4 June 2007

Animal Stories

Keeping in touch with the current modernisation of the railway system in South India, some lively animal ‘train’ stories to bring some good cheer . . . from many years ago . . .

'We had a series of encounters during the trial runs, with a variety of (domesticated) animals being run down on the track, because the poor things were not used to such a fast train coming down on to them, and, (in the truly secular fashion!), we ran over cows, pigs, donkeys, and even camels, though luckily there were no derailments ... till one of the Diesel Assistants suggested that perhaps we could change the whistle on the locomotive, and being a different sound, the cattle might be warned not to amble along as in the steam hauled days .... so we got a whistle from the American built WDM4 locomotives from Mogal Serai .... lo, and behold! from the first day on wards, the different sound of the whistle did the trick ... apparently, the animals sensed that they could not take chances with the new, fast train hurtling down the track towards them!

But the very best experience came on the Mailani-Gauriphanta section of the erstwhile Lucknow Division of the NERly, ... this line runs along the Nepal border, a very picturesque terrain with dense forests on the route, and one unforgettable sight was the long line of 'baya ka ghoslas' on the telegraph lines, so symmetrical and plentiful that I have not seen else where . . . anyway the story concerns a lamp lighter going down the tracks to light up the kerosene lamp in the distant signal, and while he was walking down the line, a steam hauled train was coming behind him, and the driver whistled to him . . . thinking that the driver was warning him to watch out, without looking back, he raised his hand to acknowledge the whistle . . . but then the driver started whistling repeatedly and frenziedly, so the lamp lighter looked back in annoyance, as if to say 'what is the matter with you? I heard you the first time' . . . only to realise to his shock and horror that the driver was wanting to draw his attention to the fact that, barely a few yards behind the lamp lighter, a fully grown tiger was following him at the same leisurely pace . . . history has it that the world record of 100 metres race was broken that day, when the frightened lamp lighter ran for his life up the steps of the signal post, away and safe from the tiger, depriving that poor chap his dinner!

... At the beginning of the 20th century:

"One night a she-bear entered the hut used as an office by the railway traffic department and cubbed under the Superintendent's table ... at Jamshedpur."

A little known fact about this jumbo special: it ran from Trichur to Delhi via a circuitious route via Renigunta-Wadi-Hyderabad-Kazipet. The local papers in Kerala used to give daily reports of this progress. This was for the Dehli games in 1982 when 38 elephants were needed for ceremonies

No newspaper bothered to ask why this route was taken rather than the obvious Kerala Express route. My guess was it was to avoid the Madras-Vijaywada section which was one of the few electrified routes in the South in 1982. As far as I recall, the elephant train would not have encountered any electrified section if it followed that route in 1982.

Just imagine what would happen if Appu decided to explore the 25KV line with his trunk !

I have seen some old reference to an elephant getting an electric shock while being transported on the Mumbai-Pune route. However he seems to have survived the lower voltage of 1.5 KV DC."

[submitted by Satyam]

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