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Edition #241  March 1, 2015

Family Vs Trains: Travel Edition

Photographer: Janusz Mrozek

                                                                                   Photo by Janusz Mrozek

Family Vs Trains: Travel Edition

I've always wanted to go see the trains at Wolsztyn, in Poland, where they still run scheduled passenger service with steam.  I'm a train fan, I like steam, but more than that I am the son of immigrants and feel a strong tie to the "mother country," I am rather fluent in the language, it's a perfect fit!  So, why not go? Anytime!

Well ... a substantial barrier has always loomed.  My parents left Poland under duress during World War II and much of my extended family still lives there.  We visited frequently during my childhood and I have many pleasant memories of train travel from coast to mountains. My mother tells me that at the end of a trip my hair would be caked with dirt from having stuck my head out the window the entire way!  I basically learned to love trains during my summers there.  So I have a lot of connection to Poland.

But ... today I don't get to Poland nearly often enough, having not gone between 1979 and 1998 and not again until recently.  So I don't get to Poland often.  That means that, when I go, I have to see family.  HAVE TO!  (And want to, of course!)  BUT I HAVE TO!

And ... none of that family lives anywhere near Wolsztyn.  Not even close.  For many years it was maybe 5 hours drive from Warsaw, the usual central place for our visits.  Thus, it is a serious sacrifice in time to get over there, especially when I am in the country for only a short time and visiting family I haven't seen in decades!  Basically, one loses two days of precious family time.  What to do, what to do?

Last year I started thinking about heading back over.  An acquaintance fortuitously mentioned to me that, between general EU funding and spending specific to Poland (and Ukraine) hosting the Euro 2012 Football (soccer) Championship, a new expressway had been built from Germany to Warsaw, passing not far north of Wolsztyn.   As it turns out, that drive to Wolsztyn was now three hours.  Road trip!

My cousin and hostess, Ilona, generously arranged for me to take a day trip there, with her father, Mirek, doing the driving. His wife Teresa went along, and off we went!

I won't go into the gory details of how I woke up at 4:30am only to hang around the house until a well-delayed departure (oops, just did!) but we eventually got out on the road, enjoyed some European expressway speeds, and arrived on the outskirts of Poznan (the northern terminus for the daily steam-powered passenger trains) juuuust in time to catch the morning southbound.  It was mid-summer, the sun was high, the contrast was higher than that, but it was operating steam in the 21st century, along with an operating semaphore, and it was fantastic!

We jumped back in the car and headed off for the chase!  At one point, we found ourselves, out of the blue, pacing the engine about 100 yards away across a field - I shot from the passenger side and across the driver's chest out his window.  We got to a grade crossing only to see the gates head down. Oh no! say all the other drivers on the road!  Oh yes! Say we!   I jump out, get the shot, and get back into the car just in time to get moving before the cars behind us honk.  Later we had an "unexpected mechanical" that just happened to force us to stop at a grade crossing that gets me the only nose-lit shot of the morning.

Another shot was nabbed on the way in to Wolsztyn.  The engine facility made for a great mid-day respite.  On our way back we chase the northbound.  I get a shot at a dilapidated, abandoned station at which, somehow, a speaker (connected to what?) still announces arriving trains, and one more down the road.

Overall a great day!  My cousins Teresa and Mirek, well, Mirek at least, became enthusiastic novice railfans; Mirek did some video at one of the stops that not only captures the train but playfully mocks me the entire time.  We motor on back to Warsaw, delighted with the rewards of the day.  And I visit with many more relatives during the rest of my stay.

So the day's tally--steam seen, steam chased, two new train fans, and ZERO family time lost!  It was an awesome day.

Janusz Mrozek

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