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Edition #206  September 15, 2013

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Sparking Return

Photographer: Miško Kranjec

                                                                                                 Photo by Miško Kranjec

Sparking Return

That Sunday on the November 11th of the last year, was a special day. It was the special day for the 82 years old Borsig Mikado No. 06-018, running again after being 6 years dormant inside the roundhouse of the Slovenian Railroads' (SŽ) Railroad Museum, and it was special day for some 200 patrons riding the St. Martin's train she was hauling.

Even St. Martin is very special saint, and extremely cherished here among the wine growing and wine drinking Slovenians as, according to the ancient legend, on his day, November 11th, he turns the must into the wine. Slovenians, not lagging much behind the French in the wine consumption, organize on that day, or on the nearby weekend days the countless wine tasting feasts in all of the three wine growing regions in the country. One of this regions, Goriška Brda,  stretches along and across the border with the Italy, on the hills above the twin cities, Slovenian Nova Gorica and Italian Gorizia, and the old Transalpina line.

This line, connecting Czechoslovakian Prague with Adriatic port city Trieste, was built between 1901 and 1906, still in the time of Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was extremely important object, more militarily than economically, as the part of it, the one which is now in Slovenia, ran along the Italian border, then the arch-enemy of Austria, and represented the vital supply vein for the its army. This reason justified the enormous cost at which the line was built. 42 tunnels, and 137 bridges of the various length, among them the 4.25 miles long Bohinj Tunnel and the famous Solkan Bridge with the widest cut stone arch in the world, all this on just 80 miles long stretch, built mostly with 2.5 - 2.6% grades, illustrate why it is said each kilometer was worth more than the ton of gold.

As I said, this was a special day for the mighty 2-8-2, built in 1930 at the Borsig Lokomotivwerke Gmbh, Berlin, specially for the Yugoslav Railways as one of the 110 units big WW-1 reparation package, and now owned by the SŽ Railway Museum. Until 1996 she was one of the several active steam locomotives hauling two sets of the Museum Train. In that year her operating license expired and due to the money shortage, instead of  going into the expensive overhaul, SŽ decided to retire her. So she spent the next 6 years sleeping quietly in one of the stalls of the Museum's roundhouse in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.  But, through the years the same fate hit other still active steam locomotives and the SŽ faced the bitter situation that the very popular rides of the Museum train will have to end. In this light it was decided that reviving the Borsig, the least worn of them all, would be the cheapest solution.

Thus came this big day when, after all repairs and tests done and passed, Borsig was sent on the test load run. Accompanied by another operating Museum's locomotive, Henschel-built No. 33-037, one of those ubiquitous German DR class 52 2-10-0 "Kriegslokomotive", whose license would expire just after this run, 06-018 was sent to haul that St. Martins Special from the Slovenian tourist jewel Lake Bled to Nova Gorica and back. The task of the 33-037 on this run was to act as an additional load on those already difficult grades, and as a spare in the case of emergency.

It was night when we were returning back to Bled, and after the whole day tasting of  the numerous sorts of the wines produced in the region, the patrons on the train were in high spirit. I could say too high for me, not participating on their ordeal and therefore lacking the necessary tolerance for the excessive noise, stupid jokes, and out of tune singing. So I wanted to board one of the locomotives already at the beginning of the return trip, but their cabs were overcrowded. Besides the regular crews, beefed for the additional firemen, riding in the cab of the Borsig was the Museum's mechanic and some other guy, whose ride was agreed before I came with my request, while in the cab of the Henschel were two student firemen. It wasn't before Bled, where the part of the exhausted crew, not needed on the final lap to Jesenice, retired in the post office-baggage car behind the locomotives, that I could finally board the cab of the Borsig.

It was pitch dark and except for the few attempts to get the sharp photo of the fireman shoveling the coal into white hot innards of the firebox, there wasn't much else to photograph. Watching the sparks belching out of the stack I tried few hand-held long exposition photos - a rather pathetic try on the wildly rocking locomotive resulting in the multitude of tangled orange lines and the very blurred silhouette of the stack. But, when we were entering the lighted Jesenice yard, I saw my opportunity. The camera was already set to ISO 6400 and auto exposure, and the 24-105 mm/f4 lens' internal stabilizer was of course on. I leaned out of the cab as far as I dared and stretched the hand, holding the camera aimed blindly toward the locomotive front. We were still riding at 30 mph and the engine, now coasting with her throttle shut, was still swaying forcibly. With the camera drive in the continuous mode I made few short bursts of the exposures, in hope at least few photos will turn out sharp enough to use them. They did, and this is one of them.

Miško Kranjec

More of the revived Borsig photos can be seen here:

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Revised: 09/15/13 18:53:37 -0400