Author Topic: Sakhalin Island Narrow Gauge  (Read 6030 times)

Steve Klare

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Sakhalin Island Narrow Gauge
« on: November 08, 2008, 12:02:38 AM »
Just a little Story:

In 2002 my wife and I decided we wanted to adopt a baby. We did a lot of research and decided that the best thing would be to adopt from Russia (there's a lot of detail left out along the way...so let's leave it at that. It's trying to be a railroad story after all!)

So in late January, 2003 we got a notification from our adoption councilor that our paperwork was fine and we had Aeroflot tickets for early February. We had about a half hour debate over the best way to put it off until June or July, but slowly realized that if we were really serious about this then a little thing like a Russian Winter shouldn't stop us.

So now we have just gotten off a plane on Sakhalin Island, Russia. We are 2/3 of the way around the world on the western shore of the Pacific and 15 Hours ahead of Eastern Standard (jet lag like you can't even imagine...).  We are off the coast of Siberia and it is 10 degrees F and there are 5 feet of snow basically everywhere. It really is about 10 feet, but they say it crunches down under its own weight. It is not exactly tropical.

So we are rattling away from the airport in a minivan when what do I see but railroad tracks, but not just any railroad tracks, but obvious narrow gauge. (!)

So I find myself in Railfan's Hell: there is an entire narrow gauge railroad out there, but I can't break away from the adoption group. I don't have my own wheels, and the Sakhalin Islanders aren't used to having foreigners poking around their railroad and might just arrest me!

Turns out the Sakhalin Railroad was built as a 42" gauge line when the island was part of Japan. When the Soviets booted them out at the end of WWII, they kept it that way up to present days, including captured Japanese steam well into the 1970s. They say there is a museum near where we were, but I never saw even a rivet of it!

Much like when I saw the Maine Central tracks in Farmington in the summer of 1982, it was a one time thing: there is a project underway right now to convert the system over to Russian Standard Gauge (5'), so if we ever go back it won't be the same.

The little boy we brought home to be our son (10 months then, six years now) loves trains. Like a kid born in Narrow Gauge Country should, his first train ride anywhere was from Sanders to Phillips on the SR&RL and the second was the round trip from Sheepscot on the WW&F (no Alna Center yet).

We have a loop of LGB in the yard, and talk about some HO in the basement. Maybe even an On2 revival some other time.

Being a railfan is great. Passing it on to a son is better!
« Last Edit: November 08, 2008, 12:48:20 AM by Steve Klare »

Tom Casper

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Re: Sakhalin Island Narrow Gauge
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2008, 08:09:09 PM »
Good story Steve.  Great ending.

Tom C.
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Stephen Hussar

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Re: Sakhalin Island Narrow Gauge
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2008, 09:06:50 PM »
Thanks for sharing that, Steve. Wonderful story!

Steve Klare

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Re: Sakhalin Island Narrow Gauge
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2008, 10:42:44 PM »
Thank You both!

In 2004 we vacationed in Boothbay Harbor. He was two years old.  We drove up to Sheepscot on a Saturday and he fell asleep in the car. He was still using a stroller back then so when we got to WW&F we put the whole assembly in the aisle of coach 3. A couple of hundred feet north of the platform he woke up and realised where he was and his eyes lit up!

His third railroad trip was around the loop at Boothbay that same week. He didn't actually ride standard gauge until the following December when we went to Manhattan on the Long Island Railroad.

-a pretty remarkable run for a little boy born in the year 2002.

I'll say this much: this boy may be the total destruction of my finances. I took him to ride at a live steam club recently and he said "We should get one of these, Daddy!". I really don't need too much encouragement along these lines.

The next time we go, I'll make sure my wife is there too!

When we were in Moscow I had a chance to step onto a platform and see my first real wide gauge track. To tell you the truth, the difference is so small between 5' and the Stephenson standard gauge I couldn't see it by eye. The fact that those 3.5 inches probably saved Russia when the Nazis invaded probably matters a lot more.  (A track of the wrong gauge is no track at all!)

On the way home, we flew over Siberia. For those of you that think the world is running out of space, go see Siberia in mid winter.  There was not a road, not a house, not a tree, not a river in sight for like twenty minutes at airliner speed. It was as if there was a snowstorm on Mars. After seeing this I knew for a fact that if we were forced down we'd freeze weeks before they found us!

On the way back from Moscow, we flew across the North Pole in daylight. It looked no worse!

« Last Edit: November 08, 2008, 11:57:57 PM by Steve Klare »