A dream comes true

by R Thumanivannan

This article was originally published by the Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) in its newsletter, and is reproduced here by permission, which is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright for the material here rests with the ISRS and the author(s) of the article. The ISRS is the premier organization in India engaged in preservation and efforts to promote awareness of the country's railway heritage.

This article originally appeared in the FNRM Newsletter No. 2, Summer 1998.

It was 07.15 hours and I climbed my grandmother's house in Omlur to see and hear the Salem-Mettur Dam passenger, passing through the green fields, with its scintilating 'chug-chug' and sweet whistling before the level-crossing and 'dada dada dada' on the river bridge and finally vanishing in the mango groves. I was lucky to be only 7 years old to feel the happiness of enjoying a ride or look of a Steam Train.

My fascination increased when I happened to see working models of miniature trains in exhibitions and since then it continued to escalate, I started collecting stamps, books, models - anything and everything on trains.

On one occasion, I happened to read about a strange species of locomotive, 'The Garratts', in a book by John Westwood. These are the heaviest of the steam horses, which could haul the maximum load even on the steepest of gradients without slipping. They were named after an Englishman, Herbert Garratt, who invented and modified this design. They were manufactured by a firm called Beyer Peacock in England.

These were special type of locomotives, which are now rarely used in South Africa and Indonesia, mostly in mine trains. Their very existence has become a rarity.

These engines have a single boiler in the middle and have two engine units or power bogies, to which are attached the couplings and buffing gears. The cylinders are at the outer end of each unit. So in effect they are two locomotives with equivalent power however utilising a common boiler, coal tender and water tank.

Their wheel arrangement would mostly be 2-8-0+0-8-2 though the ones used in India were mostly 4-8-0+0-8-4 and 4-8-2+2-8-4. In such locomotives, the weight available for adhesion is spread over on several axles of the extra- driving wheels and hence, the stress on the rails is minimised and the adhesion is considerably increased. These two factors made them haul greater loads even on steeper gradients.

Ever since I read about the above facts, I longed to see such a giant. In 1970, I happened to see a photograph of such a great working wonder in the book 'Indian Railways -- One Hundred Years' published by the Ministry of Railways in 1953. I felt very happy to know that such a majestic emperor has also reigned our railway system. Since 1930, these locomotives have been used by the 'Bengal Nagpur Railways' in Coal trains and for mineral traffic over gradients.

I began enquiring as to where I could meet the greatest of all steam locomotives classes.

At last it was on 23-10-96 that my dream came true, when I visited the National Railway Museum at Delhi and I saw the beauty, right before my eyes on the eastern tip of the NRM. My eyes were filled with tears and my heart filled with gratitude for everyone who has contributed for preserving this grand beauty!