Steam

I had a great day last Saturday. Friends of mine from Kobe came over and together we went to the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum close to Kyoto station.

It’s absolutely brilliant – I love steam locomotives! The museum was opened in 1972 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Japanese railways – the first railway connection ran between Tokyo and Yokohama in 1872. It consists of the old Nijo station building, a beautiful wooden construction that has been moved to this place from its original spot, a fan-shaped locomotive house with a turntable at the centre point that houses almost all of the engines, and a large outdoor space containing a few more exhibits and a short rail track. The museum houses about 20 old steam locomotives, and about half of them are still operational. One of those is used to pull a small train along the one kilometre long rail track mentioned above three times a day, probably one of the major attractions of the museum.

The non-working locomotives can be entered, they are in a rather good shape, and I took many pictures of their in- and outside. I grew up in a town with a large railway station, my grandfather worked in the shunting area there, and although I am too young to have lived in the steam age, my grandfather took me on railtrips all through Austria, and I always loved – and probably always will love – trains. Often, we like to think our own era as the pinnacle of technology, but I am always amazed at the sheer ingenuity that went into machines such a long time ago already. The engines are huge, and there are some spare parts that can be viewed – a single piston is as large as a leg of mine…

Of course, there is always something I take out of a museum. In this case it is the following: Operating a steam engine for a single kilometre requires 100 litres of water and 40 kilograms of coal, copious reserves of both of which are stored in the tender behind the locomotive. Older models get the coal into the furnace by an auger, a spiral conveyor (this is still used in larger ovens for wood chips), but in the early years, this had to be done by hand. This shoveling is obviously a very precise operation – there were specific shovel training devices for goal training… A pity we could not try that one out…

Anyway, we all had a great day in the museum which we concluded with Korean food before my friends went back to Kobe. I also received two large stacks of books as present – and reading them has essentially been everything that I did for the rest of the weekend…

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