They’re not only gathering to scrap away decades of rust and soot in an effort to restore the a handful of the nation’s old steam engines to their former glory, but often pay for the privilege, adopting the locomotives, some of which date back to the 1890s.
“This steam train symbolizes liberty,” Janusz Boratynski, an immunology professor in his 60s, told Agence France-Presse. “When I was little, it transported me from my city of Wroclaw, ruined by the war and teeming with rats, to a holiday spot on the other side of the country.”
Boratynski jumped at the chance to adopt one of the engines in particular: the Tki3, a brooding hulk of red-trimmed black metal built in the early 1900s (see above photo).
In return for his adoption fee, about $500, which covers the cost of a new coat of paint, Boratynski will have his name etched into a plaque on the antique locomotive, once famed for having set a speed record of 110 kilometers per hour, or nearly 70 miles per hour, according to the wire service.
The Jaworzyna Slaska Museum is a former train depot located about 40 miles outside Wroclaw in western Poland. When the depot closed in the 1990s, many of its aging steam locomotives stayed there and risked being stripped for their scrap metal.
The hulking engines were saved thanks to a group of train enthusiasts, former railway workers and local authorities, as well as a private backer, according to Agence France-Presse.
The oldest of the 120 steam engines dates to the 19th century, and train aficionados are especially fond of the locomotives that were built in Poland between the two world wars.
It takes volunteers about six months of painstaking work to restore the locomotives, and with five new “adoptions” this year, volunteers will have their hands full.
Not all memories associated with steam engines in Poland are good ones, though.
Some still associate Poland’s train tracks with the transport of Jews to the country’s Nazi concentration camps when it was occupied by Germany during World War II, according to the wire service.
“There is no way to know for sure how the museum’s trains were used during wartime, but most trains carrying Jews arrived from other countries,” it added.
The private museum drew 30,000 visitors last year, many of them train enthusiasts from across Europe, said Krzysztof Gryzgot, a museum employee and retired railroad worker who spent most of his career driving steam engines.
One of the museum’s centerpieces is an 80-ton, Polish-made PT31 locomotive. Of 110 such engines produced in 1931, just two survived World War II.
“Even today, she’s still the pride of Polish railways,” Gryzgot says of the one surviving PT31 engine parked at museum.
It would take about $450,000 for a full restoration of the engine. Gryzgot holds out hope that the engine may one day be restored to running order, despite the cost.
“We’ve already found a company that can do it. I’d also like to see it retrace its old route, from Wroclaw to Budapest, all the way to Istanbul,” he enthused.
(Above: A steam engine at the Jaworzyna Slaska Museum. Photo by Agence France-Presse.)