January 11, 2015

1406 ROMANIA (Maramureş) - Vaser Valley Mocăniţa


A Mocăniţă is a narrow gauge railway in Romania (most notably in mountainous areas in  Maramureş, Transylvania, and Bukovina), and the locomotives operating on them. The word mocăniţă is a term of endearment, derived from the Romanian word mocan (meaning shepherd or one who lives in the mountains), and suffixed as feminine and diminutive. Many of these forestry railways were built in the era of the  Austro-Hungarian Empire, especially in the Carpathian Mountains. They followed the rivers, often necessitating tight curves, hence the use of the narrow gauge. The tracks were constructed so as to enable small locomotives to pull empty logging wagons up into the mountains and to let heavily loaded trains roll down under gravity to the saw mills.

The most well-known mocăniță runs in the Vaser Valley in Maramureş County, in the far north of Romania, close to the border with the Ukraine. CFF Vişeu de Sus (CFF is the Romanian abbreviation for Căile Ferate Forestiere, meaning "Forestry Railway") is the last remaining forestry railway in Europe. The industrial use of timber in the Vaser Valley began in the 18th century, during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. German-speaking settlers explored the forest, harvested the timber, and transported it in log rafts down the river to the saw mills of Vişeu de Sus. This railway was constructed between 1933 and 1935 (under Romanian administration) and uses a gauge of 760mm (the standard for narrow gauge lines within the Austro-Hungarian Empire). It was partially destroyed by German troops during the WWII, but was rebuilt again.

While forest roads replaced the railways in most European countries after 1945, the forestry railways in Romania survived much longer. Even as late as 1986 new forestry steam locomotives were being built in Romania, and in 1989 more than 15 forestry railways were still in existence, totalling approximately 1000 kms of line. The economic changes commencing in 1990 had a devastating impact on the State-run forestry railways. Within a few years almost all were decommissioned and closed. Only Vaser River Railway is still operating, and serves its primary purpose, as a forestry railway for logging.

While forest roads replaced the railways in most European countries after 1945, in Romania they survived much longer. Even in 1986 new steam locomotives were being built, and in 1989 more than 15 forestry railways were still in existence, totalling 1000kms of line. The changes commencing in 1990 had a devastating impact on the State-run forestry railways, within a few years almost all being closed. Only Vaser River Railway survived, since 2003 being managed by the private Romanian corporation R.G. Holz Ltd. It is still used for logging, but in 2004 work began on rehabilitating it as a tourist attraction. A Swiss enthusiast helped this greatly by starting an organisation for saving the railway: Hilfe für die Wassertalbahn in Rumänien (Help for the Vaser Valley Railway).

The main line is 43 km long, from Vişeu de Sus to Comanu, near the Ukrainian border, and runs alongside the Vaser River with numerous curves, bridges and several tunnels, into a wild and romantic valley. The railway opens up a vast area of isolated forest and mountain, without roads or villages but with plenty bears and wolves instead. This trip usually takes between 3 and 4 hours (details on the official website). Several steam engines are used: 764-211 (Măriuţa) was built in Berlin by Orenstein & Koppel in 1910; 763-193 (Krauss) was also built in Germany, in 1921; and there are five Romanian locomotives built at Reşiţa between 1953-1955. On the postcard is 764.421 Elveţia (Switzerland), built at Reşiţa in 1954.

About the stamp


The stamp is part of the series Banknote Portraits, designed by Mihai Vămăşescu şi Stan Pelteacu, and issued on February 10, 2012:
• the portrait of Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940), a famous Romanian historian, literary critic, playwright, poet, encyclopaedist, memorialist, minister, professor and academician (1 Leu banknote) (0.80 RON) - it's on other postcard
• the portrait of George Enescu (1881-1955), Romanian composer known worldwide, violinist, pianist and conductor, considered to be the most important Romanian musician (5 Lei banknote) (1.40 RON) - it's on the postcard
• the portrait of Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907), the founder of Romanian modern painting, who received the title of Romanian Academy Member in 1899 (10 Lei banknote) (2.10 RON)
• the portrait of Aurel Vlaicu (1882-1913), the pioneer of Romanian and world aviation, builder of flying devices and pilot (50 Lei banknote) (2.40 RON)
• the portrait of Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912). He was a descendant of an actors’ family and is recognized as the greatest Romanian playwright. His work is famous due to the comedies he wrote, which continue to be in the pipeline also in present (100 Lei banknote) (3.00 RON).
• the portrait of Lucian Blaga (1895-1961), Romanian philosopher, poet, playwright, translator, journalist, professor and diplomat (200 Lei banknote) (3.10 RON)
• the portrait of Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889), unanimously recognized as the greatest poet of Romanians (500 Lei banknote) (6.00 lei)

References
Last of the Carphatian Forestry Railways - Official website of the Mocăniţa Steam Train
Mocăniţă - Wikipedia

Sender: Carmen Jucătoru
Sent from Eforie Sud (Constanţa / Romania), on 08.08.2014
Photo: Michael Schneeberger

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