At the entrance of the Heritage Transport Museum, wafts of heat hit you in two waves; one coming from the summer sun, and the other, from the burning coal that fuels a locomotive engine.
The locomotive is a 1953 Jung Steam Engine, built by a German manufacturer named Arnold Jung Locomotive Works.
Collector and owner of the Heritage Transport Museum, Tarun Thakral, managed to acquire the engine after a four-year-long process.
The engine was being stored in a defunct condition for 20 years by the Rohtas Industries, in Bihar’s Dehri-On-Sone region. In October 2016, the locomotive was brought to the museum in Gurgaon and given a new lease of life.
“The Railways today do not have many (steam) engines available. Most of them are on pedestals outside various stations and they’re very reluctant to give old steam engines away to private entrepreneurs or private museums,” says Thakral, who managed to get his hands on not only the 1953 Jung, but also the 1921 Kerr Stuart steam engine.
A hotelier by profession, Thakral had the possession of the engines but not the technical knowledge to bring it back to life.
“We interviewed a couple of people in Delhi, closer to Delhi in Rewari where Indian Railways has a locomotive shed. We were not very comfortable with the gentlemen because they never gave us a concrete plan,” he says, explaining the process of finding an equally enthusiastic person who could accept the project.
The German engine was finally handed over to 74-year-old MS Rangaswamy, a former railway engineer from Chennai. Rangaswamy arrived in Delhi with a team of eight other former railway employees and gave a solid restoration plan to Thakral.
“The retired Delhi officials who know me and my previous association with the Fairy Queen which subsequently entered the Guinness Book of World Records got in touch with me and said that some museum has purchased this locomotive and they want to resurrect it,” says Rangaswamy, who made the restoration possible within 34 days.
Rangaswamy has worked on two of the three steam engines which remain functional today. He happens to be the person who took up the challenge of resurrecting the well-known Fairy Queen locomotive in 1997. The 1855 London built locomotive was taken off tracks by the British in 1909.
Rangaswamy fondly remembers his younger days, when he accepted the job of restoring the Fairy Queen , when all the other railway divisions had given up on it.
“It was running between Howrah and Raniganj, covering a distance of 101 miles. It was put on a pedestal in Howrah, then it was on a pedestal in Chandausi, then it came to National Rail Museum in New Delhi and then all the zonal railways were contacted for its resurrection. I took it to Chennai and resurrected it in 2 months and I ran a commercial run from New Delhi to Alwar every second and fourth Saturday (of the month),” said a visibly proud Rangaswamy.
Such is the romance induced by these fire-guzzling metal boxes from an era gone-by. The shared passion of a hotelier from Delhi and a retired railway engineer from Chennai turned into an elixir for a scrap piece of metal.