Railway Preservation News

A Wolsztyn Experience Update
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Author:  Tom Parkins [ Sat Aug 06, 2011 10:18 pm ]
Post subject:  A Wolsztyn Experience Update

I recently returned from my third trip to Wolsztyn, Poland. Things are very doing very well but as with all preservation, there are challenges. I will save my report of the experience of running mainline steam for the railfan forums. Let me highlight a few items of preservation interest.

The normal operation has been on the Wolsztyn - Posnan line (50 miles) with 2 roundtrips a day. That line is out of service for a major rebuild. Currently trains run to Lesno (60 miles RT ) then north to Zebasznyak 35 miles RT This is includes running 5 miles on the Berlin-Warsaw Mainline. This is a total of about 150+ miles a day. (The afternoon run does not go North)

Pm36-2 a Pacific, aka Beautiful Helena, was in operation when we arrived. It should be noted that it ran 21 consecutive days. The first 19 days were on the normal daily runs. These runs include over a dozen stops each direction, and speeds exceeding 60 mph. It then ran a 300+ mile roundtrip for the Blues Express. There is no American Railfan experience like this, complete with bar and party car. All of this was done by American student engineers and firemen. The engine performed nearly flawlessly. I am not aware of any steam engines anywhere in the world that perform this rigorously.

A fascinating part of the day is the mid day turning and servicing of the engine in Wolsztyn. After switching cars at the station, the engine returns to the shed, is turned, watered, coaled, and serviced in less than 30 minutes time. Should it arrive late or need more than normal service, a "pit crew" appears to assist the engine crew. I watched in amazement as they changed engine brake shoes in less than 20 minutes. Teamwork was key.

As part of the Experience we traveled to the museum at Jaworzyna Śląska near the Czech border. This museum has a collection of over 50 locomotives including an S-160. They also have a very impressive Harley Davidson Collection, and two 70's vintage Buicks???? Like most American museums they have more than they can handle. While there are many extremely nicely preserved locomotives there is also the back lot full of rusting hulks. Same story in Poland: time, money, and talent. While at the museum we conducted a shunting school using a tank 2-8-2. On the museums private tracks we were able to practice starting and stopping the locomotive on our own to include spotting the engine and a wagon on the turn table. The PKP has not currently been receptive to doing this on the tracks around Wolsztyn. This was a unique experience much different from running the daily passenger train.
The back lot. Looks familiar.

The S160 #2438.

Howard Jones, the British steam enthusiast who founded the Wolsztyn Experience is still very much involved. He has lived in Wolsztyn now for 15 years and personally escorts new comers on their first run. He is an incredibly likable guy who is never short of a good story, and who always is a depth of knowledge about steam.

There were scores of people trackside to photograph the steam trains. People still travel from all over the world to watch and photograph. The Blues Express brought out hundreds perhaps thousands en route to the concert site to see the train. This was not near the normal steam line. Station platforms were frequently jammed and yes it was a little scary to see from the cab the crowds pushing a little closer to the tracks and guys running across the tracks for a last second shot. It is good to see the Polish people still enthusiastic about steam trains. A note of interest: The steam Blues Express departed after the concert at 3:45 AM( the scheduled time). We pulled about 40 miles tender first at speeds around 60 mph. The train went in to emergency twice as somewhat intoxicated Polish young men pulled the emergency brake as the train approached near their house. Interesting experience for this novice engineer.

The Wolsztyn Experience has been recently reorganized and the locomotives are no longer under the PKP. The trains and rails are PKP pulled by Wolsztyn steam engines. Steam engines are currently undergoing major overhauls on rotating basis. The variety of engines has lessened as older more obscure engines run out there time. Wolsztyn Experience is relying mostly on OL49s which is a Polish designed 2-6-2 multi-purpose locomotive built in the early 1950s. They are the GP7 of steam engines.

Wedding pictures are popular at the shed. In front of an OL49.

To me it is almost unbelievable that one man, Howard Jones, has basically built this entire program himself. Howard openly states that he sees his purpose in life......"to make other people happy." The world needs more Howard Jones.

Howard Jones in the white hair with Carl Franz

Author:  J3a-614 [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

Glad you got to make the trip, and am glad things are doing as well as they are in Wolsztyn.

Your comments and observations about the people who still come to see a daily, working steam road are most encouraging to those of us who envision regularly working mainline steam in America. It is presumable that with those people comes money, an economic stimulus to Wolsztyn. This confirms, at least in this environment, the thinking behind a proposal by Richard Glueck in a recent thread on the end of the Canadian National's steam program in the 1970s, in which he proposed the regular operation of a steam freight train as an attraction.

Several items stand out as potential concerns. One, apparently money is still a consideration, as the road reduces its locomotive roster, at least in variety, and as a museum nearby also struggles to preserve as much as possible. (At this stage, that may still be a good idea; who knows what can be revived later, provided it's still around to be revived.) Two, we again have an example of an effort, like those of Nelson Blount, Paulson Spence, Jerry Jacobson, and Ross Rowland, that is perhaps overdependent on the vision, the effort, and the sales ability of one person. What happens if something happens (and it eventually does) to that one person?

Worst of all, efforts like this also depend on a second person--someone in some key position, somewhere on the railroad, who will have the power to say yes or no. All too often, the answer will be no, even if the person doing the selling has a record of accomplishment, even if the organization with a steam locomotive and cars for it to pull has a stellar safety and operational record going back years and even decades. Of all the things that involve luck in this field, this may be the most critical one. Everybody else around that person can understand and be favorable to the project, but if that person won't budge and if any management above will not overrule them, you are just plain out of luck, and all your efforts and money and time were wasted, pure and simple. Having gone through this personally more than once and failing each time, and observing the failures of others, I have to say I am not optimistic for this to be repeated in America, even if we have a business model that could make sense.

"The world needs more Howard Jones'," oh, indeed it does. It also needs more Ross Rowlands, Jerry Jacobsons, Paulson Spences, and Nelson Blounts and all the others I am unable to name because I don't know their names. But most of all, we need more people like the departed Claytor brothers or the late George Liechlich of the Western Maryland--indeed, more people like the whole staff and management of the WM in that time. Sadly, that resource seems to be in the shortest supply.

Author:  Tom Parkins [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

Howard Jones is not completely alone in this. His brother Trevor has also played a key role. Part of the reorganization of Wolsztyn Experience is to add some degree of permanence to the program. The government has seen the value in the steam program. It really does draw considerable tourism to the region. Many restaurants in Wolsztyn now have menus with basic German and English underneath the Polish. ( The food is terrific and extremely affordable....most meals $10).

The biggest challenge is just like American preservation. Getting the word out and finding new patrons. Howard does not use internet very much. Although a trip to Wolsztyn is like a trip back to 1956 small town America (14,000 people....14 butcher shops and no 24 hour Quickie Marts) internet and cell phone is readily available. Howard Jones does not use internet very much. Partly because he wants to spend his time with his patrons and not be tied to a computer. The Wolsztyn Experience does now have a web site.


But I am still amazed at the number of Americans railfans who are unaware of this experience and those who could afford it but shy away. A standard week cost about $1500 including lodging. Language and "travel angst" may be a deterrent. Of course there are those who will say...."but it's Polish steam". I quickly learned that steam is a universal language.

I would love to see some exchange programs established bringing Polish steam men to the USA and sending our guys there to see intense daily operations. Strasburg guys are you listening? Wolsztyn and surroundings has an incredible resemblance to Lancaster County. You even find horse drawn wagons on the road, though religion has nothing to do with the use of horse power.


Author:  Steve Singer [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

I seem to remember Polish steam workers coming to Scranton one year to work at Steamtown- or is my memory getting foggy?

Author:  J3a-614 [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

Steve Singer is right, some Polish men did come to Scranton, partially to work on American steam and partially for instruction for people at Steamtown. I don't know much more about it, though, or why they would eventually return or why the program was not continued (of even if it was planned as a once-off project).

I'd been aware of this place but was unaware it was as affordable as it is--and under current circumstances, has now become unaffordable for me. Still, a look at the website was an eye-opener--not only steam trains, but complete steam infrastructure, including a station with a classic steel and glass canopy in some major town! It was also surprising to see so much in the way of grass and weeds along the tracks; no doubt this is a secondary part of the system, which helps explain how steam stayed here so long.

There are narrow-gauge connecting lines, too! Shades of Monarch and Mount Union!

How I wish we had a place like that here.

I got a smile from the "girls and trains" photo gallery. Do we need to use sex more here to sell tickets? Just about everybody else does, like cars, perfumes, etc. . .

Back to Polish-American relations: I recall that Ron Ziel of New Jersey had a book entitled "Twilight of World Steam," an international sequel to his "Twilight of Steam," which focused on North America. He was among the people who got to go behind the Iron Curtain to photograph steam, despite all the restrictions that were in effect then. Among the places he visited was an unnamed enginehouse in Poland, where he ran into a roundhouse foreman who either was from America and of Polish descent or had been a Polish national but spent a very long time here, speaking excellent English with a New York accent! (I'm working from memory here.)

The enginehouse Ziel visited happened to have a lot of American-built steam power from all the major builders; most likely these would have been former GI 2-8-0s (ex-US Army S-160s), but could also have included some postwar export engines, among them a batch of 2-10-0s built by Lima that were heavy, modern, and stoker-fired. Ziel's Polish host supposedly exclaimed he could not understand why steam was replaced so quickly in America. His American engines were "built to last a hundred years," as Ziel recalled the conversation.

I live in the wrong time, and the wrong place, too. . .

Author:  akulak2708 [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

If you are a railfan and haven't done or even considerd the Experience, something's wrong with you. Affordable, safe, close to German narrow and standard gauge operations, and you at the throttle at 50 MPH!!! I have done it twice and look forward to a return in the future!!!



Author:  BILL [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

During two visits to Wolsztyn (June 2010 and 2011) one of the things that amaze me is the amount of steam infrastructure that still remains, even in areas other than where the W/E encompasses. Then again I guess it's easy to forget that only 20 odd years ago steam was still abundant throughout Poland.

Another interesting "Wolsztyn Experience" point is that of the 8 maszynistów (Engineer & Firemen) working there now, none have ever soiled their hands operating a diesel or electric even though they would earn higher wages doing so. Their opinion of a diesel is not something that I can post on this forum without being banned!!!

Having done the "Experience" twice I would have to say that while operating steam in regular service at 60 mph is awesome, for lack of a better word, it is the crews that make the Wolsztyn Experience" what it is and help comprise the total package. For the money you spend these gentlemen permit you (with a handshake and "dzien dobry") to enter their world, if only for an all-too-brief period of time.

No where else in the world could my 17 year old Son have run steam mile after mile at over 50 mph. It truly is an experience like no other and has left an indelible mark on both my Son and myself.

Dziękuję bardzo.

Author:  Jim Herron [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

Here's a 5 minute video clip from my visit there last year.
It's a brief synopsis of a typical run.



Author:  BILL [ Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Wolsztyn Experience Update

Nicely done, Jim. If that's not enough to make someone go (or go back) to Poland I don't know what is.

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