The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Map 3f Trang

Arrow points to Trang

Monday 14 October 1968

Hello again all~

Well, yesterday was one of “those days”! It began pleasantly enough with 7:30 rising in Phuket & a nice breakfast. Decided to change the oil in the Honda, which was accomplished without difficulty. Then a 20 km or so drive to the west side of the island, there to take a quick dip in whatever ocean it is at a lovely (& deserted) beach, (golf-course[!!] adjacent. Then on back to the main road. I’d just crossed the bridge back to the mainland when I recognized the curious “unstable” feeling of a tire going flat—and sure enuf, my second flat of the trip had occurred. This time it was a puncture from a very small nail, so I was able to get the tube patched at the next town (15¢), thus not losing a tube as previously. But it took time to change and what with other dalliances, I suppose it was nearly 11 o’clock when I left Khlo kloi, and it was sprinkling just a bit. That stopped almost at once, though, and it was a pleasant warm drive to Phang nga, where I stopped for a Pepsi. From here on, the road got much more spectacular, ascending by way of a long and twisty grade a range of very lovely mountains, then descending the other side into what proved to be a very large inland plateau. The mountains are solid chunks of [limestone] rock, with many sheer faces to which the jungle somehow clings. A spelunker’s paradise, I should guess, gathering from the number of caves I saw. The road was good, and the surroundings much more like what I’d expected on the crossing to Ranong. Not long after reaching this nice interior plateau, though the “interior rain” commenced, and my goodness!! — how it did rain! I was better prepared this time, & had a plastic raincoat (on backwards) under a cloth rain-coat (forwards). But there’s no keeping out rain like this so there is no choice but to get—eventually—soaked through. The worst of the storm passed after about 1/2 hr, but from that time on for close to 3 hrs it was slow but steady rain. I drove on through it all, though one has to go more slowly, and one gets tired more rapidly because greater attention has to be paid to driving. Thus, with all the delays, slow roads, rain and so forth it was nearly 6:30 when I reached Huai Yot (I’d missed Krabi altogether—it’s off the highway a bit), and the last 28 kms to Trang were in early evening darkness (thankfully, not too buggy). Exhausted and very wet, I checked into a hotel, got around a plate of fried rice very quickly, & sacked out!

Map 3g Nakhon

Arrow points to Nakhon Si Thammarat

BACKSTORY: Though I say above I “got around a plate of fried rice”, the fact is I “got around” only a few bites. There was NO one in the hotel who spoke english, but I managed to get across to the cook “flied lice”, and in due course, a lovely plate-ful appeared, looking soooo innocent, with lttle shrimps and everything—and some green and red specks I didn’t recognize. Years later I learned these specks were pickynoos, a tiny kind of pepper that packs more wallop per unit size than anything I’d ever tasted. Holy mackerel! My mouth was on fire! There were handfuls of these thingies in there, and I though I would die if I tried to eat all that. So I didn’t, much to the mystification of the cook.

In my last letter, incidentally, I was right on my directions before I changed them. Studying the map a bit and getting my bearings, I shall be going down the west coast of west Malaysia; Hua Hin is on the east coast (or western shore) of the Gulf of Thailand, which I have been circling more or less this whole trip.

According to my diary, I spent a day in Trang, which does not square with the dates on these letters: A lazy day in Trang. Stocked up on soap, razor blades, tooth paste, but can;t find film. Tomorrow I go to Nakhon Sri Thammarat for overnite & back next day. I did drive to Kan Tang (to get my shoes dry!!) which is on the sea & end of the branch rry. Only steam here!

Train in countryside

Somewhere on the way to Nakohn Sri Thamarat

Apparently I found some film!

Freight Train at Ron Phibun

We passed a freight train at Ron Phibun

Train with Locomotive 353

Train with #353 in charge: I can't read the station sign

Locomotive 353 depart

RSR Loco 353 departs with its train

Locomotive 841 with train

Somewhere we passed this fine locomotive and train

Tuesday, 15 October 1968

Well, it turned out to be a one-day round-trip excursion after all, and a very pleasant one indeed. No less than 6 different engines were involved (3 up and 3 back): 4 of these were Baldwin 3-cylinder jobs built in Philadelphia in 1929, and the other two were Japanese 2-cylinder units built 20 years later! All were burning wood, and all had rather inefficient spark-arresters, so I arrived back in Trang somewhat “holier” than when I left. The trip began at 6:30 AM, and the climb up to Thung Song Junction was pretty, cool, & a bit foggy (somehow, I’d not expected fog in the tropics). The train splits there and a short run, mostly down hill, takes one to Khoe Chung Thong Junction; from there it is essentially flat to Nakhon, which turned out to be less of a town than expected. Arrived shortly before noon, and the return train left at 12:30, which just left time for a bowl of chok and a pepsi. The return was warmer, clearer, and a bit faster, so we pulled into Trang at 5:30 PM. There were a dozen engines chugging around in the yards at Thung Song—truly a wonderful sight. Although the railway is buying 30 diesels this year, they will still have lots of steam engines rolling for some years. They have wood enuf stacked here and there to keep them fueled for years, and although it seems like a lot of wood, it has barely made a dent—if that—on the thousands of acres of jungle where it is cut (all by hand, incidentally).

So, tomorrow off to Phathalung. The map shows some squiggles in the road that I interpret to be another mountainous crossing—I hope—and I also hope to avoid rain by getting an early start. Will probably go all the way to Songkhla, which is another beach-resort sort of spot, very pretty I’m told—and probably my last stop on the east coast of the gulf of Thailand for quite a while.

Friday 18 October 1968

Two days ago I departed Trang about 7:30 AM. I soon reached the “squiggly” part of the road shown on the map—a thoroughly delightful & very twisty steep grade over a nice range of mountains. From the bottom of the down-hill side the road straightens out and goes doe a long alluvium to the north inland shore of the huge bay—a point I reached about 10:00. It’s pretty—there are  a number of islands—but no beach. After re-tracing my steps to Phathalung & stopping for a pepsi, I proceeded on around the bay, and around 11 ran into rain, some of which I waited out at the roadside. Eventually, I reached Haadyai (Hat Yai on the map). Now, Haadyai was the surprise on this leg of the journey: it’s just a dot on my map, but once again the cartographer erred, for it is a large town, and it is the junction for the two rail lines coming north from Malaysia. There is a brand-new and very nice railway station-hotel complex, new engine shops, a big switching yard, & oodles of steam engines. I watched all this for about an hour, drying off a bit, then went on to Songkhla (pronounced “sing-kla), where once again it was raining lightly. The town itself is a rather dismal place, though there are large resort-type hotels surrounding all the beaches. After bidding farewell to the Gulf of Thailand, I drove back to Haadyai, checked into a hotel, then poked around town, getting some dinner, etc, & went to be rather early.

The next morning I gravitated naturally to the railway, and found myself poking around all sorts of places I’m sure I was not supposed to be; but the Ass’t Chief Fitter, who spoke some english, took me under his wing, taking me home for lunch, then back to the shops for the afternoon, and later back to his home for drinks and dinner. Altogether a very pleasant day!

The Assistant Chief Fitter had apprenticed in the Baldwin Locomotive Works in the US, hence his rusty command of english. He was older than methuselah, but very spry; he seemed to have no real job to do, but he fully understood my fascination with steam locomotives and even got me a ride on the yard engine. Alas, he failed to understand my fascination with his nephew, present at both meals, a spectacular youth that had my mouth watering even more than then food!

This letter will be continued on my next page, where I describe reaching Malaysia.

Written by Editor

January 24th, 2010 at 8:43 am

Posted in Locomotives,Thailand