Thailand from the train

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‘Steam in paradise’
The secrets of a number

Living in Chiang Mai and being dedicated to the railways necessarily doesn’t mean it’s going hand in hand, the so called Rose of the North is rather dull but certainly a paradise for things beyond the rail.
Still you’re surprised if someone tells you having spot a steam locomotive in the vicinity – not running but plinthed – on a place far away from where the railway runs.
By all means the message isn’t surprising at all, after many solitude years of exploring the SRT – State Railway of Thailand also others did an excellent job by bringing the bits an pieces together. Meanwhile a lot of young Thai railway enthusiasts flock the internet something a mere twenty years ago was completely out of the question.
Along the road to Samoeng (Road Nº 1269) in the midst of lush greenery steam engine 744 plus coach is plinthed on the premises of what seems to be a resort in progress. It happened before in 1992 but closer to town on Road Nº 1001 towards Mae Jo, this time with two coaches in use as sales office for a real estate development project behind it. They even build a platform with canopy and the whole thing looked like a station.
A lovely eye catcher.
The project failed and the engine plus coaches disappeared without any traces. Mike Pass discovered it again on the spot as described but by that time a complete wilderness. Mr. Mike – or better called steam engine sleuth – compiled an illustrated guide: Thai Steam today & Yesteryear (latest edition 2012). For any steam enthusiast and preparing a travel along a specified past, a wonderful guide for a most extra ordinary Thailand trip. This steam engine in all her splendour and decay is a survivor together with nine others constructed by different locomotive makers between 1935-1936 for the JNR – Japanese National Railways as type 2-6-0 class C56. Building the notorious Thailand – Burma Railway the Japanese brought a number of these engines with them. After the defeat they were sold include a remained part of the Burma line to the SRT, incorporated and given the numbers: 701-746. Many years after the happily ran on the SRT network especially on the Burma line or better spoken what was left of it as far as Saiyok Noi waterfall – Nam Tok – km 131.504 measured from Nog Pla Duk Junction where the Burma Line divided from the Southern Line starting at Bangkok.
After their life span was finished and the SRT replaced steam by diesel two of them were kept in running condition (Nº 713 and 715) while others find their way as showcase most in or around a station.
744 is an exemption. This steamer has its former JNR number stamped on the joints of some motion parts (rods) not all are the same and this could mean there was an exchange of parts from other locomotives. However on the 744 most stamped numbers read C56.53 so one can assume this is the original engine and not a mixed product from several other earlier scrapped engines. Numbers are deceptive especially running numbers, they are easily painted on the body or painted false in a later stadium and thus a puzzle remains for them who want to know the truth. Locomotive identity is a study on its own. The works number by all means is a starting point and if this can be found on any engine the first step is solved, however, still it doesn’t give 100% security.
Imagine you’re the owner of a railway company, proud of your steam engines and want them to run as long as possible, of course you take all the usable parts of the machines really outworn and use them for the other ones meaning there not the same as when they roll out of the factory.
The dept and consequences of numbering is a theme apart and for me in case of the 744 and other engines of this type not that important. What you see is what you get and by the way most visitors of the new resort will have no clue what so ever when they entering the grounds and be greeted by an old steam engine and coach.

SRT 701-703  JNR C56.3-5 Mitsubishi 155-157 – 1935
SRT 704-709  JNR C56.6-11 Kawasaki 1551-1556 – 1935
SRT 710-712  JNR C56.12-14  Kisha Seizo 1299-1300 – 1935
SRT 713-714  JNR C56.15-16  Hitachi 628-629 –1935
SRT 715-716  JNR C56.17-18  Nippon Sharyo 374-375 – 1935
SRT 717-718  JNR C56.20-21  Mitsubishi 166-167 – 1935
SRT 719-722  JNR C56.23-26  Kisha Seizo 1352-1355 – 1936
SRT 723 JNR C56.28 Nippon Sharyo 406 – 1936
SRT 724-726  JNR C56.30-32  Nippon Sharyo 408-410 – 1936
SRT 727 JNR C56.34 Nippon Sharyo 412 – 1936
SRT 728-729  JNR C56.36-37  Nippon Sharyo 414-415 – 1936
SRT 730-733  JNR C56.38-41  Mitsubishi 173-176 – 1936
SRT 734-739  JNR C56.43-58  Mitsubishi 178-183 – 1936
SRT 740-746  JNR C56.49-55  Kawasaki 1600-1705 – 1936

Picture above the 744 in Chiang Mai on its former location at road 1001
April 23rd 1992.
Pictures below the 744 in Chiang Mai on its new location at road 1269
March 19th 2015.

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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