National | Regional voices: Chubu

Rail car mover, used to carry bricks in Gifu, to be restored 40 years after retirement

Chunichi Shimbun

Efforts are underway to restore an abandoned freight car mover that was used until some 40 years ago to carry firebricks at a brick factory in the major ceramics production town of Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture.

Kobei Kato, 72, the seventh-generation master of local pottery Kobei-gama and a rail fan who had kept the car mover, has been working since spring with Masahiro Sasada, 46, a dermatologist and a railway writer from Koka, Shiga Prefecture, to restore the machine so it can be put on display as an artefact of industrial heritage.

The car mover is a C2-type vehicle that had been used on a siding at a factory run by TYK Corp., a refractory manufacturer in Tajimi.

From 1949, the then Japanese National Railways manufactured 140 car movers, each weighing 5 tons and measuring 3.5 meters in length and 2 meters in width, during the postwar period when resources were scarce. They were built with secondhand 40 horsepower gasoline engines used for buses, and equipped with accelerator and brake pedals like cars. The vehicles were said to have been able to move only at a speed of about 10 kilometers per hour.

The car mover came to the TYK factory after being used by Japanese National Railways. It pulled freight cars carrying firebricks to the nearby Ichinokuraguchi Station of Tohnoh Tetsudou Co.’s now-defunct Kasahara Line. The firebricks were then distributed nationwide via the Kasahara Line and the JNR.

After the Kasahara Line was closed, in 1978, the car mover was retired, and had long been abandoned on the factory grounds.

About 15 years ago, Kato passed by the factory and noticed the vehicle. He told then-TYK President Susumu Ushigome he would like to adopt the car mover and keep it on the grounds of Kobei-gama.

Sasada learned about the car mover from a readers’ column in a railway magazine. He said he was excited to find out that the vehicle still existed, believing that it is the only remaining car mover of its type.

He visited Kato last fall and requested that the vehicle be restored, and the collaboration started.

Until this spring leaving the vehicle outdoors had been unavoidable, and it had become quite weather-beaten.

The iron plating was rusty and had holes in it, and the wood floor was rotted. They filled the holes with an aluminum sheet and replaced the floor. They also painted the vehicle yellow, based on earlier photographs, but they have said it is difficult to repair the engine.

The car mover is currently on a 10-meter-long railway track in the pottery grounds, but Kato plans to extend the track by about 10 meters and build a roofed garage as well.

“When the restoration work is done, I want to see the vehicle towed by manpower,” Kato said. “I want to give it a name.”

“I’m glad to feel like the vehicle has been brought back to life,” Sasada said.

They plan to hold an event this summer to show the restored vehicle to the public.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published May 31.