A tale from Taiwan

‘The mockery of a bird’

A branch line into the mountainous interior as far as it goes without using a rack, zigzag or  other invention on rail to reach higher ground. The latter will be the last tale in this triptych about Taiwanese historical narrow gauge.
The Ping Hsi line from Houtung to Chingtung (16 km) and passing Shih Fen famous for its waterfall. A line builds fur the purpose of transporting coal. Along the route there were several transhipment installations with the same style of narrow gauge as the one in Houtung. The timetable of 1990 showed fifteen trains a day in each direction, not bad at all for a more or less remote mining area.
At the end of the line by the time I arrived it was a desolate village with next to the station the grandeur of a once blossoming enterprise completely abandoned. Relicts of an industry and a lot of archaeology to be discovered. It would be really nice going back there after twenty years and have another look. For sure even the traces are disappeared in time and the area developed into who knows what; a shopping mall for example though in the case of Chingtung this is most doubtful. However, at Shih Fen things were still working as they had been working for long. A small transhipment installation and on the other side of a river a narrow gauge line leading into the mountains where one ore more mines supplied the black mineral. The connection between installation and track; a most remarkable suspension bridge whereon the dumping cars one by one were hauled by a completely worn out cable. It was a most pleasant environment to walk around while the pure poetry falls upon you unaware of the details or any historical background nor such a thing that it might be already balancing on the brink of distinction. Only a few wagons were loaded and shifted by manpower under the chute. At the end of the day a loco picked them up for further transportation to the harbour but most presumably to a power plant.
In 1997 the transhipment installation was still operating though the narrow gauge and lovely suspension bridge were gone. Trucks had taken over.
Also Shih Fen turned out to be a remote village with in the middle of the main street a track and minimal two times per hour a diesel railcar passing. The fun of living here and lets be frank, there’re worst things possible at your doorstep, I wouldn’t mind.  No particular events, the locals seem to live at snail’s pace in harmony and happiness. Anyone ever been to the mainland China must be aware of the nasty habit of clearing ones throat openly, a distinguished noise and no one knows were the substance will landed. On the pavement if you are luckily but hearing this sound behind you doesn’t give a good feeling. Strolling along the houses in anticipation of the next train like a curious intruder peeping inside and disturbing the domestic peace, suddenly that sound and of course behind my back. Convinced of the idea not have seen anybody I turned around to find out who tried to annoying me. There it was, in a cage, the Mynah bird (Eulabes religiosa) a special one amongst the feathered friends you can learn tricks and tricky it will be. One thing though, birds do not spit. I am still wondering if they can mimic any railway sound it would be a nice companion. 

‘Pictures of Shih Fen’
 in the nineties

At the station

A train entering the main street, somewhere a bird is waiting for another surprise

Just for an impression about the distance and height, in the middle a car and even two pedestrians

It wobbles and shakes a car is nearing the installation

In the middle of nowhere a train on its way to the bridge

A train with its precious load just arrived at the bridge

Patiently waiting for the empty cars returning

An empty train on its way to meet the diggers, in the background the contours of Shih Fen

The road is long and lonely how lovely the little train


About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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2 Responses to A tale from Taiwan

  1. GWR says:

    Great photos again!

    In the second picture from the bottom, is that a telescopic gasometer (AKA gasholder) in the village in the valley? I can sort of imagine them burning their own coal in a retort to make town gas, with coke as a byproduct – much as was the case in my own very small hometown back in the 60s.

  2. Frankly spoken when I scanned the slide and had to do some photo shopping especially the removal of cracks dust or other particals invisable for the eye on the slide but not the scanner, I saw those tanks in de the cabin of the little loco but had no clue. Maybe you’re right, I can’t recall how these machines were running I only remember a lot of smoke as you can see on last picture.

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