Introduction

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This website contains photos, tales and sound recordings from my 45-year-old archive of (mainly) narrow gauge railways in several countries close by and far away. I collected the original material on a CD with full screen photos in a web based format, together with my railway modelling articles both in English and in Dutch. As it is not very easy to find a publisher (any takers…?) for this kind of material, I decided to adapt part of the archive to internet publication, downsizing and reducing the number of photos and the amount of text. At least this enables the public to view some of the material I collected in those days.

Most of what you see in these pages has long gone. There is no more steam in the ports of southern Africa, Indonesia and India. The German Democratic Republic is history, and around Naples the beautiful 1930s electric trains have been replaced by sleek modern stock. But everywhere in the world, dedicated enthusiasts are busy restoring the wrecks of locomotives and rolling stock, and some of this can also be seen on this website.

What is this I have with railways, and why did I go so far away?

My first memories of railways go back to my childhood during the early 1950s. They include the giant wheels of a Netherlands Railways class 3700 4-6-0, shunting on the embankment at The Hague, the loud hiss of the air escaping from the brake valve of an electric multiple-unit under the overall roof, and the blue electric trams between Haarlem and The Hague, seen from the train.

Interest in railways came quite naturally, with both my grandfathers serving as railwaymen from the early 1920s until about 1960. I still vaguely remember a visit to the electro-mechanical signal box that once spanned the eastern entrance tracks to Amsterdam Central station. My father served his apprentice days as a mechanical engineer in one of the MPDs at Amsterdam during the grim war days, and he remembered being shot at by the RAF when firing locos (he said the RAF pilots usually were so kind to 'buzz' the train as a warning before opening fire, as opposed to the Americans who attacked at once!). Then came the 1944 railway strike to support the Allied effort against the Germans, when railwaymen had to hide from the German forces. These memories, also, were related to me as a boy.

My first ship, the mv. Oostkerk of 1952, prior to departure from Rotterdam in June 1973.

The Oostkerk punches into the Southeast Trades on her way to the Cape of Good Hope.

In my early working career during the 1970s I spent a few years training for my Mate's certificate, and subsequently working in cargo ships. This was in pre-container days, when the classic cargo ship was still in general use and loading or discharging an entire ship could take anything up to a week, which enabled one to go ashore and see the local sights. In those days narrow gauge steam still used to be at work in many places, and as a railway enthusiast I spent most of my free time in foreign ports chasing steam locomotives, wherever these were still working.

I first went to sea as an apprentice in a rusty old freighter named Oostkerk in the summer of 1973, sailing round the Cape to the Persian Gulf, and later to Madras in India and Colombo in Sri Lanka. The Suez Canal was still closed and there was more war in the air in the Middle East.

Harbour branch at Khorramshar, Iran, August 1973. The temperature is over 45 degrees Centigrade.

The author in his early twenties, in the wheelhouse of the Oostkerk, plotting a position in the chart.

It was in India that I saw the first steam locomotives at work outside Europe: on both the metre and broad gauges at Madras, and the 2'6" and broad gauges at Colombo. Regrettably, on that first voyage I managed to miss much of what was to be seen, like the Ootacamund line at Madras and the Kelani Valley line at Colombo, as I didn't know by half what to expect. Walking through the slums of Madras was an eye-opener for me: I have never since seen such poverty and squalor except perhaps in West Africa. A practical problem here was the short dusk period out in the tropics: evening falls very quickly around 7 pm, which makes for limited photographing time after working hours.

--> Excellent photos of the Kelani Valley line can be found on Ed Reijnders' website at http://www.treindienst.nl.

Metre gauge WD class 2-8-2 no. 1607 at Madras.

Two broad gauge saddle tanks working a metre gauge train over mixed gauge track at Madras, September 1973.

'Residential area' in Madras.

Rural area in the flatlands south of Madras.

Coconut groves along the coast in Sri Lanka.

Broad (5'6") gauge 4-6-0 no. 135 preserved outside Colombo Fort station.

Broad gauge 4-6-0 no. 262 in the dusk at Maradana station with the goods shed staff posing on the footplate.

On the return trip from Colombo to Europe we put in at Durban for bunkers, and here, when entering Durban Harbour, we passed the 3'6" gauge sidings at the coal loading plant on the Bluff opposite the town. I was at my usual station on the bridge operating the ship's engine telegraph and keeping the log, and I remember rubbernecking towards the big ex-Natal Government Ry tank locos at work there and being unable to go outside because we were manoeuvring in confined waters. We came alongside a berth near a big marshalling yard, empty but for a pair of electric locos, and irritatingly no steam in sight. Ten months later however I would return to Durban and have the time of my life seeing the tank locos on the Bluff working at close quarters.

This website only shows my real life narrow gauge photos and disregards my railway modelling interest. My Craigcorrie & Dunalistair Railway, in 4mm scale, dates back to the same period when I started taking my first railway photographs. I am a member of the 009 Society, which caters for all forms of narrow gauge railway modelling in 4mm scale.

I hope you will enjoy this website.

Ted Polet

All content of this website: Copyright Ted Polet 2001

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