The D51 steam locomotive was by far the most common in Japan, with more than one thousand built between 1936 and 1945. As such it is well known and well loved - even by people without any particular interest in trains.
D51 498, which has been restored and is used by JR East for many special events, ran between Kitakami and Yokote (in Akita Prefecture) this weekend. I was sure I would miss it completely, because we were to be in Narita this weekend meeting the dogs and I thought the locomotive was scheduled to run on Saturday and Sunday.
Then yesterday (Monday) morning, I heard that distinctive whistle of a steam locomotive. So I ran up to the bedroom to check the view of the tracks... and saw a small diesel leading a steamer and a string of passenger cars over the rail bridge, towards the station
. Was I off by a day? Was the train running again? Where did I put the flyer that had the schedule?
I eventually found the flyer and learned that I had been mistaken about the dates, and that it was indeed running on Sunday and Monday! Reading the schedule, I also found out what time I would need to go out to get a photo of it on the return trip.
So that afternoon, I went out into the rain to the only spot I knew with a good view, a road crossing on a curve about a ten minute bike ride from home. There were a handful of other interested people there with umbrellas, and an official JR guy to try to keep us from getting on the tracks and to make sure traffic stopped when the train came through.