Śmigiel and the Wolsztyn Gala

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Wolsztyn shed, 3 hours before the son et lumière, 1 May 2009.

The Wolsztyn Steam Gala is always a dilemma. To go or not to go…  I like my steam engines served au naturel, with the minimum of fuss, and I loathe crowds. An LSWR M7 or GWR 14XX pulling a couple of ancient carriages through almost deserted countryside while in the distance a ploughman guides his trusty horse across the field, that is how railway heritage should be served. Wolsztyn’s grand parade of steam with its climax where all the engines, coupled together like tethered dinosaurs, make as much noise as possible while 20,000 spectators gape, is not my idea of how these things should be done.

So why I am going this year, as I did last year and the year before that? First of all, it is exciting to see so many locomotives in steam at the same time. I set myself a private challenge of trying to see as many in their natural surroundings working the early morning steam specials or hissing gently in the shed after the son et lumière has finished and before the next day’s excesses begin. Secondly, it is a chance to meet some interesting people and catch up on Polish steam developments. Last but not least, I have found the perfect antidote to my demophobia…

On Friday afternoon, the day before the steam parade, I make my way to Smigiel, the home of one of Poland’s few surviving working narrow gauge railways. With luck I might even be in time to ride with the driver in the last service train of the day. A quick dash to Wolsztyn for the son et lumière and then back to Smigiel for a pleasant evening with friends. Up early the following morning, and a quick dash to Wolsztyn to photograph as much as possible before the crowds descend.

Saturday evening usually has me driving home, but this year I have more ambitious plans. I want to see the last working section of the Pomeranian metre gauge at Reval and Gryfice as well as pay my last respects to the places that I knew so well in the 1960s and 1970s like Stepnica and Golczewo where today the narrow gauge is just a memory.

It should be a very interesting bank holiday weekend!

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