FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The chicken in the depot shot

Posted in Comandău, Romania by folkestonejack on October 2, 2015

The hoped for good weather had not materialised by the time we headed to Pension Mara for breakfast. If anything, the skies looked cloudier than ever with no hint of a break coming our way. Nevertheless, we made our way down to the station so that we could be ready to pounce on any change in circumstances. Our steam locomotive, 764-243, was ready and so were we.

Although the long wait for a change in the skies left us with much time to kill we it also offered plenty of opportunity to look around the commune and the part-derelict complex at its heart. One of the buildings here contains four locomotives (three steam locomotives and one diesel) that had been used on the system in the past and Georg kindly arranged for the doors to be unlocked so that we could take a closer look.

The commune has appeared quite isolated to us as visitors but I wonder if it feels the same to the locals, or indeed, if that could be a good thing in its own way. If the roof of one building is to be believed there is a disco in town, which is quite impressive with a population of around one thousand. I guess that steam is still only a very occasional sight here as the locals seemed quite interested in our little photo-charter.

With no sign of a break in the clouds above us, or in the far distance, I set about photographing some of the abandoned buildings. In one empty window frame a chicken stood, surveying the strange sight of photographers wandering all over his territory. It was a measure of our boredom that the answer to the question “Are you going for the chicken at the depot shot?” was yes. It was soon suggested that this would make its way on to a slide show in 20 years time, but until then this rather naff shot is available here!

One last shot at Comandău

One last shot at Comandău

In the end we tried a few half-hearted photo-stops in the cloudy conditions, though it wasn’t long before we cut our losses and re-boarded our bus ready for the long drive to Brad. Frustratingly, we learned that the sun had been shining at Vișeu de Sus and Moldoviţa for the past two days!

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Going Kommandó

Posted in Comandău, Romania by folkestonejack on October 1, 2015

Our day in the commune of Comandău (or more accurately, Kommandó, to use the Hungarian name) began with the sight of our locomotive (0-8-0 tank locomotive 764-243, built by MÁVAG of Budapest in 1911) on the back of a low loader. Astonishingly, the lorry had come up the same twisting road as us and was now ready to be unloaded along with a load of planks (our freight for the morning’s loaded run towards Siclau). It was certainly impressive to see her steam down the ramp and onto the tracks at the terminus.

The moment of truth

The moment of truth

The origins of many of the forestry railways in Transylvania can be traced back to the arrival of the standard gauge railway and such is the case here where the branch line of 1891 spawned two very different lines that climbed 1000m to reach Comandău – one by means of a spiralling track slowly gaining height and the other by a much steeper inclined plane. It is well worth reading The Railway Age in the Carpathian Forests: A Study of Romania to appreciate the full story.

Unlike most forestry systems, the centre of operations on this system was at the highest point rather than down in the valley (including administrative buildings, a sawmill and loco depot). At its peak it was the largest forestry railway system in Romania, if not the Carpathians overall.

The remnants of the logging complex at the heart of Comandău

The remnants of the logging complex at the heart of Comandău

The system at Comandău fell into gradual decline following the damage caused by flooding in 1974, but repairs ensured that the railway staggered on to the 1990s. However, the system never really recovered from a dramatic reduction in felling to help the forests recover after the wild storms of 1995. The sawmill closed in 1999 and railway operations ceased with immediate effect. The restored sections of line available to us today give just a little flavour of what a marvellous system this was in its time.

After watching the shunting around the terminus we set off in mid morning’s for a short run in the direction of Siclau that would take our train along a re-built section of line across the bridge over the Râul Cuțan. The sun even deigned to make an appearance!

On the move at Comandău

On the move at Comandău

In the afternoon we set off for a run deeper into the forest with some empty logging trucks, travelling around 7km towards the end of the line at the old loading point of Cumpana. Here a TAF forestry machine was waiting to load a pile of logs on to our train ready for the return to Comandău. However, nothing about this was as straightforward as it might have seemed to the casual passer by.

You might think that obtaining logs to create our authentic looking logging train would be quite easy in an area entirely surrounded by forests and where logging is the primary industry, but no, by some strange logic the local companies would not supply the logs we needed out of a ridiculous fear of competition from the railway. Instead, the logs would have to be transported from a forest 60km away!

As if this wasn’t already complicated enough, there was now the added complication of the rather extreme, if understandable, bureaucratic processes brought in after recent scandals over illegal logging in Romania. In order to transport logs by road you need a transport number from a central authority in Bucharest. Any transport without this number risks confiscation if stopped. Needless to say, this system hadn’t quite anticipated photo-freights! Thankfully, a solution was reached and everything could go ahead as planned.

Building a bridge for the delivery of lunch!

Building a bridge for the delivery of lunch!

On arrival at Cumpana we still had the small matter of our lunch delivery to attend to. A minor technical detail emerged at this point – our lunch was on one side of the river and we were on the other! No problem at all it turned out… the TAF forestry machine picked up a couple of logs and built an impromptu bridge over the river. Ingenious.

I’m glad that we were not made to savour the delicious combination of schnitzel, gherkin and mash potato from afar! It was well worth all the construction of the log bridge, as were the two superb home made liqeurs (made from cranberries and blueberries respectively) that it was all washed down with.

After everyone was suitably fed and watered the crew got on with the job of loading our wagons. The process was interesting to watch at first, but after the second wagon was fully loaded I joined the rest of the British contingent on a pleasant walk down the track back to the bridge where we spent an hour, maybe two, before the loaded train arrived (it had derailed twice on the way, necessitating re-railing with jacks).

Crossing the river with a loaded train in late afternoon

Crossing the river with a loaded train in late afternoon

It was certainly worth waiting for our train as the four runpasts with the loaded train over the bridge were probably the best photographic opportunities of the day – even if we didn’t quite manage to get the colour in the sky that we hoped for.

The opportunity here was a significant improvement on the spot by the river further up the line (from earlier in the afternoon) where I was reminded of one of the essential commandments of railway photography – if you are going to risk getting your feet wet, the shot better be worth it. Needless to say, I only remembered this as my feet plunged into the icy water and my soggy socks made sure I didn’t forget it in a hurry. And no, the shot wasn’t worth it!

All in all, it had been an interesting and rewarding day. It seemed only right to have a beer to celebrate with Hungarian-style Ćevapi and pancakes in the evening! Tomorrow we will try again and hope that the forecaster’s promise of blue skies and sun delivers…

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The long drive to Comandău

Posted in Comandău, Romania by folkestonejack on September 30, 2015

The long drive south to our accomodation in Comandău was something that most of us had been dreading with Georg’s prediction of a nine hour slog. I didn’t know whether to be cheered or alarmed at the prospect of our would be racer in the driving seat, but it did seem likely that we would be able to shave something off that time by dicing with death in the traffic.

Our driver’s secret turned out to be divine assistance, crossing himself at every church that we passed along the way, though this didn’t make his overtaking attempts any less terrifying! On one occasion he committed us to an overtaking move with a lorry heading straight for us and no place for us to go. Thankfully the lorry driver pulled over to the side of the road to let us complete the move. Occasionally his efforts (such as a pass of two lorries and a police car) received a round of applause, though I don’t think he needed any encouragement from us…

Although it was a long drive there were plenty to see along the way. Inevitably this included no shortage of churches, ranging from beautifully decorated parish churches to big, ugly monsters (such as the Catedrala Înălțarea Domnului that we saw under construction as we threaded our way through Bacău). Other sights included abandoned mills, a MiG-21 plinthed at a roundabout outside Bacău airport and signs from the old Austro-Hungarian border.

Around 7pmish we made our way across the Oituz Pass (inevitably accompanised by hair-raising overtaking moves on lorries on the zig-zagging roads with no margin for error) and started to see signs for Covasna, near our destination.

Unfortunately, the main road to Comandău was closed so we needed to take a detour up 20km of unpaved road (not shown on maps) to get to the hilltop town. The road used to be the steep and dangerous forestry line (running from Brateş to Comandău) which closed in 1945, probably requiring two locomotives to cope with the steep incline, though no-one around today has seen it to confirm the detail.

A crashed van in a ditch at the start of the road looked ominous, but our progress through the pitch darkness was not too eventful with only the occasional logging truck coming the other way. However, it was really hard to believe that civilization lay at the other end of this! Finally, we arrived at 9.10pm. Our drive had taken 7 hours and 20 minutes.

A hot dinner awaited us in a hunting lodge with a memorable selection of interior fittings (deer skulls and antlers decorated with shiny baubles!) and then we were taken by taxi to our pension near the station. Along the way our driver explained that Comandău is a little pocket of Hungary in Transylvania, with a population of about 1000, all of whom are Hungarian rather than Romanian. It’s hard to see much of the place in the darkness, so tomorrow will give us our first proper view of the place.