Suhafu-32 2357 at the rear end of the Paleo Express

Suhafu-32 2357 at the rear end of the Paleo Express behind C58 363, at Yorii station. The tapered car body and squeezed round roof at the car end were typical features of old coaches before the war

Suhafu-32 Old Coach on Chichibu Railway

By Hiroshi Naito

The Suhafu-32, one of the last remaining old pre-war type coaches, made the last run on the Chichibu Railway on October 25th, being hauled by steam engine C58 363 together with three other ex-JNR coaches. The Chichibu Railway was operating its weekend steam excursion train (Paleo Express) with old JNR coaches leased from JR Takasaki depot, known for steam engine D51 498 along with other old passenger cars preserved in working order. However, it has purchased some modern class 12 coaches for the Paleo Express operations from this year (2000), so old coaches from the JNR will be no longer seen on this railway. The Suhafu-32 is the oldest car among the Takasaki depot's preserved fleet of old JNR coaches.

The Suhafu-32, numbered 2357, was built in 1938 as a class Suha 32 third class coach having a conductor cabin ("fu" signifies conductor cabin). This class was the first 20m coach developed by the JNR. The class was innovative with various features; new axle-coil suspended TR23 trucks (bogies), air pressure applied water supply system with a water tank suspended below the car flame, increased passenger seating capacity of 88 from 80, etc. The most distinctive feature on the exterior was narrow windows tidily arranged and corresponding to each row of passenger seats. Also welding started to be used for car body assembly from production of this class , finally eliminating riveting from car body assembly around 1935. The earlier versions of this class, with the first batch produced in 1929, still featured double roofs on top, inherited from the previous passenger car design practice, and the seat backs were bare wood. The Suhafu-32 2357 was a later version of the class, comprising a rivet-less body and a fully rounded roof. The interior furnishing was improved so that the backs of the passenger seats were fully covered with velvet.

The class Suha-32 coaches were the most common third class passenger cars for regular service before the EMU days, from the late 30s through the 50s, along with Oha-35s fitted with widened windows but with the same level of accommodation as Suha-32's. After the war, improved third class coaches, e.g. class Suha-42 and Suha-43, were developed, but they were mostly used for express services, and class Suha-32s still served third class passengers in regular service on the main lines. In the Tokyo area on the Tokaido Main Line, before the green-orange liveried series 80 Shonan Densha (EMU) became common, Suha-32s were busily carrying commuter passengers to Tokyo from the Shonan area, stretching along the sea side southwest of Tokyo.

Since the Chichibu Railway ceased operations of old coaches, now the Oigawa Railway is the only place where old coaches are seen in regular service with steam operation.

Tidily arranged narrow windows

Tidily arranged narrow windows are the most prominent exterior feature of the Suha-32. III marked below the windows signifies thrid class

The rear and side views of the Suhafu-32 2357

The rear and side views of the Suhafu-32 2357. Its purple-orange livery well represents old JNR passenger stock, at Kumagaya terminus.

The interior of the Suhafu-32 2357

The interior of the Suhafu-32 2357. The baggage shelves above the windows are real nets.

A ceremony thanking the steam crews was held at Mitsumine-guchi

A ceremony thanking the steam crews was held at Mitsumine-guchi, the line's end, besides the C58 363, as the day's operation was the last in 1999.

C58 363 on retrun work

The C58 363 rolls down on its return work to Kumargaya, hauling the Paleo Express consisting of old coatches, at Ohanabatake.

The C58 363 pulls Paleo Express, from the Suhafu-32 2357

The C58 363 rolls up at the head of Paleo Express, taken from the Suhafu-32 2357.

Ohafu-33 coach still in service on the Oigawa Railway

Ohafu-33 coach still in service on the Oigawa Railway. This is a post-war version of class Ohafu-33. Unlike its original version, it has straight car ends, but uses TR23 trucks, the same as Suha-32's.

The JNR's last wooden coach class Naha-22000

The JNR's last wooden coach class Naha-22000 photographed in 1931 on the Sanyo Main Line (location is not known), from my father's old album. This class was 17m in length and 2.8m in width. The class's first production was in 1920.

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