The International Steam Pages
Weihe Forestry Railway, 2002
2002 promised to see the virtual extinction of the narrow gauge steam-hauled log train in China. Drastic action was needed which involved throwing sensible sums of money at the three surviving systems I had yet to visit, Ganhe, Shanhetun and Zhanhe. Time alone would not solve the problems involved and while money could have bought me my own trains or railcars, that was way beyond my budget. So I relied instead on excellent reports and maps from other visitors (see my narrow gauge summary page) together with local guides organised by Mr. Zhang of Jilin CITS). Anticipated regular partner Peter Nash dropped out with leave problems, instead Dave McLeod jumped on board with his unrivalled Mr.Bean imitations, the highlight of which involved unsuccessfully juggling one video and two still camera simultaneously in front of a C2. This report covering Weihe is long and detailed - I fear more as a historical document rather than a guide to future visitors. Click here for my visits to Shanhetun and here for my visits to Ganhe and Zhanhe. I have visited Weihe on three other occasions - click here for reports from January 2000, January 2001 and February 2003.
These pictures are especially dedicated to those misguided visitors to Weihe who believe all the best spots are within walking distance of Pinglin station. Apart from the pictures on this page there are additional 2002 pictures available:
Click here for pictures of the Weihe 2002 logging trains.
Click here for pictures of the Weihe 2002 passenger trains.
Weihe (March 4th to 12th)
We caught an early morning bus to Weihe (paying the full Mudangjiang fare) arriving by 10.00 and reserved a room in Weihe from March 6th when Mike Ma would complete his stint with us. As I had expected, the best rooms were taken from March 8th by the Steam and Safaris group (in the event they turned up a day early and we just squatted and kept our room). We had a car available driven by one of my previous drivers from Zhenzhu. We headed straight for the southern section of the line, noting that the passenger train was not running and crossing an inbound log train in the woods above Pinglin. At Chonghe we found 034 which had recently arrived on empties. We saw it turn ready to go to the loading point just east and adjourned for a snack which was, as usual, a banquet. The train came back at 14.30, alas the temperature was too high for any significant exhaust and we were able to chase it to Qingshan getting 5 shots, none of which was a master photo in the conditions and crossing 055 on empties. We checked in at the small hostel next to our lunch spot, facilities were adequate but spartan and of course calls of nature required a trudge to the bottom of the garden....
On March 5th, we were woken at 06.15 with the news that 033 was in Chonghe station with a log train. Unfortunately, it was a hazy almost warm day, so photography was pretty much a waste of time. By 07.00 it had left and then we followed it out and 030 back from Qingshan with empties. 030 turned and shunted the log yard and left for Weihe just before 08.00. The light was so ordinary that we let it go and went for breakfast in the village. Afterwards we went back to Qingshan and passed 055 with empties on the way. At Qingshan we found the diesel in attendance as some logs were being loaded directly just west of the station and these had to be shunted out of the way when another train had to pass. The passenger was running today (a little late) and 054 was in charge. We watched it go up to Liushan/Yulin and back and I retired to do some work during the afternoon. Dave reported that later 055 had worked back and another locomotive had pulled with empties for Yulin. It could have been an amazing day photographically (8 steam workings through Chonghe in daylight), but in the event it qualified under the category of 'film saving'. Highlight of the day were the hostel's hot showers complete with a real Chinese beauty in tiles on the wall watching over us.
Well, things could only get (a bit) better... March 6th was brighter, but there were no trains in the Chonghe area. We went over to Dongfeng where 035 arrived on empties at 8.00. Sometime later 034 came in from Qingshan and 030 on the passenger. We chased 034 to Shuangfeng getting several shots as it crawled along under a sky which had cleared completely. Here it crossed 054 on empties, 054 then giving 034 the traditional kick start. We had walked up to the loading point to get some width - noting it was now closed. We may have missed another set of empties here (as deduced from Dongfeng log later). At Pinglin bank it was really too late for effective photography, but we saw 053 come out on more empties before 034 came up banked by 053. We said goodbye to our guide, Mike, and returned to Dongfeng, photographing 053 arriving and 030 leaving on the passenger. Unfortunately, the next couple of hours saw no more trains so we left for Weihe passing the evening passenger coming out at Zhenzhu. Much better!
Gentle reader, if you have persevered with this report, you will realise that this trip to Weihe had yet to live up to its predecessors in terms of photographic quality. March 7th was one of those rare perfect days where almost everything we touched turned to gold. The weather was cold, cloudless and almost windless. Leaving Weihe at 06.15 we caught 034 on empties before Zhenzhu and at Xiping, just missing the incoming passenger at the latter. Heading on we found 054 coming into Shuangfeng on logs and chased it up the bank at Pinglin, meanwhile photographing 055 on the outward passenger. Heading south, we declined a second log train at Shuangfeng and went south to Qingshan/Chonghe where we caught the passenger a couple more time before we adjourned for lunch. We then racked up three shots of the return passenger and the same number of 033 on an empties. By now 034 was ready to come back from Chonghe and this gave us three more shots before we went over to Dongfeng. 034 was held for another set of empties and then struggled off up the bank at 16.00 such a speed that we decided it was time to head for home. En route we saw empties at Shuangfeng, the outbound passenger leaving Zhenzhou and yet another set of empties leaving Weihe. Quite what the pair of Swiss gricers present got up to I do not know, but they certainly didn't get in our way as we raced around which was fine by me...
Steam and Safaris were in town a day early but they started and finished nearly two hours after us so they didn't get in our way at all with their big bus. Similarly the two Swiss whom we saw once going the other way as we chased a loaded train. The railway was running a little later than the previous day and we saw 055 come in on fulls and 033 go out on empties before 053 arrived on the passenger. After 033 left Pinglin around 08.30, I have to confess that the warm temperatures made me lose serious interest despite the sunshine. Noteworthy during the rest of the day were 034/055 double heading the morning passenger which was actually a mixed which had a few empties on the back. There was much confusion at Shuangfeng where it had to cross 030 on fulls when the loop was already full with a set of empties (we never did quite work out how they got there or how they left). 034 was dropped at Dongfeng for repairs to its rear coupling rod and 055 continued as normal crossing 054 on fulls at Qingshan. As before we watched the passenger in and out of Chonghe with a leisurely lunch intervening, but did confirm that the road on to Liushan was still impossible for chasing. We went back to Dongfeng to see 030 come out on empties and the passenger return. By now our taxi driver was acting as interpreter, guide and beer fetcher and told us that 034 was almost ready to bring out logs. It staggered up to Shuangfeng where it got a push start from a loco off passing empties whereupon we retired to Weihe. I understand from S&S that 034 was in such a poor state that it needed a push up from Pinglin from the evening passenger's loco but by then it was almost dark. This was Dave's last full day in Weihe and since I know he will be reading this, I would like to place on record that he is a very nice American and it is was a real shame that he trashed his video so I never got to see his special home movies.
March 9th started hazy, turned cloudy and eventually snowed. Perhaps we shouldn't have bothered to go out but we had Nick Lera in tow who was taking a day off from the S&S big bus. The railway seemed to be operating much as before, the only thing we did of note was to visit the very accessible log yard south-east of Chonghe before we bowed to the inevitable with a very full lunch and an early finish. Dave exited as planned and I had a couple more days expected to be on my own before I transferred systems.
March 10th brought a return to colder weather. It was a strange morning. For some reason we found almost the entire steam fleet in Weihe, at one point after the passenger arrived, there was just a single locomotive out and this crossed the outgoing passenger at Xiping. In the event, I had Nick Lera and Alex Jesserer on board and we concentrated on the passenger throughout, although those on the S&S tour who camped out in the Pinglin area saw in addition no less than five sets of empties going out and just one loaded train in the afternoon. Still I got some interesting pictures in the shed area and much to my surprise actually located the 'missing' locomotive 032 which was stored in one of the smaller sheds on site - it too has a six wheel tender. Presumably it needs some major repair(s) which will most likely never be done.
Yahoo weather promised Harbin a mainly sunny day for March 11th, so needless to say it was cloudy and snowing heavily by 08.00. Nevertheless, it was Alex and Nick's last day in Weihe so we set off again in the taxi and saw 055 struggling uphill through the snow between Dongfeng and Shuangfeng, spectacular but almost unrecordable. 033 came out on the passenger and banked the fulls all the way up to the summit instead of the usual 200 metres or so. We also saw a couple of empties before dropping my companions off at Pinglin to rejoin their S&S tour bus en route to Hegang. I had lunch in Zhenzhu opposite the south end of the station at the home of our driver Gao Daqiang; he was not the cheapest taxi I have had here at Y300 a day but he comes highly recommended, he now knows exactly what is needed and speaks a very little English. Get the forestry hotel in Weihe to contact him, home telephone 340 7214, mobile 139 456 81707. Afterwards, the weather finally cleared up and found friends Ameling Algra and Hans Duyfjes on the station as expected. I spent my last (ever?) afternoon here watching the shunting and the passenger come in and go out. It was time to say my goodbyes to this wonderful system.
On March 12th, I chartered my regular taxi to take me to Sanrenban on the Shanhetun system. It was a beautiful, cool morning but the bad news for Ameling and Hans in the back of the taxi was the presence of four cabooses in Weihe yard at 06.15. However, as went south from Zhenzhu we saw a fulls with 053 coming in and we turned back to catch it in perfect light twice. After 033 came in on the passenger train we continued to Chonghe from where I was very definitely 'on my own'. However much as I enjoy congenial company on my trips, staking out the trains at the top end of the Shanhetun system for a week is something which few other gricers would consider let alone actually attempt. It was going to need a lot of patience, but it was never going to strain my budget and, with my lap top to work with, I would have no problem killing the hours (even days) between the trains I wanted to ride and photograph. The low train density would also ensure that I gave full regard to every facet of the railway operation particularly the log yards up the line.
Weihe was, as on my previous trips, in a class of its own photographically with the people on and off the railway as friendly as ever. I was well satisfied with my guided trip to Ganhe with Zhanhe an unfortunate disaster. As you can read elsewhere, I really enjoyed my visits to Shanhetun and overall I thought it an excellent month's gricing. In terms of weather and lighting, it was not as good as January/February but this was well compensated by the longer hours of daylight.