FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Sunset in Żnin

Posted in Biskupin, Gąsawa, Poland, Wenecja, Żnin by folkestonejack on April 25, 2016

A long pause had always been part of the plans for the day, but this was extended further on account of the rather rubbish forecast for the afternoon which promised grey skies and heavy rain. Polish weather forecasts are clearly no more reliable than British forecasts as I saw the sun streaming into my room continuously all afternoon with blue skies for a fair chunk of this. Inevitably, it was only when we got going that the clouds gathered once again!

Ready to go at Wenecja

Ready to go at Wenecja

I didn’t mind the pause as it gave me a chance to dry out, with paper stuffed into my hiking shoes and my jeans flying from the window! The four hour break was sufficient for my clothes to be merely damp by the time we started again…

Our photographic endeavours re-started with the departure of our train for Gąsawa at 4.35pm. Some lovely shots followed, including one from across the fields at Biskupin where we forgot to check the path of the clouds before calling the train. The sight of shadow crossing the field towards the line was striking but we just got the train in sun!

Beating the shadow

Beating the shadow

We were treated to some terrific opportunities for glint shots on the line between Wenecja and Żnin before the sun finally set on our day of photography. A short night shoot followed in Żnin, taking advantage of a lovely setting with a turntable, roundhouse and water tower. However, I was lucky to get anything from this with some rather reluctant lighting and a tripod that was falling to pieces.

Catching the glint

Catching the glint

I have loved the two full days of photography on this line and it has really brought home to me the delights of narrow gauge lines in Poland, of which a good many still survive in varying degrees of health. I would certainly be keen to check out some of the other lines and will have to take a good look at the useful guide to the lines still in operation on the Narrow Rail website to get some inspiration for my next trip!

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Fog, frost and very wet feet!

Posted in Biskupin, Gąsawa, Poland, Wenecja, Żnin by folkestonejack on April 25, 2016

Morning arrived with thick fog and a layer of white ground frost which proved wonderful for photography, if a trifle cold. I hadn’t thought to bring warmer clothes having associated late April with somewhat warmer weather. In fact the opening temperature of -1 was a record low for the area and quite a contrast to the temperatures of a year earlier (a range of 5 to 22 degrees last year, compared to -1 to 7 degrees this year).

A frosty start to the day for Px38 805

A frosty start to the day for Px38 805

We weren’t the only ones out in the cold – we saw a small herd of deer scampering away from the train at Żnin, storks in the fields and skylarks in the air. It was quite a way to start a day.

Trudging our way up one hill through the icy grass ensured that we all had thoroughly wet feet before long, which was also sufficient to coat our shoes in a layer of ice. However, the view from the hilltop and the reflection shots that we got down by the ponds were ample reward for the misery of squelching our way through the rest of the morning. Nevertheless, it still took some effort to distract ourselves from the knowledge that our socks were getting progressively wetter until entirely sodden!

A lesson in how to get wet icy feet!

A lesson in how to get wet icy feet!

The temperature had nudged up to 2 degrees by 7.30am – not the greatest improvement in temperatures that I’ve ever seen, but every little helped. We made a water stop at Wenecja between 7.55am and 8.05am and then continued on our way towards Biskupin.

A forecast of continuous rain from 10am to 7pm loomed over us as the morning wore on. However, the results of our early start had been so great that it really didn’t matter if that turned out to be the hand we were dealt. The quality and quantity of shots in the first three hours of the day was quite astonishing.

The stunning view across the ponds between Żnin and Wenecja

The stunning view across the ponds between Żnin and Wenecja

As it happened, the clouds began to close in on us as we tried a shot at Biskupin around 8.30am and the light had gone completely by the time we reached Gąsawa an hour later. It was good timing for some tender-first running to get us back to Żnin. The occasional burst of sunlight lured us from the comfort of our single passenger coach, such as a tender first shot at Wenecja with the church and the lake in the background. It was a tight call though – the light faded from the church as we waited but remained on the loco just long enough for us to get the shot.

After reaching Żnin at 10.40am we had a break of just under an hour, time enough for me to replenish my supplies at the local supermarket, take a look inside the loco shed and make the acquaintance of the depot cat. The long anticipated rain finally arrived at 11.43am by which time we were on our way back to Wenecja.

One of our 'bonus balls' on the approach to Wenecja

One of our ‘bonus balls’ on the approach to Wenecja

On the way back we could only make a couple of stops as a private diesel charter for a school party was following us down the line. No-one had really expected to get any decent shots from this run so the two photo opportunities we got in sun coming out as we approached Wenecja thoroughly deserved the label of ‘bonus balls’. We were really lucky with this, for shortly after our arrival at Wenecja it started to rain more heavily. Timing was everything!

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A pause at Wenecja

Posted in Poland, Wenecja by folkestonejack on April 24, 2016

A three hour pause in our programme provided ample opportunity to explore the sights in Wenecja. It is only a small village with just 300 inhabitants but it has a particularly delightful setting amongst the Biskupińskie, Weneckie and Skrzynka lakes. It is also home to two noteworthy sights – a narrow gauge railway museum and a medieval castle. A further attraction, an archaeological open-air museum, is to be found just down the tracks at Biskupin.

The open air narrow gauge museum in Wenecja

The open air narrow gauge railway museum in Wenecja

The collection at Wenecja lays claim to the title of Europe’s largest 600mm gauge railway museum, though I imagine that this is a relatively specialist league of museums! I was pleasantly surprised to see that this did not follow the usual Eastern bloc arrangement of lines of locos one after another. However, the display of the locos in the open air can’t be doing them much good in the preservation stakes.

A degree of careful thought has clearly gone in to the layout of this place with the locos arranged with consists that give a much better sense of how these locos spent their working lives. For example, the Tx-1116 locomotive made by Henschel & Son (Kassel, 1918) is displayed at the head of a logging train (with real logs on the wagons).

One particularly striking exhibit is the Belgian locomotive No. 2179 ‘Charles’ made by Les Ateliers Metallurgiques Nivelles with a 4-6-2 wheel arrangement. It was one of six miniature pacifics built for the Brussels World Expo of 1935 but made its way east after being seized by German forces during the Second World War.

I must admit that looking at ‘Charles’ today you would think that this was a locomotive that has spent a lifetime in exhibitions and in amusement parks, but the reality is far removed from this. The locomotive was used on military systems by the German forces and then in the reconstruction of Szczecin by the post-war Polish regime, before twenty five years of hard labour on the railway systems at the sugar factories at Ostrowy and Chełmica. A particularly sorry photo of ‘Charles’ at the end of her operational life can be seen on the Wciąż pod parą website.

Besides the larger exhibits there are many smaller items that are easily overlooked, such as a hand-cranked water pump with a beautiful Lion’s head spout.

Wenecja Castle

Wenecja Castle

I took a few moments to visit the 14th century castle that overlooks the railway station at Wenecja. In truth, there is not much to the castle itself but there are a variety of siege devices and a siege tower that could make for interesting viewing if you have a few moments to spare.

After leaving the castle, I took a wander up to the late-19th century Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Kościół Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Wenecji) which looked rather resplendent in a short lived burst of sunlight. At night the place looked quite remarkable with a sea of lanterns illuminated across the graveyard.

A tomb in the churchyard

A tomb in the churchyard

Our lunch stop also gave us time enough to admire the photographs of Poland’s narrow gauge railways on display in the dining room and museum shop, including a spectacular viaduct over the Brda river at Koronowo. If only that were still part of an active narrow gauge railway today!

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A slice of rural Poland

Posted in Biskupin, Gąsawa, Poland, Wenecja, Żnin by folkestonejack on April 24, 2016

An early start saw us in position in the fields in good time for a rather beautiful sunrise at 5.30am, followed by a productive three hour spell photographing our train between Żnin and Wenecja.

Px38 805 at Rydlewo

Px38 805 on the approach to Rydlewo

A good proportion of shots from the morning worked marvellously, but there were still miserable failures amongst these. In particular, a series of attempts to get a shot with a watery stream in the foreground presented failure after failure – the shots invariably looked great until the smoke from the locomotive cast a shadow over the train! Nevertheless, it was always fun trying.

We were well aware that the forecast suggested that the fine early morning would be followed by cloudy conditions and sure enough the clouds rolled in around 8.30am. I couldn’t be too disappointed as we had plenty in the bag by this point.

The blossom of Gąsawa

The blossom of Gąsawa

The rest of our morning was spent on the lineside between Wenecja and Gąsawa with just a twenty minute pause to allow the diesel hauled service train to leapfrog us. The portfolio of shots took in a surprising variety of settings, including the lakes around Wenecja and Biskupin, the vibrant yellows of spring trees and the beautifully tended cemetery at Gąsawa.

The line between Żnin and Gąsawa may only be 12km but it presents a wonderful slice of rural Poland, as I hope the images in this post demonstrate.

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Px38 perfection

Posted in Biskupin, Gąsawa, Poland, Wenecja, Żnin by folkestonejack on April 24, 2016

The motive power for our photo charter is a remarkable narrow gauge survivor, Px38 805, which holds the distinction of being the last operational 600mm gauge steam locomotive on the Polish State Railways network. Today, she is owned by the Żnin District Narrow Gauge Railway and runs on the surviving stretch of line between Żnin and Gąsawa.

Px38-805 at Żnin

Px38-805 at Żnin

The 0-8-0T locomotive was constructed in 1938 at Fablok, officially known as Pierwsza Fabryka Lokomotyw w Polsce Sp. Akc. (The First Factory of Locomotives in Poland Ltd.), in Chrzanów and was given a works number of 727. It is the only locomotive of this design to be completed.

The basic design was an adaption of the factory design for the W5A, later re-designated as the Px27 series. Only two Px27 locomotives were commissioned and the sole survivor (Px27-775) is on display in the museum at Wenecja. The second locomotive (Px27-774) was cancelled and its tender allocated to Px38 805.

Px27-775 at Wenecja Narrow Gauge Railway Museum

Px27-775 at Wenecja Narrow Gauge Railway Museum

Px 38 805 was originally commissioned for the Wrzesinska Kolej Powiatowa (Wrzesnia District Railway) as their no. 5 locomotive but was renumbered no 4. in 1939 (as documented by Ed Beale in his article on Wrzesnia District Railway, 1939) and became Px2-805 when she was incorporated into the PKP stock list in 1949. She was redesignated Px4-805 in 1961, amended to Px38-805 later in the year.

After spending her early years at Września the locomotive has seen service at Gniezno (1952), Września (1953), Bialosliwie (1957), Myszyniec (1958-1972) and Bialosliwie (1972-1983) before arriving in Żnin (1983). There are some fascinating photos of her working career from the 1970s to the present on Tomislav Czarnecki’s impressive website catalogue of Polish steam locomotives.

The locomotive was withdrawn for major boiler repairs in 2008. Since her return in 2011 she has been painted black, reflecting her appearance in her last years of regular use. It’s not clear how often she gets the opportunity to run on the line – possibly not that often given the eagerness of the locals to grab shots of her on their mobile phones. However, she is scheduled to appear at a narrow gauge festival in Żnin on May 26th-29th 2016.

Px 38 805 remains in ticket until the end of 2016.

Night at the Muzeum

Posted in Poland, Wenecja by folkestonejack on April 23, 2016

The reason for my visit to Poland is a two day FarRail photo charter on the 600mm narrow gauge line in Żnin, a 12km remnant of the once extensive 76km network. I was in good company with many familiar faces gathered at the railway station ready for the bus ride from Gniezno to our accommodation in Wenecja.

A destination board from the line at its fullest extent

A destination board from the days when the railway had reached its fullest extent

The conditions outside were fairly miserable so it was a good day for travelling rather than standing around in fields armed with a camera!

Along the way we got a good view of the unbroken plain that makes up most of the country, lots of flat green fields far into the distance interrupted only by the occasional forest and the inevitable sight of new motorways under construction (in this case the S5 from Gniezno to Żnin, a part of the unfinished express road between Olsztyn and Wrocław, which is due for completion in July 2017).

Our accommodation for the next three nights would be the Hostel Wenecja, which is actually located in the administration block of the open air narrow gauge museum at Wenecja. It clearly spends most of its life filled with school children and it’s geared up for large numbers – every room had more beds than we needed. Our tour leader, Bernd, directed us to ‘Take a room, any room, no matter how many beds it has in it!’ and I soon found myself in a room with 4 bunk beds. Room enough to swing multiple cats!

The plan had been to attempt some night shots on the turntable in front of the roundhouse in Żnin but this unravelled fairly quickly. On our arrival we discovered that the locomotive was still in the depot and quite definetly cold, so we’ll try again another night. Instead, our driver knew of a marvellous place that we could buy some beer despite the late hour, which turned out to be Tesco Żnin!

Once our supplies had been replenished it was time to head back and grab what sleep we could, ready for a 4am start in the morning.