Return to the Lounge Car

The Shadow of a Train

The Shadow of a Train

By Marek Sarjusz-Wolski

Photography by Mariusz Forecki/Pap/CAF

This article orginally appeared in the Polish Magazine "Polityka" and has been translated and reprinted on the Cyberspace World Railroad with full permission.

Text & Images 1997

Redistribution without permission from the Author is forbidden.

It was when an express train stopped at snowy railroad station, Marshal Pilsudski stepped out of luxury carriage and came up to locomotive. He thanked the engineer and extended his hand with some notes. The engineer hit his heels and said "Sir Marshal , please forgive me but railroad salary is absolutely enough for me."

Pilsudski turned then to the mechanic. Eugeniusz Szymaszczyk looked at the chief and only after he saw the engineer nodding, he accepted the money. Until his retirement, Szymaszczyk never parted with steam engines. Many years later Stanislaw Grzesiuk (a Polish poet, writer and singer), remembering the "Barefoot but with spurs" quarry of Mauthausen-Gusen, wrote "Genek Szymaszczyk from Warszawa and Hubert Niewidok were riding a locomotive. I gave potatoes to them, for baking".

The Conductor's Story:
When the steam engine was rolling into the station in clouds of steam, totally covered with ice, you could feel that this train had achieved something. It had fought hard. It was not only entering the platform, but entering in a victory parade.


When I used to meet with Szymaszczyk, a retired engineer, it was always either at the Bristol or Europejski hotel [note:very expensive and good quality hotels] for coffee, cake and cognac. He would dress in suit, top coat, and carry an umbrella. Many years before second world war, when he finished his duty on the armored train "Danuta," he had to seek protection from governor Twardo and director Wolkanowski from Ministry of transportation, to get back on a locomotive. After his reinstatement as an engineer, he could carry his duty Omega to Gronau's, the watch maker at New World Street in Warsaw where it would be fixed at no charge. He also carried his identity card from the Independent Engineer's Union in his pocket. He could take his wife to the "engineer's" cinema at Chmielna street for a movie.He received a salary of up to 600 Zlotych a month (at that time very high salary) and felt secure in his job. At that time nobody was fired from a railway job.

After the war Henryk Skwarka, an express train engineer, was in a race for a seat in parliament with the engineer of an electric locomotive. They put their names together on the ballot and people of the Polish Folk Republic would choose which one from these two engineers deserved to be a member of parliament. Skwarka won because his name was first on the ballot. For four years he would walk along Wiejska street to the Polish Parliament building in his uniform. He was always meeting with railways workers from friendly countries and exchanging experiences. Then the year 1989 arrived. The Polish people no longer wanted an engineer to represent them in the year of the first Polish free election. Skwarka came back to his orange engine EP-0516, which brought with it stress, peptic ulcers and nights fears that the light in front around the bend was on the same track. He also remembers his father's and grandfather's reminiscences. They did not sit under the pantograph of an electric engine, but shoveled coal into the firebox. Nowadays, there is a theory which is popular among engineers of electric engines that work in a steam locomotive was healthier. It's true it was an exhausting job, but was "in concordance with nature". On the contrary, today you sit in electric engine and loose your health to the effects of the magnetic field surrounding you.

"It's rubbish" old engineers laugh. Working in steam locomotives meant your body was in the heat and your head was in the breeze. It also meant stomach ulcers and arthritis. It's an attachment to the engine, which cannot be left for a moment on its own without supervision. There is no ventilation. That's why on hot days when the train arrived under water tower, the engine crew first pour water on themselves and later into the engine.

In present days, tiredness from driving an electric engine is different. One has to whistle, sing, lean out the window, dance in the cabin and anything else to keep away sleepiness.

When a million tons of steel runs forward unconsciously and the tracks cross each other, something will fail, either technique or human. Then fate chooses one of the "railway family" (it's not a by chance that before the war railroad workers called their association "Railway family") to accept whole responsibility. It' s like the suicide victim' who does not choose a particular train or engineer to step in front of.

The Dispatcher Says: There were times when wearing a railway workers uniform meant you had a prestigious job and you were looked up to. Regretfully, that is not the case today.

The one railwayman, who made a career change was a comrade Mokrzyszczak. He started as an ordinary railway worker, and he worked his waway up to become a secretary of Central Committee of Polish United Workman Party (PZPR). Nevertheless he did not forget the old pre-world war II banners with embraced "God and Honor." He felt that the railway is not the career for rapid advancement or for fulfilling slogans, but a career that is based on SAFELY transporting people and cargo to their desired destinations.

Select After the first world war was over, the railway people from three annexed territories put together a new Polish railway. Observers from outside Poland could not believe that it took so short a time for the railway to become operational. The speed to establish a viable system was based on the fact that the railway workers speak the same language all over the world.

After world war II started, it turned out that the difference between the railway worker and the soldier who was captured by the enemy came down to the railway worker being sent back on the tracks to work for his captor under a threat of execution instead of into a prisoner of war camp. The railway was the Army's supply line. Besides transporting weapons, supplies, and wounded soldiers, it also carried Jews on their last trip, and members of Polish State Army across Poland into Russia, where the trucks were changed to continue the trip onto Russia's wider gauge track.

Select Socialists tried to cheat locomotives by decreeing "Go as far as possible without maintaining the boiler to transport more in less time." These directions came from Soviet Union. This became a competition for the Polish Youth Association (ZMP- a pro Soviet organization). When you don't wash the boiler, mineral deposits form. There is reduced area in the boiler and the heat is reduced.As a result, the locomotive stops functioning properly. Adding Sodium Phosphate (strong caustic Na3PO4) did not help, instead it destroyed many uniforms and boilers. Also installing special valves were not helpful. Fortunately engineers (repatriates) from Lwow [in present day Ukraine] had some experience with this problem back in 1939, and knew the way out. It meant washing the boilers during the night, quietly accepting a bag with vodka, bread and sausage in payment. Even though there was no official records of this boiler maintenance, the engines in operation kept setting new speed records on paper. Thanks to the railway workers maintaining their engines at night, the railway continued to function well and earn money. This Soviet decree was withdrawn without publicity a few years later.

There is an Engine standing at the station *

After Poland regained freedom [in 1918], the Polish National Railroad (PKP) had 4762 locomotives of 160 types (3012 from Germany, 1474 from Austro-Hungary, 276 from Russia). Very often they were outdated, being at least 40 years old. Half of them could not be put into service. Then a special commission decided to buy steam engines from Germany, USA, and Belgium, while ordering 2590 from three Polish factories. The local factories (First Polish Steam Engine Factory in Chrzanow, the second from Warszawa and the third H.Cegielski Factory from Poznan) produced 1210 steam engines (483 for passenger trains and 727 for cargo trains) before world war II broke out in 1939.
The first ones (Tr12, Tr21 [2-8-0's], and Ty23 [2-10-0]), patterned on either an Austrian or a Prussian series of engines, were assembled from imported parts and rated average quality. Polish engineers made some changes improving these engines. These changes included, among others, the engine's caloric balance and decreased smoke production. During the thirties, the achievements of Polish Engineering School were recognized worldwide. An excellent locomotive, the Pt31 [passenger 2-8-2], was constructed in Chrzanow by an group of engineers under Zembrzucki while the mountain engine (Okz-32 [4-6-0]) was designed for Zakopane district. The aerodynamic, fast engine Pm36 [4-6-2] created by a group lead by Prof. Xiezopolski, was the best of Polish School and received an award at the Art and Technical exhibition in Paris. After world war II, 56% of engines inherited by Polish National Railroads (PKP) could not be used. There were 2800 engines in 1946. During the period of Polish production of locomotives [1945-1949], the industry delivered 933 new engines. Polish engineers continued the prewar tradition by producing the Pt47 [2-8-2], a light, cargo engine, an improved prewar Pt31 [2-8-2] and Ty45 [2-10-0], both passengers engines based on documentation saved from the pre-war Ty37. During this time, Poland purchased 100 American engines. Some later models of engines were based totally on Russian and American designs, while other models were based on German engines. In the early eighties, standard gauge engines including the Pt41, Ol49, TKt48, Ty2, Ty43, Ty45, Ty51, and narrow gauge engines including the Px38, Px48, Px49 were still in use.

* Title of a short poem for children about trains

Select After the war, the railway banner had to be changed twice- -first by creating a new banner, and then returning to use the old pre-WWII banner. Fortunately, the old banners had been collected by the Railway Museum. Nowadays these banners are exposed and often rented for celebrations. And like the post-wwII years, the museum collects new banners to prevent their disappearance. The collection of the socialist banners was done without any publicity, in an attempt to prevent the disappearance of the historical records. The Polish Railway had a custom that when a new track was opened, the first locomotive arrived decorated with flowers, flags, and portrait of Beirut--the secretary of PZPR. This change in government did not mean that Beruit's picture had be removed from the history books and replaced with Holy Mother.

Comment from a station master:
Shaped peak, decorated pillars for shelves, brass characteristic tablet or torch. Everything used to be more individualized in the past - railway and people

After the war, all engines coming from the "friendly countries" [socialist or communist countries] carried a red star on the stack as a symbol. Only Polish engines did not have red star on stack. Polish engines continued to carry Eagles on the stack, but unlike the pre-wwII engines, the crowns over the Eagles were removed.

How many engineers were there in 1845 when first train schedule was posted? Ten? Twenty? "On Sundays and Holidays, there will be one regular train at 10 a.m. from Warszawa to Lowicz and an second one at 3 p.m. from Warszawa to Pruszkow and Grodzisk. The return to Warszawa will be at 6 pm. Detailed rates for transporting luggage, products and other loads is listed at every station on steel track" It was not surprising that a second breakfast for the engineer was carried by a housekeeper. At this time, the engineer was more revered than an astronaut is today.

Select 150 years after its creation, the steam locomotive is again a rarity, and its appearance is welcomed enthusiastically. In July 1989, the audience went wild when Tadeusz Dynia arrived at the Ultrecht railway station in his rebuilt Pt47 with an attached luxury car (which was once used by PZPR secretary Cyrankiewicz) and a baggage car for a parade to commemorate 150 anniversary of Dutch railways,. The Dutch people had not seen an operational steam locomotive in over 25 years. Detsche Buhnedesbahn allowed Dynia to transit through Germany and Holland under steam on the condition that he use Silesian coal, which burns cleanly without ashes and sparks. Also present at the same time, the Czech's brought two of their locomotives (with red stars on their stacks) to the parade. These engines were hauled by electric engines, and did not receive an ovation anywhere near estimated applause of 10 thousand people who welcome Dynia. Engineer Dynia was offered $350,000 for his train. At that moment the spectators realized the railroad was not like a tram, which you enter and leave without becoming attached, but steam railroading is something you can hear, feel and see.

Dynia's Pt47 was prepared in Pila, where the Polish Railway Steam Engine Department had been located. Owners from all over Europe delivere their locomotives there as it remains the only place refurbishing old steam engines in Europe. Dynia made a tour for several weeks through Holland, using French coal which was worse than Polish coal, but was adequate to fire the engine. He pulled sets of "sonderzug" consisted of 8 pullmans. The train was filmed by television crew when speedometer reached 110 km per hour.

In 1968, there were 7146 steam locomotives in operation in Poland. It was known at that time that there would never be more, but technology advances would reduce the number of engines on the line. After 125 years, the decline of the steam whistle meant that civilization was jumping from one epoch to another in its development, steam locomotives had reached the limit of their achievements. It was impossible for them to be faster, stronger and cheaper. This also applied to smooth British, coquetry French and Czech designs, and the clean designs of the German locomotives as well as the serious and functional contour of the American Pacific.

In 1958, the last locomotive left Cegielski factory , which the Polish Republic had already renamed to its pre-WWII name (from the State Factory in the name of Stalin).

In the mid-seventies the last verdict for the steam locomotive was achieved -to be scrapped. Then, it was known all the steam engines would have to be sent to their last voyage to Zebce near Starachowice.The "Cetralzlom" factory has tried very hard to scrap the engines. They even tried unsuccessfully to use dynamite to reduce the scrapper's cost. Yet the locomotives brought the factory to its knees, requiring the scrappers to use torches to cut the engines into parts, as if the fire-breathing monsters required a respectful funeral.

Every year there are fewer and fewer places to load a coal and fill boiler with water, which is as essential as electricity is to an electric engine. There are no longer enough roundhouses for the engines, as the spaces in the engine houses have been occupied by Gagarins [ modern electric engines]. The best engines were collected in Chabowka, Karsznicach, Elku, Jaworzynie Slaskiej, and in Wolsztyn. Of 350 locomotives left in Poland, 50 belong to Railway Museum, 269 to railway itself. Still 67 have been maintained in operable condition, which means they can be fired up, whistle, and be out on the rails again.

Select The only regular connection served by steam engines nowadays is between Wolsztyn and Poznan. The idea is to attract people, as it is real sensation. Express trains like Berolina or Eurocity, which are supposed to achieve 300 km per hour, soon will travel all over the Poland. On the other hand, steam is still belching in the main station of Warsaw as if nothing had changed. Japanese television crews have even arrived to Wolsztyn, because they have not found any other place where you can see so much equipment from different series of steam locomotives that are able to leave the shed under their own steam. There are more and more orders for tourists trains. Steam engines have started earning money, as they did previously.

Only in Poland is a completely preserved armored train. There are also32 mountain locomotives (Okz), which were built before the World War II to serve the Zakopane connection. The others left were taken to Tyrol by the Germans. Another unique train is the Okz, the only remaining locomotive of its type. The Germans produced only 30 engines before the war, and a few were ordered by Latvia's railway. Most of them were scrapped by Russians, but during the war one happened to be in Lask as an official train.' It has remained in Lask ever since. Some time ago, the Latvian Prime Minister tried to reclaim this train from President Walesa. Walesa supposedly would have given it back if he had not had to received advice from Janusz Sankowski, the Railway Museum director, who knew how to deal gently but firmly with such matters regarding railway-antique diplomacy.

There is not enough money to keep everything operational. Fan clubs, probably present in every province, shout to preserve all of the steam locomotives as "this one is from Pilzno", "this one is from the Cegielski Factory", another one has either a different "inzector" or higher funnel. However, in reality, the cost of painting each locomotive, which is required every 3 years, would cost $7000.

149 locomotives are protected. When the railway and the museum decided to rebuild a Pm36, the highest achievement of Polish Railway engineers, which had received an award in 1937 during the exhibition in Paris, the Honor Committee has had to collect $50000, even though the factory in Pila honorably promised to do all work at cost. Probably there is no choice than to choose 2 locomotives from each foreign series and 10 locomotives from each Polish series. The Museum owns locomotives from 50 series, but presumed buyers would have bought the 15 locomotives from series which the Museum owns as the only one left in the world. No buyer is interested in buying a Ty2, of which 150 are preserved. Fortunately the trend now is to have a steam locomotive as a monument. It started with railwaymen, putting them at the stations, the Director's offices, or sheds. There are nine Pt47's already on display. Not long ago, a parson from Koluszki required one for his parish. Since they were a railway parish, they wanted locomotive in front of their church. Their request has been accepted and they received a Px29 . The Parson has arranged to have a piece of track, a crane and a trail so this old "man" can be transported 1.5 km from station One of the Krakow radio stations is thinking about pushing a small steam engine to the top of Kosciuszki Hill. They will get it. Anyone can get a steam locomotive, even if you would like to put it in your yard. But there is one condition. You are obligated to take care of the locomotive! If you decide that you no longer want the locomotive, you will let the Museum know that you are bored with it.

Photographs by Mariusz Forecki in Wolsztyn
"engines roundhouse" in Wolsztyn
Other photos on the way between Poznan and Wolsztyn
Text by Mariusz Sarjusz-Wolski

Notes from the translators:

This article was brought to my attention by Dr. Tomasz Rywik, a member of the staff here at Gerontology Research Center brought in a magazine from his native Poland, _Polityka_, that contained an article about trains. He asked me if I was interested in having a traslation of the article to read.

Dr. Rywik is a cardiologist who is doing some experimental work with us, and he had learned that I am a "train nut." Of course, I answered in the affirmative and after he had struggled through the painstaking translation process, I approached Dan Dawdy about having it on the network. He was interested, but we could get permission from the author and magazine to do the WWW edition.

Dr. Rywik tried for to get an answer from _Polityka_, and the magazine passed the message to Marek Sarjusz-Wolski. Mr. Sarjusz-Wolski replied as soon as he got the message this spring. We received his and the magazines permissions to put the article on the WWW.

With that in pocket, we started the translations even harder. The railroad jargon is non-existant in Dr. Rywik's vocabulary, so we worked our way around that with literal translations that I tried to re-cast in the proper context. Hopefully, we have succeeded in making a decent translation.

We would like to thank Marek Sarjusz-Wolski, the author, and Mariusz Forecki, the photographer for the permissions to share this material with you. The originals were published in _Polityka_, number 17 (2034), dated 27 Kwietnia 1996

Paul Pullen