Chance Meeting

By Minoru Shinozaki

c571 on the Uetsu Line

One of my rare encounters, the "First Engine" of type C57 (C571), on the Uetsu Main Line

An unexpected witness of rare stock gives a trainspotter an unspeakable joy. An accidental encounter with an engine from other line, a surprising combination, an unexpected special train, an unscheduled operation, etc. may always excites us. We keep our fingers crossed to see something rare.

A trainspotting boy (as I was at this time) along U-Etsu mainline [12 of the JNTO timetable] in the early 1970s thought it was his lucky day to see C57 1. In those days D51s from Niitsu and Sakata depots hauled both freights and passenger trains. Niitsu-based C57s were also in charge of passenger trains including seasonal express "Kitaguni" 51 & 52. There were five C57s at Niitsu depot: 1, 19, 157, 169, and 181. They headed 6 down trains and 3 up trains on the timetable of October 1970. Although there were sufficient chances, we had to go to school and play baseball after school (!), so we could devote only a small portion of day time to trainspotting. Therefore, I saw the "First Engine" as we called her only five times and I remember every meeting. At one time, when my friend and I rode after her on our way home from Iragawa (a seaside village commanding a good view of the railway, situated 20 km south of Tsuruoka), the driver let us in the cab at a lay-by station and they showed us how to open the firebox door and stoke -- a magic footplate experience.

Double header of C571 plus D511

A miraculous steam engine combination!
A double header of the D511 plus C571.

However, the most exciting encounter with the her came on 1 August 1971. On that day, my brother and I left home by bicycle early in the morning to photograph steamers near Uzen-Mizusawa (10 km south of Tsuruoka). When we walked along the embankment there came a light engine. We did not have sufficient time to get our camera out as we hadn't expected it. I thought I saw "D51 1" on the number plate, which I told to my brother but he did not believe because she was a Morioka-based engine in service for Tohoku mainline [ref. JNTO line 9]. I myself was not confident enough to insist on it. We passed the morning there taking photos. Stangely, we often remember trifling details of such a day and I remember that our lunch was a salted cucumber and a hard-boiled egg with rice balls [Nigiri-meshi, or O Nigiri, the traditional Japanese equivalent to Western sandwich; popular with U.K. sushi fans; Chairman find them regularly available at a snack shop on platform 8 of King's Cross station nowadays!]. After lunch we decided to take train to Sanze (5 km south Uzen-Mizusawa). 5 p.m.; we were about to go home but there came two middle-aged men carrying cameras on tripods (one had a Pentax SP, which was enviable to me). They asked us if we were waiting for the bathers' special, of which we had not known. In those days JNR Niigata ran specials for bathers called "Kappa-go" which connected inland Niigata and the coast-line of Yamagata on summer weekends.

According to them the returning train was supposed to come in a few minutes. We changed our plan; to go home after shooting it. 20 minutes later, we heard whistles [Japanese steam is the U.S.A. type but Diesel & Electric is more British steam tyoe sound!] and saw towering smoke near the station. But how strange, we heard two whistles and saw two streaks of smoke. I had not seen a doubleheader on U-Etsu mainline as it is very flat. As the train approached, our excitement became bigger; D51 1 was the pilot engine, with C57 1 following as the train engine. The miraculous pair ran past us in the strong sunlight of the summer evening. "I told you it was D51 1 but you didn't believe it," I said to my brother, probably more than once, on our way home.

Some 28 years have passed since then. D51 1 is preserved static at Kyoto's Umekoji. C57 1, also based at Umekoji, regularly works the Yamaguchi Line tourist specials, she is still alive -- with that clunky smoke condenser on the chimney! A far cry from the golden years. Although I thought it was just a dream, it really happened as the photograph proves.

[Home Page]