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Steam in China - October 2004

by Stephen Haupert


Men have aspirations. Some want to make a certain amount of money before a particular age. Others wish to become famous and know internationally for our unique ability or service. And some, as we become older, come to have one key aspiration in mind...one thing we'd like to do in order to feel complete. It may be a yearning to climb Rainier, Denali,or Everest. It may be a desire to throw out the first ball in the World Series of that year. For me it has been the deep hunger to spend time with real, bona fide, live and breathing, mainline steam once more before I pass on from this life and into the next.

Truly I am amazed at how this opportunity presented itself. It was indeed an answer to prayer. You see, I had seen the last of steam on local railroads as I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: The Lehigh & New England ran behind our house and in steam for the first 2 years of my life. But the steamers I can recall were on the Reading (I can still see the coal smoke wafting gently past our coach), the Jersey Central (looking down from my aunt's kitchen window upon double-headed, beetle-browed P-7 Pacifics as they headed east with a passenger train) and the Lehigh Valley (a huge, Elesco-equipped 4-8-4 bearing down on my Dad and me, blowing its throaty, steamboat-type whistle as it blasted past us with an eastbound freight). But I was oh so very young. It was not until the advent of the Reading's Iron Horse Rambles that I could really experience steam "up close and personal." Those were good weekends indeed.

As time went on, so grew my longing to spend time again with steam. In 1959 we planned our family camping trip so that we could encounter CNR and CP steam in Sasketchewan and Alberta, seeing a CNR 4-6-0 and CP 0-8-0 work the yard as well as a 4-4-4 on a local passenger. I knew the end was near.
In 1962, at the age of 15, I "trained" with my parents to Mexico City. Oh, the steam we encountered along the way! I still remember the shrill cry of an ex-FEC 4-8-2 as it pulled hard to take its freight manifest northward. Again, I knew steam was nearing its end...only a few more years and it would be gone.
In 1968 our college choir went on tour in Europe. Rather than do the London-tour-thing, I called BR to inquire as to steam's location, and headed north through Crewe to Preston via rail the next morning. There at the platform in Preston I met Stanier Black Five 44816 and received a footplate ride to the nearby enginehouse. I was thrilled! When we visited Norway, I found my way to a huge building of stored steamers. When in East Berlin, I walked out of our hotel, down the street and up onto the double-tracked embankment to witness the passage of many 01 class Pacifics rushing by with 8-car passenger trains. And then I got to Paris. No steam anywhere. But in walking up the stairs into the massive Gare Nord I smelled something familiar--soft coal smoke. I was "home" again. I made it a point to ride as many of the 2-8-2T -pulled commuter trains as I could, both in the daytime and at night. What fun. But, again, I knew that the curtain was coming down on this steam too, Britain only a few months later, France not long after that.

It has been a long "dry period, " these years in between. Yes, I heard about Chinese steam...standard gauged, American-looking, heavy-duty, and with 5-chime whistles to boot; it just seemed to be well out of reach for me. And the months and years kept on flying by. Month after month I heard about the closing of yet another Chinese steam line. Then China Rail itself became steamless. Along the way I began to visit the QJ Country website, and I returned again and again and again. I read with interest of the Ji Tong Railway, its setting, its topography, its engineering, its steam. One man wrote that he had finally made it to China to witness, first hand, the sights and sounds of steam: He said that, next to witnessing the birth of his child, this was his best-yet experience. I identified with those who had gone over, read their stories intently, and told myself to accept the reality that this was just not going to happen for me.

Then one day earlier in the year, a good friend of ours (who is a missionary in south central China) invited my wife, daughter and me to come over and see him. He'd even cover our plane fare! Soon we firmed up plans to see some other dear friends, these living in the north east, not far from Beijing. Hmmmm. My wheels started turning. Could it be that I really would get to China after all?!! And could it be that I might be able to travel north to spend a few days with QJs??? I decided to give this all over to the One who is Greater than all others, letting me know, of course, the desires of my heart in the matter.
From that point on, things moved like clockwork. On September 14 we ordered our tickets, and on Thursday October 21 we departed Harrisburg (PA)...mysteriously know as MDT in airport-ese...at 13:10 on Northwest Flight 5874 for Detroit. Leaving Detroit on NW 11 we arrived at Narita at 1735 and in Beijing via NW 19 at 21:25 having had excellent connections and service all the way through. The plan was for our friends in Tianjin (two hours east of Beijing) to get me a translator for my trek into Inner Mongolia. This, however, did not work out. Briefly I considered cancelling my Ji Tong plans, but my sense of adventure won out, thank God. On Sunday afternoon, my friend Chris rode with me from Tianjin to Beijing on double-decker train # T 552 to the Beijing Main station. Once off the train, we went through the cattle shoot, ChinaRail agents checking our T552 tickets. Then we walked outside this massive edifice to find a ticket seller. At first the ticket agent said that the train (#1457 to Tongliao) was sold out. After telling Chris that I planned to get on it anyway, no matter what (as long as we could find the thing!), he got us some new information. The agent said that the 1457 would be departing from Beijing Bei (North), a depot that Chris had not heard of previously (even though I had mentioned this to him earlier). Knowing time was getting very tight, we walked quickly to the subway and with the help of several people along the way, we got off at the proper stop and eventually found the rather run-down, dirty, small but very quaint Beijing Bei station. (I felt as if I was in India, at least from what I've seen in pictures and videos.) Next we had to find the ticket office. It's a good news/bad new situation: Yes, there are tickets, but no, there is not time to purchase one. So I hopped on the nearest coach as Chris gave me instructions on how to get a hard sleeper berth. Finally, I was on the train that would take me to steam! Ah, the adventure was beginning.

The coaches were the older than I had expected, in that nice shade of dark green with yellow stripes. Each one was heated by a coal stove, and all the windows could be opened. I stood in line for a long time on the coach, trying to make my way back to the little sleeping car ticket booth at the rear of the last coach before the sleepers. It was hot. When people began to work their way past me in order to get to the head of the line, I remembered something from the QJ Country website about Chinese 'manners', and I made myself bigger by sticking out my elbows so that we would all get a chance at sleeper space. It was fun being a little bit rude just to fit into a culture!
Finally, a lower berth in a hard sleeper. Not bad. And the cost was only 127 Y (yuan)...less than $20 US for a 13-hour trip in a sleeper. By about 9:00 on Monday the 25th we were in Tonglaio, China's Winnipeg, in my opinion. It was a small city where the wind literally whipped through the streets. It was flat and relatively uninteresting. And it was very, very cold. At least the air was clean and clear, a welcome change from all the pollution in Tiajin and Beijing.

I hung out in the heated lounge, a bargain for 5 Y, about 60 cents US. Two very nice women, one young and the other older and both in uniforms, offered me hot water for tea. It was good to sit a bit and collect my thoughts. After a big paper bowl of those wonderful, flavored noodles you can buy at most stations, I did get into a rather interesting situation when I went next door to find the men's room. Not noticing any Chinese characters on the walls outside the doorways, I saw an entrance that looked like it would lead to the women's room: It just had that "feel." So, naturally I went with relative confidence into the other opening. Well, I ended up right in the center of a huge concrete ladies room, one with a large middle courtyard surrounded on the periphery by many very short-walled booths. Ever wish you could make yourself invisible? This was one of those times! Anyway, I muttered "sorry" and hastily made it out of there. (Sheer logic does not always get you where you want to go...at least in China!)

About 12:00 the older lady let me out onto the platform to join others getting onto Ji Tong Railways train #6053 (only 28 Y for the eight-hour trip to Daban). We had eight red, white, and blue cars, headed by a typical six-wheel trucked, doulble-ended, green with yellow-stripes, diesel. I settled into the second coach, a YZ25B class with the number 030076. The first coach was reserved for the car attendants. We left pretty much on time, and the ride was smooth and pleasant. Ji Tong looks a lot like China Rail but is newer and more modern. Along the way I began to "converse" with the fellow across the way. Using motions and sounds, I found out that he is a fireman and is usually assign to the crew of QJ 7009 out of Daban! I could sense his sadness as we communicated with each other about our fondness for steam. About four hours after leaving 'China-peg,' we arrived at Chabuga, the station where we would have our diesel replaced with steam (I hoped). There was nothing steam-related that I could see as we came into the depot...no locos, no cranes, no coal, nothing. But when I got off the coach and looked down the track to the west, there she was, QJ 6911, steaming away and waiting for the d-man to move out from our train. I got some nice pictures of her as she coupled up to our train and sat there simmering as the sun set behind her. (Although the train's policeman had tried to, rather aggressively, get me to ride the cab from Chabuga to Lingdong for a rather pricey 400Y, ultimately I was glad that it didn't work out with the crew. There was something far better yet to come.)

What a moment in time! I had to pinch myself to realize that I really was where I was. Where else in the world can you have a steamer replace the diesel on the regularly-scheduled passenger train you're riding? Well, soon we headed off and began a fairly-steep ascent into the mountains. Lots of good, loud chugging. I was entranced to see steam drifting gently past our coach window. I felt a warm excitement inside: It wasn't that I was going back in time. No, it was that I was living in the present in a place where I could readily "touch" old memories. I was coming home to myself.
The darker it got, the more we gained in elevation. And the more we gained in elevation the colder it became. My fireman friend and I got a routine going. He'd lift the window just enough for me to stick my video camera out. I'd record her as long as I could stand the cold, and then I'd motion him to open the window enough to get us (camera and hand) back inside. We stopped at Gululmanhan for a while to allow the westbound diesel passenger train to pass. After it went by, an eastbound QJ-hauled freight train took off from the small yard there, stormed under the signal bridge and off into the night. We reached Daban pretty much on schedule. My fireman friend walked up with me to see the changing of the engines, and then we walked me to the Railway Hotel. A sincere man with a kind heart, I hope I see him again someday. Remembering some advice given in QJ Country, I certainly did not want to pay 200Y for a room there. When the man quoted me 200, I asked if the room had hot water. That's when he lowered it to 150. Ah, the sweet taste of victory--even small ones! I stayed in 107, and I had a good view of the line about 100 yards to the north. Although I didn't have time to get my camera ready, our passenger train made a beautiful sight as it puffed (white billows illuminated by the moon behind me) and chuffed and clickety-clacked west with its eight cars. For almost two hours afterward, several sets of double headers were assembled just east of the depot and, in turn, backed past my window and down into the yard. Most amazing was the almost-constant "talking" of the locomotive crews back and forth to each other by air horn as the double-headers were assembled and prepared to move out. Fascinating. Once coupled up and backing down toward the yard, they'd stop over the dry-creek bridge to blow down their boilers.

Tuesday turned out to be another cloudless, cool, and breezy day, less windy than the day before. What to do. What to do. First on my list was to get to the Daban depot. The ladies in the hotel were happy to watch my one backpack while I headed off the the depot. Wanting to get as much variety as possible in the day and a half I had left, and to do it as inexpensively as possible, I walked wherever I could. The walk to the depot was short, and the people gathering along the street to sell their wares made it all the more interesting. I walked into the depot with no problem. I even got a few shots through the trees into the scrap line, noting that nothing currently was being scrapped there. Then I focused on the coaling tracks. Later, a railway fellow took me down to the scrap tracks to try to sell me some loco parts. Inside the cab of an-inservice loco, he offered me a whistle at a cost of $300 US. I politely but firmly turned him down. I remembered some other good QJ Country advice: If in doubt, smile...a smile can go a long way. Soon I found that I'd had my fill, but not until after I found a worker who would take a picture of me standing in front of three QJs at the servicing area. I asked myself if I want to go through the whole place, for about 200 Y or so. No. Something propelled me to head back into town. I walked along the line back to the depot. The white-painted stones along the sides of the ballast were a nice touch (Didn't the Lackawanna used to do that?). I walked throught the large depot waiting area and out into the courtyard in front. Once back on the street I looked up to see black smoke drifting over the station. The de-deflectored shifter was at work. I began to think and pray about what should be my next destination: Jingpeng or Reshui? I just couldn't pay the prices the minibus or taxi drivers wanted. Would there be a passenger train soon. A railwayman communicated that there would be one at 12 Noon, but I knew that none was scheduled at that time. So I took a photograph of a westbound leaving with diesel/steam power and then spent time with QJ 6583 as she prepared to head out to the east. The shunter seemed to move about the yard only when I was not within good picture-taking range. (But I did enjoy seeing her black smoke waft southward over the station as I walked through the town.) No problem...there were a lot of other fish in this sea!

Twelve noon came and went. Soon, a double header backed into the yard and next to another set of QJs preparing to go west to the shed for servicing. Once the former coupled up to their train, I went over to the cab of the lead loco (#6735) and asked "Jing Peng?" One of the enginemen motioned me to come aboard, and I did so very happily and almost in shock that this all was really happening. The four-man crew was kind and accomodating. They put my extra backpack into a cabinent built into the right-hand side of the tender, under the shadow of the cab roof and facing out onto the coal pile access. They folded down my seat, behind the fireman, and they opened my window. Great. I could stick my camera out for running shots! Soon we were off, passing the depot and heading up into the rolling plains surrounded by hills on both sides. We had a sizable train and the locos worked hard much of the time. As time went on it seemed as if the valve timing in 6735 was changing. Once we hit the steep grades below Galadesatai I could mostly hear only one of the four "beats". It sounded like chug chug CHUG chug, chug chug CHUG chug, et cetera. At one point they locos got down on their proverbial knees. I wondered if we were going to stall, but we did not. Another interesting thing happened. West of Linxi, the fireman's pedal-activated whistle (5-chime, steam powered) became stuck in the on position. (The engineer mans the air horn, the fireman the whistle.) The valve would not close. So, the fireman bravely walked out onto the walkway of the moving locomotive and turned off the valve. When he came back in he started holding his ears, as if it was painful to hear anything at that point. I quickly got 2 pieces of chewing gum and "made" him some earplugs. He politely declined this gift, but I believe that he recognized the thought behind it. (I tried to do whatever I could to not be a bother to them but also show that I was one of them--formerly I have worked as a switchman and later a brakeman on several US roads. I had also been a track worker before that, and I was able to communicate this to the men.) The three men took turns shoveling the coal into the firebox. One would work almost to exhaustion, and then another would take over. I could tell that they were a team, and that they liked and respected each other. About 3 hours into our trip, one fireman offered me some of his bread and some spicy hot peppers in oil Another gave me a drink of his water. I accepted everything with gratitude.

Soon we were going over the tall viaduct over the new road into Reshui. Our engines were still pounding away. We passed an eastbound, waiting diesel-hauled train at SanDi and kept heading on up. Now I did not remember Florian ever saying anything about the tunnels on the line, at least from a footplater's point of view, and it's just as well that I didn't. Because I probably would have not been as "present" to everything else I was experiencing. Little did I know it at the time but I was in for an adventure within my adventure! When we blasted into the first tunnel above Reshui, I was not prepared, and I had to breathe through my shirt to get enough good air. When I saw the second one coming up I got ready by pre-oxygenating myself (taking several deep breaths) just before we entered. No problem. Then we continued up the mountain. I was captivated by the moment, the steam, the lowering sun, the coordinated team effort of the crew, the beautiful scenery in hues of browns and blues. Near the top of the grade I saw a van and a group of about 12 railfans, perched on a hill to our right. They were the only Caucasians I was to see in Inner Mongolia! Shortly after I spotted them I pulled my video camera back into the cab: I didn't think they'd want a video of some fellow foreigner videoing them! Then we blasted into yet another tunnel, #5 , just before Shangdian. I was not ready. I'd assumed that we were done with tunnels. As we entered, I was talking with one of the fireman and videoing the open firebox door...but as the cab continued to fill with smoke, he suddenly took a quick dive to the floor. What was going on? Soon, I figured it out--this was going to be a long one. On and on we blasted. Smokier and smokier became the cab. "Inside" I was screaming and praying, O Lord, give us air! Finally, just when I thought I could take it no more, we came out of the tunnel. From then on I felt an even-closer bond with these men. We had been through the "fire" together. Of course I realize that this is pretty routine for them--except maybe for the diving-to-the-floor bit.

Soon we were headed downgrade. Our speed picked up accordingly. Once around the beautiful curved viaduct we headed into a siding for a meet. I was nearing the end of an incredible experience. Now it was time to do some business. The lead fireman showed me a figure of 800Y on a piece of paper. I thought it to be a bit high but chose to say nothing, given how good the crew had been to me and how hard they had worked on this trip. But as I slowly pulled out my money, he told me to stop at 600! Great. Then they offered me a QJ air horn for 100Y. A piece of a QJ for $12 US? Sold! We then got off the engine to wait for the meet. Soon a double header came into view, blew its beautiful whistle, and roared past us, heading up the grade to the east. It was the perfect end of a perfect day...my day of steam...Tuesday October 26, 2004.

Not long afterward we headed out and soon stopped at Jing Peng station, the men letting me off there. Then they moved a little farther to the water plugs. By now the dusk had been replaced by darkness. Jing Peng at night...a quiet place of simmering steam engines punctuated by occasional horn beeps and steam "pops." Several QJ double headers in a row took off for the east. (One of the QJ's had lights right above each driver's axle so as to shine through the "spokes" of each wheel. A nice touch by a creative crew!) I will long recall the fight the crews of the second freight train had on their hands. The engines left Jing Peng steaming well. But the further they got up into the grade, the slower they crawled. At one point they sounded like only one engine, and there was almost a full second between chugs! (In my journal I wrote that it sounded like guns shots going off repeatedly.) Somehow they managed to hold the rail, and by the time I could see their running lights as they headed over to loop and around to the curved viaduct, they were moving at a slightly faster pace. Amazing. Truly amazing. It was a sound that will never leave me.
Taking Hans Schaefer's advice, I had chosen the ludian just east of the station and up about 14 steps from the platform. Yes, I got a bed for 10 Y. There were four other beds in the room. The ceiling was covered in diet Coke carton paper. (Funny, I never saw any diet Coke in China.) The cordial yet business-like lady spoke no English, but I was able to find my hot water and clean up a bit and make plans for the next step of my journey. Two Chinese men came in a bit later, but they only slept for a few hours--probably they were crew members due to head out during the night. How should I travel to Reshui...and when should I go? I knew that I needed to leave Reshui early in the afternoon of the very next day in order to get down to Chifeng. There I could catch an overnight train for Beijing. Okay...who needs to sleep at a time like this! So I decided to take the eastbound steam train--number 6051--scheduled to leave Jing Peng about at 02:24. In the meanwhile I enjoyed beautiful "QJ music" as one double-header after another tromped past the little hotel. Wonderful. Our eastbound came right on time, and I noticed that our QJ had a halogen bulb in the headlight--kind of strange to see its bright, bluish glow lighting up the way ahead.
Once on the train, I was happy to see that I had the same friendly conductor as on my westbound train. He sold me a ticket to Galadesatai (the station for Reshui) for 5 Y. And he allowed me to sit in the first coach behind the locomotive. On the way up to the pass we had some more beautiful thrashing, and of course I just had to hold my camera close to the partially-open window. The only other people in the coach were a big man fast asleep and our female coach attendant. Occasionally as she was sweeping or mopping she would sing. Wow. I have not heard someone sing quite like that before. She had the voice of an angel. Although she did not want me to video her, I did take a shot of the seat across from me as she was singing. At the top of the pass we passed the double header I had listened to before. It was not long before we got to Galadesatai. After the train drifted off, downgrade, I v-taped a diesel/steam freight heading west from the station. Soon afterward the stationmaster called me in out of the cold night, and I sat with him in the control room for the next 4 to 5 hours. A very nice gentleman with a winning smile, he gave me the times of the trains about to come through. It was a neat office/control room, clean, pleasant and painted in a rather pleasing light blue-green hue. Many times our silence was broken by the ringing of phones or the squawking of voices over the radio. His job was to control the passing track and "his" portion of the main line in front of the station. Whenever he knew a train was about due, he would get up and write its number on the chalkboard station track diagram hanging up on the wall to his right. He would also turn the appropriate controls to prepare the way for whatever was coming through. A westbound double header blasted through, and later a shorter freight headed by one QJ steamed on by, also headed upgrade. At 0800 the station operator was relieved by an equally-pleasant woman, and later his son as well as his wife came into the control room while he lingered there. It appears that they live on the premises and that she is one of the cleaners at the station complex.
By now the sun was well above the clear and cloudless horizon, and I ventured just east of the station and south a bit, walking just below the rail embankment to video a meet of a westound double header, now waiting in the passing track, and an eastbound freight headed by a single QJ. Unfortunately the cold wind had started to pick up, and my video camera began to shut down whenever I started recording. (It was almost like a candle being blown out by a breeze.) Interestingly, a crew man from the lead loco of the stopped train was yelling to me to come up the bank and onto the loco. I resisted, taking note of his rather aggressive tone. Further, I had had a wonderful time with "my" crew...and I was not interested in buying any more loco parts. He did not take 'no', in whatever language, for an answer and actually got down from the loco, came down the embankment and walked over to me. When he touched my shoulder to further intensify his plea, I made it very clear to him that I was unwilling to continue any 'conversation' with him. (I turned away abruptly.) He soon gave up on me and went back up to his loco. Wow. This was the most aggressive person I met in my 17 days in China! The locos did put on a nice display as they each whistled once and shook the ground a bit as they moved out past the semaphores, around the curve to the left, across the high bridge and into the lower loop. Their smoke lingered above the mountain between us for a long time after their passing. I left the station about 0900 and walked into the wind for the next 30 minutes or so. I must have been quite a sight, wearing all the clothing I had brought with me, bearing one backpack on my chest and the other on my back. I didn't know how cold it had gotten but was surprised to notice the ice that had formed along the edges of a stream I crossed. Still, I had not yet resorted to using my wool cap or my gloves. Steam was on my mind...not the cold weather.

Yes, finally I was in the town of Reshui. I counted at least nine new hotels in the process of being built. The wind continued to intensify until by now it was an intense, constant wind coming in from the west. What to do, what to do. (It's an American expression, I believe.) Anyway, I found a spot at the corner of an new outbuilding of an as-yet-unoccupied hotel on the new road down by the creek (and closest to the Reshui loops to my south). I found that if I positioned myself just in the right spot, I could avoid the wind from the west and the wind from the north as it whipped around the small building. As a result, I had no more videocamera shutdowns. A down train lead by a diesel/steam combo was the first I saw from my in-town location (although earlier I had tried to record an eastbound steam double-header while I was standing just west of and below the high rail bridge over the new road and creek). Later a diesel/steam freight headed west over the bridge and up the grade in front of me. Unfortunately the diesel was doing most of the work. I longed to see a double header going up the loops, but nothing came into view. It was lull-time. Tiring of the wind, of standing there on the corner, and of the sight of those offensive little three-wheeled trucks (now I am sounding like Mr. Bean!), I headed up into town. First I went to the recommended Post and Telecom Hotel to see if I could get a room for two hours, both to clean up a bit and to watch the loops from the tranquility and comfort of a south side window. The nice woman there quoted me a price of 180 Yuan, which I decided was just too much to pay for such a short time. When I did return to her and asked her for a good restaurant, she walked me across the street and west a few buildings to a small, family-run restaurant. I was there that I ordered a bowl of noodles by my sight-and-sound language: making an "image" of a big bowl by cupping my hands around an imaginary one, and then making a slurping noise as I raise my right hand from the "bowl" toward my mouth. Oh, well. It worked, anyway. It was good to sit, good to drink water and eat something hot, and it was good to be out of the wind. By now it was past 1200, and I knew that the minibuses to Linxi and/or Chifeng would stop running by 1400 or 1430. Remembering that the Jitong Railway Hotel was also highly recommended, I found my way there through the kindness of a man at the main corner in town. The girls there (they could have been all of 18 or 19 years old) were dressed in smart-looking dark red uniforms, and they told me that a room for even my requested 2 hours would cost me 250 Yuan. Thank you, but no thank you. I did recall that one could get train schedules from ladies at the Jitong Hotel, so I did inquire about this. They directed me to another building, the one across the courtyard. Inside, it looked more like a fancy bank than a hotel, but the ladies did give me the schedule and let me stash a backpack there before I returned to my corner. Okay, there was to be an eastbound coming through at 1400 along with westbounds at 1255 and 1440. Wow, the 1440 time would 'stretch' me a bit, so I hoped I'd catch an upbound steam double-header at 1255. The first movement through was an unscheduled, light, westbound QJ. She sounded her mournful, and in-tune, 5-chime whistle as she approached a crossing over the creek from me. Looking clean and shiny, I guessed that she'd been overhauled and perhaps she was being tested and/or transferred to Baiqi. Well, 1255 approached, and I was excited to see some black smoke blowing over from the curve above Galadesatai. Unfortunately a diesel was at the front and was doing most of the work. Now my dilemma was clear: Do I leave now and catch a minibus (My goal was to get to Chifeng at some point that evening so that I could get an overnighter to Beijing.)? Or do I stay until the 1440 comes through? Silly question...easy answer. I was on an adventure...I would be here but once in my life...and I was here to see steam! The down train did not come through at the appointed time. About 1500, double-headed QJs came in from the east. Thank God! I got a good shot of them going across the high bridge, around the curve, and up the first leg of the loop. Even though they were pulling only a short freight with caboose, the locos were moving along at a good pace and made for interesting watching and listening. Then, nothing. They did not come back across on the second level. Saddened by this and knowing that I needed to get my other bag and begin to head east while it was still daylight, I went back to the hotel. Retrieving my bag with a smile and a thank you, I started back toward the main road. Out of the corner of my eye, however, I caught sight of a steam double-header on the top (third) level and heading eastbound! In haste I returned to the corner-post, and I was able to video the eastbound coming across on the second level and, after that, the westbound heading upward across the second level even as the eastbound crossed directly below it on the first. It was wild trying to figure out which to aim for, the upward train entering the first tunnel or the downward approached the high bridge! I solved this little problem by moving back and forth between the two.

Ah, well. Now I knew I was done. Mission Accomplished. Now it was time to put the camera away and to bid a fond farewell to the Jitong line, and to live, mainline steam. I thanked God for the great privilege of allowing me to have taken all of this in. (Probably I was still in some state of shock, through it all!) Continuing to seek to meet the challenge of traveling as economically as possible, I chose not to pursue a public form of conveyance to Chifeng. So, I walked east down the dusty main street (I came to call it ACHOO-ie, not Reshui) toward the Jitong crossing, passing a number of minivans and taxis along the way. Hoping to find someone at the petrol station there going at least to Linxi, I waited for about ten minutes or so. Then I spotted one of my "favorite" vehicles coming down the street and about to cross over the tracks. It was one of those small, blue, one-cylinder-powered, three-wheeled trucks! Going over to the passenger side of the vehicle as he slowed down for the crossing, I asked him if he was going to Linxi. He motioned me to get in, and off we went to the east. As we bumped along, we tried to converse. He wanted to know why I was in the area, and I made sounds and motions of the QJs. He registered frustration that people would travel so far for something such as this. As we travelled along, it registered that he probably was a Party member (had on an olive-drab uniform) and that I'd better be careful about what I said and how I said it. So I humored him by showing him pictures of my family from my digital camera's screen and I sang songs like "Home on the Range." When I showed him a little money and motioned to him that it was for gas, he seemed to settle down and became more congenial. We finally made it to Linxi, and he dropped me off in the center of town, in front of a nice hotel. He seemed happy with the 20 Yuan I gave him for gas. Now, as dusk approached, I headed east to the main north-south road, and then headed south toward a hoped-for petrol station which would service Chifeng-bound travelers. Everywhere, it seemed, there were people riding bicycles and walking. It was a long walk through this smoky city (The smoke from the nearby lead smelter was wafting through the downtown area.) and at one point I accepted a ride in a small, bicycle-like vehicle with an enclosed cabin holding driver in the front and two people in the back. Equipped with pedals, it seems to be propelled by a small gasoline engine. So, for 5 Yuan I made it to the petrol station on the south edge of the city, just north of the Jitong overpass. Ironically, just as I arrived, the same diesel/steam freight I'd seen as my first train from my corner in Reshui, headed east over the bridge. It felt more like an epilogue than a curtain call, and it seemed to tie things together nicely...one more Jitong surprise and blessing
I waited a good while at the petrol station. No one seemed to be going to Chifeng...or perhaps they did not want to take along with them a dirty, wind-blown, smiling foreigner. Remembering that Florian or another brother on his web site had remarked that there are always lots of trucks heading south to Chifeng from Linxi, I decided to target a truck. Soon enough I caught the attention of a driver, and he pulled over and allowed me to come on board. I will not bore you all the details of this trip. He did cause me some concern when, after the first 1/2 hour stop, he headed back into Linxi instead of farther toward Chifeng. When I began to realize that I was more in a cargo situation than a passenger one, I settled back and let the trip unfold. A rather aggressive driver once he got going, I believe I grew a few new chest hairs as we passed some slower vehicles under some rather interesting road conditions. About 4 hours later (2200) we arrived on the outskirts of Chifeng. He stopped the truck next to a taxi, and helped motion me to it. I thanked him for the ride, and he wanted no money for it. The bespeckled taxi driver drove me the 8 or so miles to the depot, and he charged me 9 Yuan, taking only 1 Yuan, not 2, for a tip. Ah, finally I was on "solid ground." The ChinaRail station has a huge waiting area, and the first thing I did was to step over some sleeping (homeless?) men to call my wife and daughter and let them know I was safe, sound, and still sane. Just missing the about-to-depart train (my sad-puppy eyes almost worked on the women at the gate), I had to wait another four hours to catch the 2190. Sitting up in hard-class coach, I was surprisingly comfortable. The men sharing my space were quiet and congenial. Once the sun arose and we got some food in us, we began to converse, I now resorting more to my pocket-Chinese translation book. Cost for this almost-ten hour trip was only 34 Yuan. Once in Beijing, I traveled by trolley bus and subway over to the main terminal, and I caught the next train (T543) for Tianjin. This leg of the trip cost me 30 Yuan, perhaps because it was on some of the newer, double-decker equipment. My family was almost as glad to see me as I was to see the inside of a shower complete with warm, running water!

The next day we took the 25-hour train southwest from Beijing to Chongquing to connect with another missionary-friend. About 2/3rds of the way into the trip, I saw a live steamer (2-8-2) alongside the track, down on a private rail line. On the return trip, I was amazed to see three live steamers, all 2-8-2's, at a loco depot just 1/2 hour east of Chongqing. Also present at the depot were a steam-powered crane, a mothballed (preserved?) QJ is rough paint, several other rusty 2-8-2s, and an older blue diesel. About an hour out of Chongqing we passed a huge limestone-processing plant. A rail line ran from it down to a coal mine, and, yes, there was a 2-8-2 sitting midway on the line, tender loaded with coal (I could not tell if it was steamed up or not). Then, almost five hours out CQ we came to a town called Caiojaiba. Just east of the town is a steel-making plant, and it was there that I observed my last steam in China. A 2-8-2 was about to push or pull three flat or gondola cars attached to its pilot. I don't know if any or all of these lines have been explored or not, but if not, they should be. It's good to know that it will be a while until steam is fully gone. Long live Steam!!!

Stephen Haupert

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