Pausing at Amarume station is C58 401 on the Riku'u West Line's farewell special with a "Farewell" plate on 1 October 1972.
By Minoru Shinozaki
I spent my preteen and teenage years up north in Tsuruoka along the
coast of the Sea of Japan in Yamagata prefecture in the early 1970s.
Just before Japanese railway's centenary in 1972, JNR initiated the
"Discover Japan" campaign to boost tourism by train, putting up posters
featuring beautiful scenery along the local lines, and railfans began
to record obsessively the final days of Japanese steam, the final one
of which was to be withdrawn in the early spring 1976 in Hokkaido.
Around my hometown, mainline steams survived up until autumn of 1972
and so I was lucky enough to be able to record the final days of steam
on the Uetsu and Riku'u West Lines. The Uetsu Main Line, running 271.7
km from Niitsu (now the starting point of "Ban-Etsu Monogatari Go") in
Niigata prefecture to Akita prefecture, was one of the latest JNR main
lines to be electrified together with the San'in Main Line. Because of
this and also because the district in which it runs is flat, the
standard mainline engines types D51 and C57 for freight and passenger
trains respectively survived into the 1970s in scheduled mainline
service. As the line, located along the coastline of the Sea of Japan,
commands a good view of sea, especially from the northern Niigata all
through Yamagata prefecture, the scenes of C57s and D51s hauling long
trains in the seaside setting were really impressive.
On 23 September 1972, one week before the completion of
electrification and withdrawal of steam on 1 October, JNR ran
"Farewell" special between Niitsu and Sakamachi. The train was hauled
by 3 D51s with semi-streamlined D51 63 as the pilot engine. One of my
friend's father drove us to Niitsu to shoot the train on the Aganogawa
Viaduct and we planned to catch the train up and shoot twice or more on
our way. But, alas, the line was so flat and the tripleheader was so
powerful that the train ran far faster than the scheduled time and we
could not catch the train again!
One week after that, we had another "Farewell" train, this time on
Riku'u West line. The line (43.0 km from Amarume to Shinjo both in
Yamagata prefecture) is the western half of the cross-country line
which connects the coasts of the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
Although the East Line was more famous because of its autumnal tints
and steeper gradients, the West Line, running along the Mogamigawa
River also boasted a charming setting. C58s were in service for
freights on both the West and East Line and Shinjo-based engines were
in charge of the West Line. In the morning of 1 October, I took a down
train on the Uetsu Main Line at Tsuruoka and transferred to the Riku'u
West Line at Amarume, to get to Kiyokawa station, near which lied my
favourite shooting point by a long, curved viaduct. At Amarume a sad
spectacle wainted for us -- the sight of D51 63 without its front
number plate: as it had been the pilot engine of the Uetsu Main Line's
memorial special, some maniac had stolen the plate! Also, we saw C58
401 in a siding with a plate saying "Goodbye SL" on its head waiting to
go out for the final journey. Leaving her behind we went to Kiyokawa
and spent the whole day on the banks overlooking the viaduct capturing
the final operations of C58's including a doubleheader. For one of the
freight trains, which was supposed to be hauled by C58, a newly built
DE10 was used and it came home to me that that was the final day.
Among illustrations for this article I looked for negatives of the
Uetsu Main Line's "Farewell" special but couldn't find them. Those days
are gone for ever.
The final doubleheader on the Riku'u West Line crossing a viaduct near Kiyokawa on 1 October 1972.
Resting at Takaya Station is a double-headed freight train after C58 187 + C58 401 on the Riku'u West Line on 27 August 1972.
C58 187 + C58 401 double headed freight train approaching Takaya Station on the Riku'u West line on 27 August 1972.
C58 364 (the nearest sister to "Paleo Express" engine) approaching Nakayamadaira on the Riku'u East Line on an autumn day in 1971.
The Uetsu Main Line's final day in steam. D51 63 on farewell special at Amarume station. Its number plate was stolen!
Rumbling down is C58 50, type C58, hauling a freight train on the Riku'u West Line on an autumn day in 1971. The C58, 2-6-2, 58.9 tons, was a general purpose engine designed to be used for both freight and passenger service on less-busy rural lines. With the first batch in 1938, more than 300 C58s were produced and used all over Japan,