Sunday, September 28, 2014

Heikki - the ultimate adventure machine!

Petri from Finland had posted a picture of a steamtrain on the net and called it the greatest Adventure machine of all. He's right of course. Steamtrains opened up a whole new world to generations of people. Even today, more than a hundred years after they were introduced, steam has still something magic to it. Even the most 'stubborn' petrol head will agree that steam engines are special. In England Steam is big. There are Steam festivals all over the country every year. Showman's engines can still be found on public roads, going from festival to festival. Steam in the UK is very much part of England's motoring history and indeed industrial revolution. In Australia it's all much more on a smaller scale, although Tasmania has a relatively large number of steam enthusiasts. But what about Finland?

Well, if Heikki in Nurmes is anything to go by, steam is very much alive here too. Of course Finland has 'only' 5 million people compared to 60 million in the UK, so it's all a bit on a smaller scale… or is it? Heikki can't be described as small. It's a decent size steam train! Not only that; it's the only steam train of it's kind in Europe that's wood fired rather than coal fired.

Heikki was discovered as a complete wreck. Standing next to it now, in it's fully restored form, I can't even begin to imagine how much work has gone into it. Restoring old motorcycles can be quite challenging, you have probably read the incredible story of Arne's Nash, that we were chauffeured around in while in Norway. Now try to imagine what it is like to restore a steam train… There are no spare parts available, there are no drawings… Technical drawings have to be made for every part, and each part has to be made by hand. The sheer volume of the work involved is mind boggling. The size of each part is huge too! You can't just pick up a wheel or piston and fit it by hand… Remember also that this is all done in a small town in Finland, not in England where there are many engineering firms that can handle this kind of work. Heikki isn't all about show, on the website you can find an extensive train schedule: Heikki is used!

We visited the Steamrail yard in Nurmes, Finland and were met by the owner of both the buildings and the trains, Tapani Laakso. Tapani was in overalls, a hands-on man so to speak, and explained that it was all a hobby to him. If ever there was a 'grown out of hand' hobby then this must be it :-) Of course he hasn't done all the work himself. While we were there there were several others in overalls 'hobby-ing' with him. Heikki is not the only steamtrain. 'Lisa' was inside for maintenance and there are also a couple of smaller shunt locomotives.

When in Finland, go to Nurmes! Check at the website for scheduled events and special runs. With special thanks to Petri!