Oh, those charming railway pictures...

THERE ARE PEOPLE who say that Shirish Gaikwad lives a charmed life, spending his days amidst those silent relics of the Satpura Lines you will find in the Motibagh railway museum in Nagpur. Gaikwad will be seen to ride into the museum on his mobike at 12 noon and his duty carries on till late in the evening when a guard may be found moving around the lawns blowing a whistle, reminding folks that it is time to leave, that the gates of the museum are about to be shut for the night. From then on, all through the night, till noon of the following day, these rail antiques lie silent and unattended, solitary remnants of a bygone age that saw such a lot of smoke, grime, steam and the clank of buffers. Each of these antiques has a story behind it, each was a part of a large system that once throbbed with life. Now left in lonesome solitude, each longs to tell its tale to anyone who cares to stoop and lend an ear. If you are keen on hearing the story, you have but to talk to Shri Gaikwad, for he knows it all.

Here then is a man whose days are spent among grand old vintage railway stuff. If such is the life he leads, then I, for one, would say that Shirish is on an enviable job, a dream assignment that is the cherished dream of many a rail enthusiast. But wait a minute, Shri Gaikwad is no dumb museum manager. Rail museum managers are inevitably men of engineering, men who know what exactly needs to be done when a crank rod gives trouble or a bogie underneath a carriage shifts out of place. Engineering skill is as much an essential prerequisite here as managerial ability and a sense of proportion as well as a willingness to share information with the enthusiast, qualities that go a long way in making a visit to the museum a memorable experience for the visitor.

The latest in a long line of managers of the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum of Nagpur, Shri Shirish Gaikwad seems to possess a happy blend of all these ingredients. I first came across him some years ago. I had one look at him and I knew here was a man who was skilled, a man who was both tough and efficient, one who would stand no nonsense. Shri Gaikwad has years of experience as Senior Section Engineer in the Carriage & Wagon unit of the South East Central Railway, undoubtedly making him an able candidate for the post he now holds. Would this gentleman stand up to my enthusiast’s babble, my constant harping on the theme of heritage? My fears were soon put to rest for I found that Gaikwad loves to interact with people who are genuinely fascinated by the museum and its exhibits. And best of all, he has proved to be a mentor to me. My age long search for Edmondson’s railway tickets finally came to an end when Gaikwad cheerfully opened a drawer in his desk and let me have my pick from among a whole stack of printed card tickets.

Heritage railway pictures on display at the exhibition
held in the Motibagh rail museum.

An exhibition of archival photographs is ongoing at the Motibagh musuem showcasing the heritage of the Bengal Nagpur Railway. A selection of these pictures together with some of those that already grace the walls of the museum form the content of this picture essay that is as much meant to inform as to delight. Shri Gaikwad’s contribution in making the exhibition a success is undisputed ; for his kindness in allowing me to reproduce this selection I shall remain deeply grateful.

Our very first picture is an outdoor construction site. Native workers with British engineering officials at a railway bridge construction site at the turn of the nineteenth century.

St Augustine’s Church in Bilaspur, a charming heritage structure dating back to British times.

The English medium Railway School in Bilaspur

Last of the RD lass, No 010, was built by M/s Nasmythe Wilson & Company Limited, Manchester in 1926, and served on the Raipur—Dhamtari narrow gauge branch line section. This loco is now preserved at the South Eastern Railway’s headquarters at Garden Reach, Calcutta.

BNR Class D No. 64, 4-4-0, was built by M/s Neilson & Company, Glasgow in 1885. This was one of the earliest broad gauge locomotives on the Bengal Nagpur Railway.

An 8-wheeled narrow gauge wooden body guard, luggage and postal van built by BNR.

Bhanwartonk Tunnel on the Katni—Bilaspur section was built in 1907.

A  4-wheel broad gauge wooden body carriage No. 213 built by the Bengal Nagpur Railway.

A close-up of the underframe of the 4-wheel carriage above. I have got rid of the sepia tint here!

Bengal Nagpur Railway Class N, No. 38818 Garratt leaves Kusumkasa loop with a 2400 tonne ore train bound for the Bhilai steelworks. Garratts were introduced by the BNR in 1927 ; the first two were HSG class, followed by sixteen N class locos, and served till as late as 1970 hauling coal and iron ore trains on the Anara - Bhojudih and Bhilai – Dallirajhara sections. 

Early workshops and factories were all powered by stationary steam engines. Here native workers may be seen operating a gigantic steam hammer used in forging components of a steam locomotive.

BNR broad gauge Class L No. 466, 2-8-2, was built by the North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow. These L class tank engines were first introduced by the BNR in 1913 and continued till 1921 for heavy shunting and coal traffic.

The railways had to be prepared to come to the aid of the military at a moment’s notice. These pretty looking ambulance cars were built by the BNR in 1930 for use on the narrow gauge Satpura network.  The one marked with a bold cross is self-propelled, driven by a built-in petrol engine.

An early narrow gauge locomotive of the Raipur – Dhamtari section begins its journey with a load of goods wagons. Note the broad gauge wagons in the distance.

Atop the engine tender.  A locoshed worker wets coal with buckets of water to ensure even and complete combustion when the fuel is shoveled into the firebox.

The tea stall on Gondia station platform, 1932.  The term ‘Hindu Tea Stall’ may seem unusual by today’s standards; but Hindu paani, Musalman paani, Refreshment Room: Muslim and others such words were a common part of railway station vocabulary in British times.

Two pretty state railway emblems among the many on display at the heritage exhibition in Motibagh.

Ravindra Bhalerao