A D51-hauled steam freight on the Uetsu Line

My dear memory:
A D51-hauled steam freight rolling through rustic landscape of the Uetsu Line near Tsuruoka, viewed from a rice field, 29 August 1971.

Remembrance of Steam in Hokkaido in the early 1970s

By Minoru Shinozaki

Born in 1959, I was in my teens in the last years of Japanese steam. Living in Tsuruoka on the north-western coast of Honshu, I resorted to local lines of Tohoku district as well as U-Etsu mainline. The most impressive among my trainspotting excursions, however, were the ones to Hokkaido in the winters of 1972-73 and 1973-74. Hokkaido was, together with Kyushu, the last haven of steam engines. Although the service of the double-heading C62 hauled express "Niseko" had ended in the autumn of 1971, C62s were still on scheduled service and the sound of Hokkaido had a magic to the railfans. Fortunately I had an uncle living in Otaru and decided to visit him and make a trainspotting tour during Christmas holidays.

At that time Sei-Kan Tunnel had not yet been opened and the ferry was the only way to cross Tsugaru Channel. I boarded a ferry about midnight and the sound of gong and melody of Auld Lang Syne played on taperecorder upon her departure made me sentimental and a little nervous as it was the longest journey I had made by myself. When the train I had gotten on at Hakodate in the small hours of morning was running along the coastline of Uchiura Bay, the sun, which had risen from the sea, began to shine on the birch trees lining the track. The sight was utterly different from anything I had seen and the exotic feeling possessed me.

C622 at Otaru-Chikko
depot A sad spectacle of row of withdrawn engines at Naebo
C62 2 with "Swallow Angel" waiting for the next service at Otaru-Chikko depot,
in December 1972.
A sad spectacle of rows of withdrawn engines at Naebo Works,
in January 1973
During a week's stay I enjoyed railroading with a South Hokkaido rover ticket and visited engine sheds including Otaru-Chikko depot, the base of C62s, and Asahikawa depot accommodating C55s for Soya line. I also visited Naebo works, where there was a sad spectacle of rows of withdrawn engines covered with snow. But the sights of star engines such as C62 2 with the "Swallow Angel" on the deflector and C55 1 taking rest in the darkness of the roundhouse excited me and I kept shooting.

Kozawa station Two-eyed 9600
Kozawa station on the Hakodate Main Line in busy freight operation,
in January 1973.
An unforgettable two-eyed 9600 in service for the Iwanai line freight,
in January 1973.

Apart from these star engines one type of engines I saw on those tours is somehow unforgettable -- 9600s running on Iwanai and Iburi lines, which were two-eyed unlike the rest of classmates. I went to Kozawa, where Iwanai line branched from Hakodate mainline. The two lines ran side by side near the station so I photographed a D51 hauled passenger train on the mainline from a hillside looking down the lines, then ran down the slope and shot a 9600 hauled freight train on the branch line. Now we do not have any of this particular type. Besides both Iwanai and Iburi lines were closed at the time of the privatization. I revisited the same place in the autumn of 1995 just before the second withdrawal of C62 3. No trace of Iwanai line, not even of trackbed, could be seen. All we have of the two-eyed 9600s are photographic images.

[Home Page]