. The Polish driver, slipped heavily out of the station as the blood continued to drain from my face. The run was difficult. The regulator was stiff, the air brakes didn’t always release properly and on 80% of starts it was a case of constant regulator changes to control slips (although the handle was damn near impossible to move.) Coming back was equally torturous as the rain was now heavy making the light footed beast near impossible for Tim, my buddy for the week, or the polish crews to control. The size of the cab means when you fire, its about quarter of a mile from firing plate to firehole door. As a relative novice the size of the firebox seemed unbelievable. No matter how much I fired, or how quickly, the grate never seemed completely covered. I got back to shed, happy I’d driven a pacific on the mainline but also tired, filthy and aching, and also acutely aware that, while it had been exhilarating, I’d rather have Ol49 69 any day!

Saturday, we bought an extra turn as I wanted one last bash with an Ol49 and I drove back from Poznan with a little extra gusto, knowing it would be a while before I could experience the sheer thrill of being given a loco and told to “GO!”

Sunday, I got the steamer to Poznan before catching a flight home. I resisted the urge to stand by the cockpit door to see if the pilot would let me fly or at least do the landing at Luton.

All in all, I met a really lovely group of people both the English participants and polish crews, got bitten all over by mosquitoes, ate my body weight in sausages, and had a couple of ice cold Tyskie-s and Zwyiec-s in the beautiful weather we had for most of the week. I have fallen asleep nearly every night since to the sound in my head of a Polish engineman shouting “Brake, BRAKE!, Go, Whistle.”

The above has been lightly edited. You’ll find the original article by KHARDS here.

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