The International Steam Pages
The Unlucky-for-everyone country (Jugoslavia 1970)
Robert Hall writes of a bash through the former Jugoslavia - Other parts of
the holiday are covered elsewhere on this site:
I spent nearly a month in summer 1970 taking a look at the railway scene - with a particular focus on steam traction - in Austria, Jugoslavia and Roumania. A lot to try to cram into a relatively little time; but with constraints of time and money being as they were, this was the trade-off decided on. At a distance of nearly forty years, memory has irritatingly faded as regards some aspects of this expedition - especially the part in Jugoslavia (even in the matter of recalling exactly how many days we spent there) and unfortunately, notes taken at the time have long since "gone west", and touch lost long ago, with my companion for the trip. In this piece, memory, however fallible, must do whatever it can: apologies in advance, for "errors and omissions".
Austria and Roumania had been, from the first, "musts" for the trip. Getting from one to the other had to happen somehow, and "the bits in between" played host to plenty of active steam. In the planning stages, we had considered a route through Hungary, sampling such steam working there as time might allow. But a letter to that country's official representatives in Britain, enquiring about railway-photography possibilities, elicited such a negative reply that we decided to travel "from A to R" via Jugoslavia instead. Reasoning, if I remember rightly, that notorious though Jugoslav hostility towards railfans was, Hungary sounded as though it would be no better. Plus, back then Hungary was largely an unknown quantity to us; we knew only that, like all the Soviet satellite nations at the time, it had an abundance of steam. Hungarian-steam info was around in Britain then; it was just that we hadn't known where to go for it. There was available to us, rather more gricing gen about Jugoslavia - we thought along the lines of "the devil you know"; plus, going to Jugoslavia did not involve the visa-related complicated obstacle course and attendant expense, which was usually a hazard of visiting Soviet-bloc countries.
We also had some indication that the only hope for individual enthusiasts to get any sort of official blessing for photography on the Jugoslav Railways (JŽ), was to apply in person at that undertaking's headquarters in Belgrade - there was no guarantee of success, but some folk had got a positive result from that ploy. We thus decided that on entering Jugoslavia, we would make straight for Belgrade and the JŽ head offices. And Belgrade was reputedly a fine steam centre; and was right on the way to our next port of call eastwards. However good Jugoslavia might prove in a "best possible case", the amount of time we could have there, was limited. I had a pen-friend in Roumania, with whom and family, we had arranged to spend time; rendezvous with pen-friend in home town of Timişoara was fixed for a particular date. This piece attempts to tell of the doings of myself and companion: a friend from university who I will call "Q." with whom I had just spent a week in Austria (plus, there, "No. 3" of the group, who did not carry on further east with us) - recounted in my "Travellers' Tales" piece "Linz to Leibnitz, tortuously" -- and with whom I would continue to Roumania.
I found Austria a delight in all respects; Jugoslavia, less so. Unsurprisingly -- as at the 1960s / 70s, the country had rather a bad press in Britain, with numerous reports from folk who had been there (not only railway enthusiasts, by any means), of finding many of the inhabitants decidedly cross-grained, and sometimes downright unpleasant in their behaviour toward foreign visitors. This applied particularly, in parts of the country off the seacoast-oriented tourist beat with its "making nice to holidaymakers yields money" ethos. I would not, from my experience, dismiss what I saw of Jugoslavia as totally foul; and I suspect that Q. would largely concur. Essentially, no hideous mistreatment received from any "native" - feeling on the whole, was that the inhabitants bore us no overt ill-will, but didn't much want to be bothered with us. A minority were truly friendly. Perhaps we were simply lucky; have heard from other railfans who went to Jugoslavia, accounts of bad stuff from locals - not just in Serbia, where the people renownedly "have issues", but in parts further west too. Overall, for us with our die cast for Belgrade and the Serbs for most of our stay, it wasn't too bad; and some rather engaging traits were discovered. Whenever Jugoslavia comes to mind nowadays, thoughts rapidly go to the hideous events of the 1990s. I have to feel that nobody, however disagreeable, deserves what happened to the less lucky ones there and then: an unavoidable blight is cast, over memories of less-awful times in these parts.
I considered from the first that it was necessary to put in a special category, Jugoslavia's infamous unfriendliness and suspicion directed at railway enthusiasts, particularly camera-toting ones - felt that one had to just regard it as an endemic national form of lunacy, and make allowances for it. Any enthusiast who couldn't do that, was best advised to stay right away from Jugoslavia. I've heard it suggested that this problem was less acute before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in summer 1968 - after which Jugoslav paranoia about potential "enemy action" sky-rocketed; but have also come across accounts of gricing in Jugoslavia prior to the - in various ways - "black year of '68", which tell of great difficulty across the board, back then too, for railway photographers, who were automatically equated with spies. Certainly as at 1970, Jugoslavia had a name as the most difficult land in Europe for railway photography - against stiff competition from some of the Soviet-bloc countries. A pity, what with JŽ's then amazing variety of steam classes, from a wide range of sources, active in large numbers throughout most of the country on both standard and 760mm gauges.
Q. and I passed from Austria into Jugoslavia at the easternmost border point where this could sensibly be done by rail: the Spielfeld-Strass / Maribor crossing. Jugoslav travels commenced for us behind steam, with our overnight express being taken over from its ÖBB diesel on the Austrian side of the frontier, by a 1930s-vintage mixed-traffic 2-8-2 of JŽ class 06, which took us by the main-line - indirect, via Zidani Most junction -- route to Zagreb, where we arrived in the early morning. Plentiful steam doings around Zagreb's main station, including by the ugly but impressive class 11 4-8-0s - same design as the Hungarian railways' all-purpose class 424. However, we were on a mission to reach Belgrade - and, we hoped, kind permit-issuing officials - with all dispatch; so it was aboard the next long-distance train for the rival city.
In some respects, 1970 was a bit too late for the truly glorious times of Eastern European steam: this applied in Jugoslavia; and when we attained Roumania, there also. It is generally seen that this was the case anywhere east of the Iron Curtain - save in Poland, which is reckoned to have then still been truly wonderful for steam; but I was not to make it to there, for another ten years. 1970 Eastern Europe was incomparably better than most of Western ditto, steam-wise - but there was the feel of "what a difference a year or two makes". Only months before, electrification had been completed, of the Zagreb - Belgrade main line: so our run between the two, was electric-hauled throughout. Motive power of a more exciting kind on this route - if only over part of it -- would have been very welcome. Zagreb to Belgrade has to rate, for non-railway background, as one of the dullest-ever rail journeys of my life: essentially, four hundred kilometres of flat maize-fields, with occasional low hills on the far horizon; more often, just monotonous flatness. Even JŽ electric expresses did not travel at a very fast clip - I recall what certainly seemed like hour upon hour of tediously sedate progress. The only bright spots, were plentiful active steam at various junctions en route; and splendid and abundant bird-life in the fields - hoopoes and bee-eaters seemingly two-a-dinar. At long last, we arrived in Belgrade. The rest of the day was spent orientating ourselves, and finding a cheap but adequate hotel a modest tram-ride from the city centre.
Bright and early next morning, off to JŽ headquarters to present our petition. A fair few hours of waiting, and jumping through various bureaucratic hoops, at the behest of often bemused, but generally courteous, bureaucrats (the language barrier was something of an issue; but if I remember rightly, now and again English-speakers, of a sort, were brought in) - resulted finally in our getting an impressive typed document, authorising us to do - anyway, some of what we wished to do. Requests to have its content translated for us, were not complied with - that had to be sorted out the hard way. The permit hilariously distorted our names. "Small mercies" - at least its Serbo-Croat was in Roman script. Although in theory, Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet for the language, we found that in Belgrade the Roman counterpart was more widely current. Some of what was done with this trans-lingually, was highly entertaining. Q., who was rather a film buff, decided that we should go to the cinema one evening, to see Polanski's "The Fearless Vampire Killers" (in the original English, with Serbo-Croat [Roman script] sub-titles) - right up the Jugoslavs' street, one would feel - certainly the movie-house was packed with a rapt audience. In the course of this show, a wonderful bit of transliteration was witnessed: "Tventi Senčeri Foks".
Having obtained our magic document by mid-afternoon of the day concerned, we went off to try it out. "Proving-ground" decided on, was Belgrade (Dunav) station, a small separate passenger terminus serving the lines running north-eastward from the capital, with a through freight-only link transiting the city, to join the Zagreb - Belgrade - far south-east, trunk line. Not long after our getting on to the platform at Dunav, there approached from the direction of the city centre, a freight train headed by a 2-10-0 of class 33. This type - one of JŽ's commonest - was the World War II German "austerity" all-purpose "Kriegslok"; many hundreds of which ran in the majority of European countries, sometimes for decades after the conflict for which they were originally built. Right on cue with our photting the train, down the platform came a grey-uniformed policeman, who greeted us politely and then clearly, from the context, enquired what the hell we thought we were doing. Ensuing conversation was, as usual on this trip, with a monoglot local across an almost total language barrier; some elements, though, explained themselves. We showed the officer our permit; he carefully conned it, and then proceeded to admonish us. It became apparent that what was troubling him, was that the document authorised us to photograph - words to the effect of "stari parni lokomotivi" - old steam locomotives.
An incidence, for sure, of contending rival interpretations. Having discovered this element of the text, we ("as one would") construed it as applying to all steam locos, which would be by definition old, and candidates for phasing-out as soon as possible. Our policeman friend wasn't buying that: he plainly saw a class 33 as a not-old steam loco - repeatedly driving this perception home - "samo [only] STARI lokomotivi !" At this distance in time, I have to admit reluctantly that he had a point. In 1970, a Kriegslok would have been a mere youngster of less than thirty. (Such reflections make one feel disconcertingly old oneself.) The conversation ended inconclusively. The policeman plainly wasn't happy, but did not go to the lengths of taking us in charge or confiscating our crime-weapons; and in the end, went off about his business. The memory-flash ends here; do not recall whether we stayed around for further flouting of the law at Dunav station, or shortly "moved on" of our own volition.
Memory frustrates, about our Belgrade sojourn. It seems most probable that we had four full days based in the capital - might conceivably have been five, but if the latter, what we spent all our time doing, is lost in the mists of departed years; and it feels unlikely that we would have frittered away in non-gricing mode, much time in a country (however "difficult") which was new to us, and with lots of steam. The memory does yield a few vignettes. We had an early-evening session at Belgrade (Topčider) station, on the "main trunk" on the south side of the city, relishing various steam passenger workings in the commuter rush hour, and a marvellously weird streamlined and silver-painted diesel multiple-unit consist, looking like something from America two or three decades previously, and plainly for long-distance work, running through southbound without stopping. JŽ gave great value as regards variety in what ran on it, whether steam or diesel.
Also recalled, is looking in at the small railway museum close by Belgrade main station - no "real-life" loco exhibits if I recall correctly, but interesting material therein nonetheless - if, predictably, rather heavily oriented toward Communist doings and achievements in a railway context. And a visit to the main station's locoshed - unworried acceptance, and photographic freedom without fussing about whether the shed's inhabitants were "old" enough to qualify. Mixed electric, diesel, and steam contents. The steam included class 62 0-6-0Ts - used as shunters and shed pilots, and basically the same design as Britain's USA class; 05 4-6-2s, counterparts of the class 06 Mikados, and like them, German-built in the 1930s; the ubiquitous 33s; and graceful class 01 four-cylinder 2-6-2s. This class originated from 1912 - its first members built in Germany for the Serbian State Railways for express passenger work, before the - as it proved -- miserable abortion that was Jugoslavia, ever saw the light of day. Many further 01s were produced in Germany in the early 1920s, for the railways of the new nation. An oddity occasionally met with in the often strange world of steam rail traction: a true-and-tried reliable veteran class outliving in service, supposedly more modern and sophisticated steam types envisaged at their onset, as ousting and replacing it. Twelve years later, a few class 01 were still in use on JŽ; when all of class 05 and 06, a good decade-plus younger, had been withdrawn.
Also 2-8-0s of class 38 - visually very similar to the American World War II S160, but built in Britain by Vulcan Foundry for post-war reconstruction work on the Continent. By 1970, 38s - chunky machines with very short chimneys - appeared to be restricted to the eastern parts of Jugoslavia, in the same way that the class 11 4-8-0s, and 06 2-8-2s, seemed to belong and remain further west. 38s were to be seen in plenty, working freight around Belgrade. These British-built 2-8-0s seemed overall to have been less widespread than their American counterparts, but were not exclusive to Jugoslavia. Poland, certainly, at one time had both the British and the "Yank" types.
Featuring prominently at Belgrade shed, were the big US- and Canadian-built Co-Co diesel locos of class 661 - supplied in abundance to Jugoslavia, on favourable terms, from 1960 onward, in the manoeuvrings of Cold War politics (the JŽ staff nicknamed them "Kennedys"). From a steam buff's point of view, these machines, with their distinctive lines and cheerful green-and-yellow livery, were enemies of a relatively likeable kind. We encountered them quite frequently on Jugoslavia's main lines -- would like to think that the class survives in service today, but have no idea whether it does; information from those learned on such matters, would be appreciated.
Recalled for certain, are two day-trips which we did from Belgrade. A very tempting, but daunting, possibility had been contemplated, and in the end "ditched" - leading, as ever, to regrets in retrospect. In the "golden age" late 1920s -- mid-1960s, there had been a 760mm gauge main line, the splendidly neat figure of 444 km in length, between Belgrade and Sarajevo - doing, on its western "leg", wonderfully spectacular stuff through the mountains. Geographical and political factors had meant that this route between the two cities was by no means a direct one; but for a couple of decades it was nonetheless the best way by rail from the one to the other. Shortly post-World War II, a standard-gauge line to Sarajevo via Doboj was inaugurated, largely on erstwhile 760mm gauge routes - giving an even more circuitous way Belgrade - Sarajevo, than via the narrow gauge line, but having the advantage of the wider "universal" gauge. For most of twenty years, one had the choice of standard or narrow gauge from one city to the other. In the later 1960s, though, the 760mm route began to wither away at the Belgrade end. To a large extent, this was due to its progressive ousting by the new standard-gauge line which was being built south-west from Belgrade to what was then Titograd, in Montenegro. In summer 1970, this undertaking had created a situation where one could travel by standard-gauge rail from Belgrade to Valjevo; 760mm gauge still ran between the town then called Titovo Užice (pre-Communism, and now once more, plain Užice - will be called that from now on) and Sarajevo; the Valjevo - Užice link was for the time being, by bus.
We seriously considered a mega-bash, which would have involved two long and hard days' travel, and possibly no intervening night in a bed: Belgrade - Užice, as above; Užice - Sarajevo on the 760mm; and back to the capital on the standard gauge route through Doboj, involving a lengthy run along part of the Zagreb - Belgrade main. "Intel" about the narrow gauge part, was that diesel traction had made some inroads; but that on the remnant main line and its branches, there was still plentiful action by class 83 0-8-2s and class 85 2-8-2s. Timidity, and the "perhaps-another-time syndrome" (at that date and in that part of the world, not quite so outright insane for a railfan, as it would have been further west) caused us to give thumbs-down to the Sarajevo venture. Q. was more "agin it" than me; he was a cautious soul, and his gricing ardour was basically less than mine. The single factor which most put us off the idea, was that we had already registered that Jugoslavs did not on the whole seem very helpful or obliging; in the light of that, we envisaged horrendous problems involving communication and making sense of things, with the "bus" part of the outward journey (the JŽ timetable gave nothing in the way of bus times - we just had the bare information that the stretch concerned, had to be covered by road). If it had been a straightforward situation of "standard-gauge train to point X; change there onto narrow-gauge train", we would almost certainly have done the bash.
The celebrated wisdom of hindsight; I greatly wish that we had braved the envisaged bus-connection horrors, and "gone for it". The 760mm gauge route involved, survived in progressively-dwindling fashion for a number of years more; but it breathed its last during the later 1970s - over which near-decade, I found myself in no position to go as far afield as Jugoslavia. The motto of the S.A.S. comes to mind; also its wimps' variant, "Who dares, gets into a horrible mess, and loses." If we had in fact dared and won - we would have had the privilege of travelling "for real" over the amazing loops and spirals at Mokra Gora, west of Užice.
Many years after abandonment and dismantling of the line, the few kilometres of this impressive formation were revived and relaid as a preservation undertaking. Being a sometimes beyond-sane railway purist, my initial reaction to this venture was, "awful 'plastic / circus' nonsense - the line's dead, let it rest in peace - wouldn't go there if you paid me to". However, recent news tells of quite major-league extending and relaying - actual, and planned - in both directions from Mokra Gora; westward therefrom having been achieved over the border into "Serb Bosnia", most of the way to the ultimate operational goal of Višegrad. These findings have occasioned for me, a case of "Welsh Highland Railway syndrome": in principle I disapprove -- but in actual fact a decent length being reopened, and actually going somewhere, begins to sound like potentially rather good fun. The preserved line's motive power is reported as part-steam (including a couple of class 83 0-8-2s) and part-diesel, with differing proportions of each kind of traction at work, at different times.
We did manage a - much tamer - experience of the even in 1970, rapidly-declining JŽ 760mm gauge. The line of this variety then active, nearest to Belgrade, lay some 40 km. south of the city, running from Lajkovac to Mladenovac; and was served by a couple of passenger workings in each direction daily. The timetable gave a possibility for a quite convenient day's triangular excursion, including this line. We started out on a diesel-hauled passenger, along the recently new-built standard gauge line - part of the incipient Titograd main - from Belgrade to Lajkovac (the narrow-gauge section which it had supplanted, had followed a different course, further west). Lajkovac was the operational centre, with locoshed, of the surviving 760mm gauge section. With a considerable wait before departure of the next eastbound narrow-gauge working, we introduced ourselves, permit in hand, to the narrow-gauge staff.
On scenes tense and security-conscious from a gricing point of view, it has often been noticed that things can be easier on the narrow gauge, than on the standard. That was found to apply somewhat, even in the "Gricers' hell" of Jugoslavia - especially on lesser and sleepier narrow-gauge sections. At Lajkovac, we found no problem doing whatever we wished; the guys there proved to be among the rather few Serbs whom we actually found friendly and welcoming; and the "feel" got, was that this would probably been the case, even if we had had no official legitimising document. They invited us into the depot office and plied us with coffee, and we chatted as best possible across a more or less total language barrier (Q.'s and my combined Serbo-Croat vocabulary was barely in double figures). We were welcome to look around the shed, and phot ad lib. This line was 100% steam, and 100% the same type - 0-8-2 tender locos of class 83; a design of venerable pedigree, and the JŽ 760mm gauge's most numerous, all-purpose, class, built - with "detail variations" -- over a span of nearly fifty years. Members of the class are now active, as mentioned above, at the Mokra Gora preservation venue; and a couple may still be in industrial service in Bosnia. These are low-slung, homely-looking but rather engaging machines - a contrast to the class 85 2-8-2s, JŽ's 760mm gauge (highly-relative) "greyhounds", which I never got to see. The majority of 83s sported spark-arrester chimneys of the kind which long obtained widely in Central Europe and "points south and east" - a tallish, initially slender, chimney, topped by a wide-and-deep cylindrical part; the Austrians were wont to call this arrangement, "chamber-pot chimneys". Lajkovac shed held several 83s, all spark-arrester jobs; a couple in steam, others serviceable but cold.
Train time came round, with an 83 on three or four bogie coaches, forming the all-stations for the 50-odd-kilometre run to Mladenovac. Departure dead on schedule, and off eastwards. Sub-metre-gauge trains basically do not travel rapidly. A little before World War II, JŽ introduced on its 760mm gauge main lines, three-car DMU sets. These "fliers" (dubbed the "Mad Sarajevan" by the admiring locals) cut the minimum time between Belgrade, Sarajevo, and the coast at Dubrovnik on the 760mm (a 685 km total run) -- from 24 hours by the fastest steam express, to 16-and-a-half hours - a giddy 41-and-a-half average km per hour. (Post-WWII, these diesel sets were concentrated in the water-poor reaches south of Sarajevo.)
Back to mundane stuff with class 83 -- the old chestnut comes to mind, of the local n/g service encountering the peasant riding his donkey along the parallel road - "Aren't you coming with us, then?" "No, I'm in a hurry today - I can't be bothered with you lot." We made pleasant, if snail-like, progress through a landscape of wooded gentle hills, with many intermediate stops, and with a thinnish sprinkling of passengers (this line lost its passenger service not very long after our journey on it). One client who stays in mind, is a young soldier with his ear glued to a transistor radio from which came in long succession, plaintive folk melodies - nicely appropriate to the general scene. This area had some - rather minor-league - coal mines, and somewhere en route, a number of bogie wagons of coal were added on at the end of the train. After this; around the mid-point of the line, a brief stiff climb was encountered, between the station called Partizani and the main intermediate community, the little spa town of Aranđelovac. Between these two points, our now-mixed train received an 83 banker. Afterward, back to easier terrain, and on again with just the train engine, and final arrival - after, if memory serves, three hours or so for 50-some km. - at Mladenovac, junction with one portion of the main line from the south and south-east. Our return from there to Belgrade was on a local train headed by an 05 Pacific: one-time express class, largely demoted by 1970 (as with their older, likewise German-built, 01 2-6-2 cousins) to lowly tasks.
Our other day-trip from Belgrade had a minor narrow-gauge component; but was mostly about seeing what we could, of standard-gauge steam doings. The narrow-gauge element: while the very great majority of JŽ's narrow gauge was 760mm, "in better times" (sad refrain of this piece) the state railway undertaking had boasted a few lines / systems of other less-than-standard gauges. Its only incidence of the metre gauge, had been centred on the town of Osijek at the eastern end of Croatia, extensively spreading out eastwards therefrom - a system inaugurated pre-World War I, when all this area was part of Austria-Hungary. This wonderfully antiquated and quintessence-of-narrow-gauge network - 100% steam, largely with original motive power -- had spent a decade or so progressively shrinking: we were aware that a very little while prior to our planned visit, its "final-ultimate-last" services had been withdrawn; but we had the picture that its de-activated stock would still be there to witness and record; plus, lots of standard-gauge steam active around Osijek (focal point of s/g secondary lines) and between there and the "main trunk".
Dante -- who did his thing just on the other side of the Adriatic -- often comes to mind, in contexts from the trivial to the apocalyptic, concerning Jugoslavia. He and kindred spirits, adherents of more than one religion, focus on nasty fates after death or their pale imitations in this world - repetitiveness, one of the oft-called-up miseries of same. In our brief experience of the land which might be thought Purgatory for railfans, the dreary electric Zagreb - Belgrade main came to fair prominence as "something to suffer, time and again". To get to jumping-off-point for Osijek, a hundred and fifty or so (slow) kilometres along this "via dolorosa" had to be endured. However - "what a gricer's got to do." So off we went, in the early morning - some relief afforded by steam observed at junctions en route -- till at last we reached Vinkovci, junction for lines heading off in several directions, including the one to Osijek.
Here we encountered first-hand, the "no love lost" qualities of this part of the world - we'd hitherto been aware of the business of "Serbs and Croats", but only on an imagined "English and Scots" equivalent level. Vinkovci is a short way west of the border and into Croatia. On arriving there, we sought out JŽ authority at the station, presented our photographic permit, and got the "thumbs down". The railway officials to whom we applied, emphasised that our document had been issued in Belgrade, by (I borrow Robert E. Lee's term for his Yankee adversaries) "those people"; it had no relevance here in Croatia, and no, we couldn't take pictures. They weren't obnoxious about it, but they couldn't be swayed. As recounted earlier, we had no detailed understanding, beyond such that we-with-no-Serbo-Croat could work out, of what the document said; for all we knew, it could indeed have been strictly Serbia-specific.
I have never been able to get too het-up about the photographic side of the hobby - feeling, if you are all the time looking at things exclusively through the viewfinder of a camera, you're missing out on the experience real time / real life - plus, as an artistic railway photographer I'd make a good hod-carrier; and Q. was essentially a bit lukewarm about all aspects of gricing. This being so, we basically felt only mild annoyance, on the lines of "funny people here - but if we wanted most things to make sense, we'd have stayed in Blighty; and there are some weird bleeders there, too." So long as we eschewed Monsieur Daguerre's nonsense about making pictorial images with the aid of the sun, nobody seemed too bothered about what we did; so we wandered around the station and the verges of the adjacent locoshed. Vinkovci was indeed - in American-speak - lousy with active steam - predominating, class 33; and, of the previous generation, class 22 (ex-Hungarian 324) 2-6-2, and "native" class 20 2-6-0 - other types featured, too.
Next train for the branch to Osijek, 30-km-odd away, was in the charge of a class 51 (ex-Hungarian 375) 2-6-2T. The 51s seemed to have been taken on with enthusiasm by JŽ, as useful maids-of-all-work for lighter duties - as recounted in another piece, they still had a relatively high profile in Jugoslavia twelve years later. We duly embarked, and travelled behind the Prairie tank across the flatlands, with sundry intermediate stops, to Osijek. The abandoned metre-gauge station there, was close by its standard-gauge counterpart. Its sidings were crammed with steam locos and the stock which they had in better days, hauled. A sad, but remarkable, sight: metre-gauge locos of a variety of classes, all seemingly ancient and amazing , mostly sporting spark-arrester chimneys of the "Wild West" diamond pattern, as opposed to those of the earlier-mentioned indelicate Austrian description. Plus their "supplementary tenders" - rudimentarily roofed-over four-wheeled vehicles travelling immediately behind the loco, carrying fuel in barrels. And aged coaches - bogie and four-wheeled - to match. Would have been a wondrous outfit to see in action; but life had not proved so obliging as that. We ate our lunchtime sandwiches in the metre-gauge graveyard, and photographed its contents with none to say us nay. Also sneaked a picture or two, of class 20 on freight duties on the adjacent standard gauge.
The metre-gauge theme was clearly strong in Osijek: the medium-sized town had in 1970, a modest tram system, gauge one metre. We accordingly took a ride on same: if we couldn't enjoy the metre-gauge hereabouts behind steam. the ever-present spectre behind all thoughts of "the country that should never have been": in the 1990s, dreadful things happened in and around Osijek. One gathers that with the dust having more or less settled, Osijek is now in - stably, it is hoped - the eastern corner of Croatia. It would be nice to envisage its metre-gauge trams still running; but one rather fears, probably not. The continental-tram-geniuses no doubt have the answer to this one, and - as with learned scholars in other disciplines -- response from them would be duly appreciated.
JŽ was many things, but a boringly run-of-the-mill railway, was not one of them. The undertaking had cottoned on early (circa 1930s / 40s) to the railmotor solution for relatively lightly-trafficked routes; but had come to give to same, its own individual twist. As at 1970 there were found in very many places up and down the country, four-wheeled railbuses painted silver-grey, seemingly never running singly, but always in rakes of various numbers from two almost ad infinitum - this kind of consist, going by the generic name of "šinobus". This phenomenon could pop up unpredictably on many branch and secondary lines; and to convey us back from Osijek to Vinkovci, this is what we got. All part of the fun, if that were the appropriate word: you couldn't go on a grice of Jugoslavia and not take a šinobus ride or two. Back to Vinkovci in the string of railbuses, and in due course electric-hauled slowly to Belgrade again, with plenty of steam met en route to relish. I seem to recall, at some point in time, seeing and photographing a class 01 2-6-2 on a local train at Indija (point of divergence 40 km out of Belgrade, of the Zagreb and Subotica main lines) - on the way out to or back from Vinkovci, we may have changed trains at Indija.
The day came, for leaving Belgrade - with our date with my pen-friend in Timişoara, for the afternoon of said day. Back to Belgrade (Dunav) station, this time actually to travel, not to take pictures and annoy the guardians of the law. The train we had to get, left very early in the morning - to the point that forgoing a night in bed, and overnighting in the station waiting room, was necessary. Our train proved to be a long string of šinobuses. We duly embarked, and motored lengthily for some 130 / 140 km through the flat and less-than-fascinating countryside north of the capital, encountering some steam on the way. Diversion came from the human element, too. The train was well-used, every seat taken and people travelling in the aisles. At a station en route, a party boarded, seemingly en route for a wedding or other celebration; one of them, a lady carrying on a tray, a cake lovingly and elaborately made, in the form of a cow. Heaven knows how she, standing up, preserved it intact in the crowded and oscillating-railbus circumstances, but she did - presumably, much practice had. If we'd been true gentlemen, we'd have offered a seat to her and her cake, I suppose - but perhaps better not to go there, especially forty years after the event. Also, our seat-neighbour for some of the run, proved to be a guy who had long ago emigrated to Canada, and was back on a visit to the old country. Hearing Q. and me talking in English, he introduced himself; was agreeable and entertaining company, and it was a pleasure for us, after several days' acute language frustration, to be able easily to converse with somebody else, in our own tongue.
After the junction of Banatsko Miloševo, our šinobus rake headed north-west in the direction of Subotica. We alighted, for a smart connection with the marvellous train called the "Bucureşti Express", between Rijeka (Jugoslavia) and Bucharest, capital of Roumania. Said Express was headed here, by a class 17 2-6-2T ( World War I- vintage ex-Hungarian class 342, bigger brother of the JŽ 51, Hungarian 375). This loco hauled us to Kikinda, where another of the same class took over for the run east to Jimbolia, just over the border in Roumania. Doings in that country are told of in "Travellers' Tales" under that heading. Return homeward from Roumania, on the westbound "Bucureşti", recounted there likewise, up to "end of conscious experience of steam" - the above in reverse, at Jimbolia the Roumanian 230 ("P8") was relieved by a 17. (At the time of writing piece about Roumanian bash, I saw my memories of concurrent Jugoslavian ditto as too poor and incomplete, for an article about it, to be possible. Changes of mind are allowed, and happen.)
As recounted in Roumania piece, the "Bucureşti" spent a long night's journey behind JŽ steam (understood from more diligent travellers as of that era, that at some point the 17 handed over to an 01) from the border via Subotica and Osijek, the main line and electric traction taking over not, I think, at Vinkovci as suggested in that article, but at the wonderfully-named junction of Strizivojna-Vrpolje. After several hectic days' Roumanian travelling, I was basically done-in, and oblivious to steamy joys in the dark hours - essentially, next thing I knew was arrival at Zagreb. At that city, the "Bucureşti" turned sharp left, to run to Rijeka via Ogulin. Ljubljana and home being my goal, trains were changed at Zagreb.
At that time, there was a non-electrified gap in the Zagreb - Ljubljana main line, just west of the former. On next westbound express, departure was behind a class 661 "Kennedy" diesel loco. If steam traction to the recommencing of the wires couldn't be had, this was felt to be the most pleasant alternative - rather nice to bag a bit of haulage by this class.
There followed some 120 km of pleasant, hilly scenery, to Ljubljana. I recall an enormous dump of withdrawn steam at Zaprešić, a little west of Zagreb; and electric haulage starting again, at some now forgotten point. Change of trains again at Ljubljana. Some steam freight was observed in passing; the memory seems to supply ex-Austrian class 25 2-8-0 and 29 2-10-0, types then common in this north-western corner of the country, but unknown in the east. Q.'s final homegoing arrangements were different from mine; I made the connection at Ljubljana to my pre-booked seat on train for Ostend, and set off generally westward, alone. Electric traction through a feast of truly impressive mountain scenery in Jugoslavia to the border at Jesenice, and then in Austria - where a few weeks earlier, I had scored a bit poorly as regards "mountain magnificence"; Austrian steam was then holding out mostly in the more low-lying east of the country. Night fell approximately at the Austrian / German border. On the journey thoughts were entertained, regretting failure to make better use of gricing time and opportunity in the target countries; but don't we all do that, always?