Half a century ago, it had 85 steam engines and a staff of 500. Today it has nine engines and a staff of 25. Started in 1893, the Rewari Steam Loco Shed, 80km from Delhi, closed 100 years later. In 2002, it was declared a heritage shed. In 2010, a major revamp followed. Wandering pigs were removed, the barren field was landscaped and engines were painted.
The engines, which have appeared in films such as Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, Guru and Love Aaj Kal, are named Rewari King, Sahib, Sultan Sindh, Angadh, Akbar, Azad, Sher-e-Punjab and Virat.
“A steam engine’s fuel efficiency is 35%, a diesel’s is 65% and an electric’s is 98%,” says Shyam Bihari, the shed’s loco foreman, a designation that, along with steam engines, has become extinct.
Six days of the week, the shed’s fitters, boiler makers, machinists, turners, painters, loco cleaners, boiler-maker khalasis and fitter khalasis keep themselves busy servicing the old giants; cleaning the engine parts, refilling their boilers with water and emptying coal from fireboxes. Every Saturday at midnight, the loco workers “light up”, or warm up, an engine (it’s a different engine each week).
If it’s a broad gauge engine, 2 tonnes of coal and 20kg wood are filled into the firebox. Jute grass soaked in kerosene oil is thrown along with a lit matchstick. The engine warms up in 8 hours.
On Sunday, the engine driver lifts the regulator handle. The throttle valve opens, the wet steam escapes from the boiler, runs through an internal pipe and reaches the header box, where it gets superheated and is converted to dry steam, now as powerful as compressed gas. Travelling through branch pipes, it enters the cylinders where it pushes the piston. The connecting rod transfers the reciprocating motion of the piston into the circular motion of the driving wheels. The engine starts and the smoke comes out of the chimney. The engine takes visitors on a ride around the shed.
The shed is open daily from 8am-5pm. There are plans to use these revived locomotives to run steam engine-hauled trains between Delhi and Rewari for tourists.
Photographs by Pradeep Gaur/ Mint