Five days with
Laszlo from South
My interest in South African
railways goes back for more than 10 years now. I have always
been fascinated by the mighty Garratt locomotives of the country
and I could not resist to build my own. Nevertheless in HO size.
Last year, one day I received a letter from South Africa, a gentleman
was looking for Japanese friends of steam locomotives and model
railway. This is how our friendship began.
Laszlo Kozma is a Hungarian scientist who lives in one of the
suburbs of Pretoria and does research and development of dental
One of his hobbies is steam locomotives. And not only he but
his two little sons are also train enthusiasts.
The opportunity to meet personally came quickly, an international
conference was held in Yokohama at the end of October 1998. He
attended this conference after which he visited my family in
Obu-City. Originally the visit had been planned for a short time
but I convinced him to stay longer in order to accomplish all
the programs which I had put together. Then, he arrived on a
late afternoon to Nagoya by a Shinkansen train and the long days
and short nights began.
2. Laszlo's great affection
He was not older than 3 or so
and his grandfather had to take him to the nearby railway station
to watch the trains for the whole afternoon. This love of trains
has never changed though since the disappearance of the steam
era it is directed more towards the models of the great locomotives
and historical trains. He likes to spend his annual holiday at
South Africa's Garden Route where there is still a regular steam
train service. His interest is mainly the central European trains
and of course, the South African as well.
He was very interested in Japanese locomotives and found only
the description of our famous C 62 in his books. So I planned
his visit to give as much exposure to the history of Japanese
steam locomotives as possible...
3. Photo trip to steam
trains of the Ooigawa Railway
Not much rest was given to my
friend after his arrival. In the early morning of the following
day, on the 7th November, we drove to the steam train of the
Ooigawa Railway. Mr. Inoue and Mr.Miyazaki who are members of
NMRC, joined us.
We headed to Kakegawa of the Tomei Highway road to our bad luck
there was a traffic accident. So we missed the departure of the
train but all was compensated with the bird's eye view of the
first train from the top of Jizou Pass along Ooi River.
(We could take picture of not less than three round trip of steam
trains. What a good day!!!) fortunately adding two temporary
trains in the day. We shot the temporary C 10 train of 3 coach
on our next spot, at the Ooi River Bridge we photographed a C
locomotive with 3 old coaches. It was soon followed by a C 11
train departure from the Suruga- Tokuyama station. We hurried
to Senzu station where we caught glimpse of a C 56 tender locomotive
at the head of a train of the Ikawa line in the Senzu yard.
Having seen all the possible steam trains, we visited the head
office of Ooigawa Railway Company in Shin-Kanaya and we met Mr.
Shirai (now, he is an adviser of Dai-Tetsu Technology service)
and executive director Mr. Shimizu. How could a day like this
be rounded up better than with an "eel dinner" in the
fine restaurant nearby Hamamatsu station. First impressions are
4. Steam locomotives
in the Meiji-Mura Museum
The next day, on the 8th Nov,
we visited the Meiji-Mura Museum with our friends, Mr. and Mrs.
Miyazaki. Again luck and weather were on our side and the No.12
steam locomotive of the old Bisai Railway was running this day.
This locomotive was manufactured by Sharp Stewart in England(1871).
A sister of this locomotive, No.5, was the first to run the Shinbashi-
Yokohama line thereby ushering in the steam era to Japan. It
was amusing to see how the screw type coupler was released and
connected and the manual change of direction of the turntable
was great fun. We saw Japan's first locomotive from the old Bisai
Railway manufactured by Brucks (USA), a steam car of wooden chassis
and the old imperial coach produced by the Shimbashi Railway
For the evening we were invited by Mr. and Mrs. Miyazaki into
Laszlo was given a present, an N-gauge model of the locomotive
C 50. With this event his new collection, that of Japanese locomotives
5. Model railway shop
In order not to feel alone in
distant South Africa we had to find companions to the C 50. The
following day, on the 9th Nov, with the company and full support
of my wife Yasuko we left by subway to Nagoya to visit the town,
the castle, the book-store and guess what, yes, the model railway
shop. (I must solemnly declare that I am not responsible for
this new hobby of his. Or not entirely.)
The evening which was his last with us in Obu began in a fine
restaurant and was followed by a concert of the Canadian Brass
Ensemble in Obu City Hall.
Our guest was very much impressed by the cosmopolitan Obu.
Then the hardship of packing ...
6. Start from the Umekouji engine shed,
The last day with Laszlo was
planned for Kyoto by Shinkansen train. Mr. Inoue gave us company
to this excursion. Umekouji Needless to say our first program
was to visit the Umekouji Museum of Steam Locomotives. All the
famous locomotives which Laszlo had read about were in front
of him in the beautiful autumn sunshine. He was so excited! Even
a D 51 was found steaming out of the station !
In the afternoon we took Laszlo to the Ginkaku-ji temple, as
a rehearsal of his walking of Kyoto alone. We admired the structure
of "Muromachi" era and Japanese rock garden with early
red leaves. We had the farewell party to in one of the restaurants
at Kyoto station hoping to meet us again in the future.
7. Epilogue ....
Somewhat I was anxious to let
him to discover Kyoto on his own the next day, because he could
hardly speak more Japanese than "Kam-pai". I phoned
therefore the evening the Japanese type inn where he stayed in
Kyoto. I was very much relieved to hear that he was not lost
but reading my translation of the digest version of the "TMS
NMRC Special". He was guided by the inn-keeper in Kyoto,
who happened to be.... a steam train enthusiast.
My previous knowledge about South Africa was hardly more than
the Garratt locomotives. When I see the book with beautiful color
photographs and the videotapes of steam locomotives of South
Africa which Laszlo brought with him. I feel one day I shall
pay a visit to his country.
The five days of his visit passed so quickly and there is so
much left to discuss. I am very happy that there is a friend
of Japanese steam locomotives in South Africa so far in the Southern
Hemisphere. I am so curious to see a small super express train
"Sakura; Cherry " headed by a C 59 run on a layout
in that distant country some day.
Finally, herewith I wish to express my gratitude to our friends,
the Miyazakis and Mr. Inoue to take time to entertain my guest
This is the short story of a memorable and busy five days meeting
a train friend from the other end of the world.
Laszlo, "Kam-pai !!"
the part of "Yard No. 568", Jan. 1999, NMRC Shigeomi
With the cooperation
of modification on April 1999 by Dr. Laszlo T Kozma