Or better known as "Hero of the Rails!"
This October gone, I went on an adventure with a friend to the land of the rising sun. Whilst we were there, we came across a railway with lots of lovely 3ft gauge steam locomotives.
The Oigawa Railway!
I was hoping for a first glimpse of an intact D51 steam engine. I hadn't seen one the whole trip aside from the chopped up one in Tokyo's Railway Museum! We didn't see one at the start of the trip at Kanaya when we had to take a small heritage electric train to the steam shed...
But we DID get to see several wonderful old steam engines posed around the yard. I persuaded my friend to let us take a train up the line and stay over night in an old logging town nearby.
(Nearby turned out to be a 40 minute taxi ride away - but that's another story!)
Our steed for the day was a magnificent 3ft gauge 2-6-2T numbered C108.
I loved this engine: even though it was 3ft gauge, everything about it seemed well proportioned.
The Japanese have a real flair for design, and the brass numberplates on the cab sides had me in mind of the Great Western Railway back home.
You can see that C108 has two sets of outside, Walschaerts type valve gear. This is a single bar type, not unlike the Thompson L1s I'm so fond of.
The front lamp and spartan stove pipe were other attributes I particularly liked.
And I promise, I will get around to putting together the video for this, but suffice to say it was a beautiful railway, running along the banks of a river and through many tunnels and across several bridges.
Arriving in Senzu, we were greeted by a band - although they were there for WATTRAIN and not us!
The engineer on the locomotive was very kind and let me have a potter about the cab. It was in some respects similar to our standard 2MTs back home, though the firebox was amazingly thin and small. You don't need much coal to keep the firebars covered on this steam engine!
Truth be told, the electric engine on the rear had done most of the work, but the steam engine had put on a good show.
So that was it, I thought, sadly. Until Matt tapped me on the shoulder and said "have you seen what's in the yard?"
And there he was!
The first D51 I had seen the whole trip - and of course, it was none other than "Hiro", in full Thomas & Friends guise. Naturally I had to take a few photographs!
They even had a Percy, made from an 0-6-0T!
If I'm honest, as much as I was thrilled to finally see a D51, the real stars of the holiday were these beautiful steam locomotives:
Class C11, no.190 was our engine for the return trip and she was rather better than C108. For a start, I suspect the electric engine at the rear didn't have to do anything on the return trip...!
They reckon Hiro's introduction to Thomas & Friends saved their railway. The Japanese engine, together with his British friends, has thousands of visitors, mostly families with children, come every year for Days out with Thomas events. Hiro is their favourite exhibit aside from their Thomas locomotive.
Of course the day we picked was the day of a private charter, but I was told Senzu comes alive when the Days out with Thomas events come around. I can well believe it, given the ambience of the place. Where else in the world can you find live steam locomotives and heritage electric traction, AND a heritage electric rack and pinion railway with this kind of beautiful mountain scenery and scorching weather? Nowhere, in my opinion.
The volunteer said they had immense pride in the fact that Japan's contributions to railways had been recognised in this most famous British children's show. So obviously I had to climb up and thank Hiro personally.
When all is said and done, who would begrudge them this one Japanese character when - frankly - having travelled the length and breadth of Japan, I can say categorically that they have the greatest railways in the world.
So it turns out that "Hiro", the lone D51 on the Oigawa Railway, is something of a "Hero of the Rails" after all. I knew he was my favourite of the non-Awdry characters for a reason!
I hope you've enjoyed this one off blog - we will be back to grumbling about British model railways soon enough! Although we will return to Japan for a blog extolling the values of their amazing Shinkansen trains.
Until next time.