Japan's last one

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A story of Japan's last railway to use steam locomotives for industrial service.

Dillon Trinh Studios
Age Rating:

The last railway

It was 1980, Sumitomo Akabira coal mine was gaining popularity for still using steam locomotives, the line was 3 miles long, 10 water towers with 10 fuel bunkers, a water pump, and it has a fully fledge steam shop. Inside the shop was the 10 steam locomotives in cold, next to them was 2 passenger car built in 1979 and 1982 by crown metal products, it was send to Japan in 1980-82, and both of them was a replica of the sandy river and Rangeley lakes passenger cars, they just complete No. 6 though 10 overhaul, and thanks to the parts were given by the ffestiniog railway and crown metal products.

It was going to be a bust day tomorrow, the steamers will be ready before work before 9, and the first tour ride won’t start till after lunch. Takakuwa Koi was the mine’s manager, he loves steam locomotive as much as the next person, born in 1933 he was hired in 1965 and became manager and owner in 1972.

With his smart tactics and realistic standards he was the reason why the mine’s still use steam locomotives, but Sumitomo Akabira wasn’t the only railway that still use steam, just miles away in Itoigawa, Niigata, a company named Toyo activated clay was a company that transport active clay, acid clay, and heavy oil. The company also has 2 steam locomotives, Unit 1 and Unit 2, Unit 1 was a stand by locomotive and Unit 2(affectionately nickname Kurohime) did most of the work.

A letter was sent from the company to loan one of the mine’s locomotives to run on the company’s line until Unit 2 has finish with its repairs. Takauwa decide to send No.7 Ginger and a few workers to work on the company line. When the locomotive arrived, the railway was pretty small, and at the property, there was 2 other locomotives wrap in plastic tarp a tinge of blue was seen through the tarp.

As they unload Ginger to the tracks the workers decided to take a look around the property, they found the repair shop and found the 2 locomotives, realizing that they don’t have anywhere to store the locomotive. The workers decide to use the tarp to cover the locomotive, at least protect it from the elements. As Ginger starts working, she might look small but she’s powerful, a locomotive like her sister porters, she can pull 10 coal cars up in the smooth and level track with no problem.

The company’s employees were really impressed by the little porter working hard at the line pulling the oil tank and the clay cars to and from the factory line; it was a sight to be seen in 1980. The next day the Rasujijin Railway Association decide to haul some local tourist trains to and from the line, they use 3 and 6, which work at the Keelung Coal mine in the 60s and 70s and brought them back to Japan in the 70s, RASS use the company’s line to haul the passenger trains but also using 3 and 6 to haul the local clay cars to extra help.

The blue locomotives was preparing for the train to run, Ginger can’t participate because she was here to work, not to play. Unit 2 was still in the shed, to repair things quicker, the coal mine sent the parts that are need to the company line and a couple days later, she was back on track. On Saturday march 22, Ginger haul the last train to the factory, RASS bid farewell to Ginger as she return to the mine.

As a thank you, the company gave the mine 100,000 yen, it was big money but the coal mine accepted it. Ginger wasn’t overwork too much when she was at the company, but she was given a brief look and was back on track, things might be simple and easy, but things were about to change 2 years later.

October 10th, 1982

It was announced with shocking fans that the Toyo activated Clay Company was closing due to management problems and the building of the highway, RASS decide to do a farewell event on that same day. 3, 6, and Kurohime was operating on that day, as the final train was completed, it was the end of Japanese steam once and for all.

Or was it?

The company decides to donate the clay cars and tanker to the coal mine, the coal mine also let RASS stored number 3, 6, and other equipment that the society owns, but number 3 and 6 have to do some work along the mine. It meant that the workers have to do extra work, but at least they were getting extra pay to work on steam locomotives, but there was a special event that changes everything.

June 24th, 1984

As the summer heat dwindles down onto the mine, a big event was happening, Sumitomo Akabira coal mine was recognize as the last railway in Japan to use steam locomotives. A special excursion was held on that same day, the last Emperor of the Empire of Japan, Hirohito Empress Kojun was visiting the railway. The news was held across last week before the event, multiple people from Japan, UK, and USA participate this great event.

A special train was held 4 passenger cars, 2 from RASS and 2 from the coal mine, the 2 passenger cars from RASS was given a rebuilt with stronger wheels and lighter frames, it was completed just in time since the project started in 1982. The mines first ever steam locomotive no.1 JoJo was going to triple head with number 3 and 6, the locomotives needs to bring a water tanker. The railway owns 12 water tankers it’s mostly use to first safety, since they’re in a coal mine, a really hot environment and usually heat waves happen every day, the locomotives usually brings 1 or 2 water cars for the trip, and sometime its use as a water bottle for the steamer, and there’s usually one tanker in the siding for fuel use if the bunker runs out of oil, it’s usually use by the oil burners.

It was a busy day at the event, the loud noises were from multiple rail enthusiasts from around the world, there was food, music, and NHK and BBC news stations were there to record the event live. As the steamers were getting ready, a bunch of kids decorated JoJo with streamers and flags, as the excursion train were about to head off, the emperor and princess got first coach, and other people filled the coach with ease, it was time for the ride.

As the triple header runs through the scenic line, multiple railfans were filming and taking photos as the train pass by, the train stop at the second water tower to oil and grease the wheels of the locomotives and to see if the tankers or and locomotives needed refueling and water. The train arrives and stops at the station where the cape gauge meets the 2 foot gauge; the railfans took photos of the emperor and the princess with the locomotives.

As the train was oiled, greased and refuel. The journey back home starts, as the train got back home, everyone cheered and the locomotives blew the whistle with success, the excursion train was a success. As the day gone by, the emperor and the princess was given a tour of the whole facility, and inside the shops. A night time excursion was held, and when the event was almost over. The emperor announces that the coal mine is part of Japan’s national registered monument site and it was designated as the last railway in Japan to use steam locomotives for industrial service, and that, the event is over.

February 14th 1985

As the snow went down on the tracks and the cold wind blew, Mr. Takakuwa decided to sent out JoJo and Ginger to clear the tracks and also because it the 100th anniversary of the mines opening, they use the Russell snowplow that was built for the Kubiki railway that was regauge to 2 feet, they also bring a passenger car for the workers to help clear the tracks, as they made up the 3 mile track snow drop lighting onto the ground. As they made to the water tower at mile 2, luckily the water and oil didn’t freeze up, they went to the station with success and went back home.

As time grew by the snow melt and it became spring, beautiful cherry blossoms flow in the wind as the train does their work. It seems like a perfect time to keep steam and the success from it. The summer time, more railfans and clubs from across the world hosted railfan excursions mostly on the tour track, which is was built in 1979, but sometimes the whole 3 mile track.

Nothing can go wrong right?

October 31st, 1987

Mr. Takakuma was in the repair shop, he look at his 10 locomotives which has been part of the mine for 75 years, shocking news from NHK report that the steam locomotives were being retired, it was because the manager knows that the mines won’t last a long time in the modern world. On October 30th the locomotives pull their last coal trains and on Saturday is going to pull the last ever railfan excursions.

As No.1 JoJo and No.2 Matthew were getting for the last run, the workers were getting emotional, they work at the mines ever since the 1970s and it was about to be over. As the excursion stops for water, refueling and greasing the parts, many fans place special wreaths on the engines as a thank you for keeping steam for 75 years. As the train arrived at the station, many people were at the station, most of the people at the station are giving the drivers gifts, hugs, cards, and photos. Young and old are witnessing history being over, as the last train arrives at the yard, the workers decided to take the second last photo with all the steam locomotives, since they did the first one yesterday, as the photo flash and JoJo and Matthew blew their whistle since they were the only one was operating.

It was over.

The fire was out and it was the end of an era, the next day on Sunday, the trucks were ready to send the porters to their new home. A railway museum in Shimogyō-ku, Kyoto was interested in buying all 10 locomotives for display at their museum, one by one the porters were sent to their new home. They were place in rows near the window so people could see the last ever steam locomotives operate for revenue and industrial work. It was a new life for the porters.

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