Last September, the Wolsztyn Experience celebrated its 25th year of operation
Chairman Howard Jones felt it a prudent opportunity as we head into 2023, to remind everybody of the direct achievements The Wolsztyn Experience have managed to accomplish. In 1997, Howard Jones moved to Wolsztyn when Polish state railways were one big company. Then, the end was in sight for the steam roundhouse at Wolsztyn, however Howard has devoted the last 25 years to ensuring that steam not only survived but flourished and continued to be the last remaining commuter steam hauled standard gauge service left in Europe, if not the world.
Over the years, it has been heartening to see that the Polish people have begun to realise what an absolutely unique and culturally exceptional operation they have in their marvelous country. Not so very long ago it was very unusual to see commuters and general public photographing the steam locomotives, now, you cannot whistle without attracting attention of a camera phone!
The entire unique sphere of steam locomotive operation on commuter passenger trains is not a cheap undertaking. The whole network of support staff and infrastructure is labour intensive and costs much more than operating diesel rail cars. Nevertheless, all those years ago, Howard was able to establish a business plan that would help to finance the cost disparity in this operation, thus a stay of execution was granted for this culturally unique asset. This ensured the ongoing survival of the skilled workforce, Wolsztyn Roundhouse; and the living, breathing real steam operation. This is so much more than a high days and holidays museum railway.
In addition to day to day running costs, some of our other financial contributions have been major projects. For example the restoration to the vital water tower which was completely destroyed in a storm.
We were then delighted to fully finance new, specially made metal wheel tyres for Pacific PM36 Beautiful Helena to make sure she could remain in operating condition.
TWE also financed her repainting and the extension of the turntable at Wolsztyn to allow the locomotive to be turned so she could be enjoyed by all.
In 2001, OL49-69 was in a very bad mechanical way with a damaged firebox. We sourced spares from OL49-99 at the museum at Choszczno, which had had a complete boiler overhaul in 1994 and only run a handful of times since. We arranged for the loco to be moved to Gniezno, where two locos combined to create the wonderful working 69 we see today, thus saving 69 from certain extinction. All of these repairs were proudly paid for by us.
With the help of generous benefactors in the Wolsztyn Experience, the OK-22-31 locomotive also received a new lease of life when we financed a full restoration and overhaul at the Piła workshops and enabled us to run schedule passenger and freight services with her.
Not long after PKP Cargo took direct control of Wolsztyn Roundhouse, and created a public company, they were no longer able to accept charitable donations to help fund operations. Consequently, to continue our direct financial support, we suggested there was a substantial increase in the price we should pay for the official footplate passes that allow our guests onto the locomotives. This was gladly accepted and thus ensured TWE could continue to subsidise the steam for everybody’s enjoyment, something that holds strong to this day.
We also helped other burgeoning steam railway preservation sites that were beginning to blossom across Poland, from the narrow gauge at Gniezno to restoring the TkT48 Tank at Jaworzyna Śląska in 2006, so that we could operate scheduled services between Wrocław to Jelcz and Laskowice in 2007.
Further in 2007, TWE arranged and paid for the transportation to and from the United Kingdom, of Great Western Railway Prairie tank engine 5521 to participate in the 100th anniversary parade at Wolsztyn. 5521 also took part in the 2008 and 2009 parades, before returning to the UK.
In 2008, 5521 joined the TkT tank in operating the Wrocław - Jelcz scheduled services for 90 days of operation, where three trains a day were operated.
From the 2009 season, we began to support the Turkol tour program to demonstrate the future market of railway tourism for both enthusiasts and families alike. We have been heartened at how the rail tour and special train program has flourished, especially long distance trains, since this initial injection of support.
When the scheduled services came to an abrupt end in March 2014, there was a near three year vacuum of steam, before the cultural institution at the roundhouse was formed. Despite this period being particularly bleak, we operated in conjunction with regional railways and Turkol, 100 days of local special services. This enabled just enough activity to keep the operation’s life blood flowing, with skilled men in work, to see that the roundhouse expertise and equipment survived. Meanwhile, massive support and pressure from friends of The Wolsztyn Experience around the world, campaigned to restore the scheduled steam operation. We even saw high level involvement and appeals to Ambassadors in such countries as the United Kingdom, America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan who provided support to our cause to which we are eternally grateful.
Fortunately, such hard work paid off and the scheduled services restarted in May 2017. Regular real, timetabled steam is the unique selling point of this operation and attracts tourists from around the world.
From that time onwards we continued to fund Turkol tours long distance trains, until the devastating effect of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Publicity and flying the flag for Poland is also important to us. Howard was staggered and honoured to receive the Medal of the British Empire from the late Her Majesty the Queen for his work in Wolsztyn and promoting such favourable British - Polish relations and co-operation. We should remind ourselves of the ‘money can’t buy’ international publicity that TWE have created for both Wolsztyn and Poland, starring in multiple news and documentary films. We have been on BBC news television at least twice, ABC news in Australia, Michael Plain’s ‘New Europe’ and Michael Portillio’s ‘Bradshaw’s railway guide’ to name just a few. It’s really not a coincidence that when you ‘Google’ Wolsztyn, the first thing you see is the steam!
There are newspapers, magazines articles and photographs too numerous to mention (over 100!) but some highlights would include the London Times, Daily Mail, Readers Digest in 25 countries, The Financial Times, Country Life, Maxim. Our reach is global, but regular press reports in addition to Europe can be found in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Turkey. It’s a proud feeling to put Wolsztyn firmly on the world map!
Over these 25 years, from it’s footplate courses to personal contributions, The Wolsztyn Experience has spent just short of 12 million Polish Zloty in total on these projects. It is fair to say that the roundhouse and Polish community has benefitted significantly with this investment. In addition, we calculate that over the years our guests have spent over 5 million Zloty in the Polish economy, much of it in the picturesque and friendly town of Wolsztyn itself.
Extremely Difficult times face us in 2023. We have been immensely proud of working with the loyal and special staff at Wolsztyn round house over the years. We would love to carry on; not just our intangible support, but our heartfelt desire to continue to contribute significant finances to this unique operation. However, this future depends on a mutual, pragmatic direction and understanding from all parties involved. Ultimately, 12 million zloty (over 2 million British Pounds) goes a long way in making the difference between yet another non descript, cold, lifeless museum and a regular working, living, breathing real steam railway operation.
Let’s hope that we can.
The Wolsztyn Experience welcomes Ukrainian Refugees
Howard Jones and his wife Ola who run The Wolsztyn Experience steam loco footplate courses in Poland have taken in a Ukrainian family in the house used for course participants.
Howard and Ola have also rented a large house and placed four more Ukrainian families in it, this has all become possible by the generosity of those that have been on steam footplate courses in Wolsztyn. So far £23,000 has been donated and Howard is looking into the possibility of renting further houses.
The families so far consist of 16 Ukrainians, made up of Grandmothers, Mothers and children, a baby and a small dog all who will all need our support for several months so we are doing everything possible to make sure that we have funds will cover their needs.
They arrived with nothing only the clothes they travelled in so Ola has been shopping for food, clothes, and toys for the children and medical essentials to supply to the families.
The photograph to the right shows Ukrainian children Krystyna and Maxim given their first introduction to a steam locomotive by Howard Jones and Polish driver Andrzej
Previous news from Wolsztyn
Following on from renting accommodation for Ukrainian families we have been entertaining these shell shocked families in an effort to replace in their memories the horrible experiences they have suffered with new happy memories. The biggest events were staged over Easter when approx. 300 Ukrainians were taken to Stefanowo for a barbeque with a bouncy castle, child entertainers including face painting for the children.
The 300 were split into two groups, one departing on a special steam to Stefanowo whilst the other half were shown around the depot at Wolsztyn, where a bouncy castle had been set up and group pictures were taken. On arrival of the first group at Stefanowo the children were entertained and a barbeque was provided. The second group after their visit to the depot were transported by coach to Stefanowo, where upon the first group boarded the coaches back to Wolsztyn to enjoy the entertainment set up there. The second group after their barbeque returned on the waiting steam train to Wolsztyn. Future trips are planned including a visit to the Zoo in Poznan.
In the meanwhile we have been funding medical packs and generators and shipping them to the Ukraine. We would like to thank all of you that have generously supported us in our efforts to help Ukraine and their people. Recently our first Americans on footplate courses this year arrived In Wolsztyn; Stan Aimes and Doug Blain brought funds from the USA, topping up contributions to the £50,000 mark of which approximately half as been spent so far.
A selfie of Ola and the visiting Americans Stan Aimes and Doug Blain with the Ol loco in the background at Wolsztyn. Credit - Ola Sikucinska.
The castle alongside the depot offices at Wolsztyn. Credit - Ola Sikucinska.
An aerial view of the scene at Stefanowo where a Tkt tank engine has been plinthed as part of a small railway museum housed in the station. These great drone shots can easily be obtained in Poland where flying regulations are far less restrictive. Credit - Arthur Wieczorek
The scene at Stefanowo, in the background the plinthed Tkt tank engine and Ol49-69.
Credit - Ola Sikucinska.
A group pix of a number of the Ukrainians and Polish guides in front of Ol49-69 at Wolsztyn. Credit - Ola Sikucinska.
An aerial view of Tuchorza showing Ol49-69 returning with the Ukrainian special from Stefanowo. Credit - Arthur Wieczorek