Family route: Witnessing China's train transformation

By Zhang Jiaqi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 20, 2019
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When Lyu Maolin began working at a locomotive depot in Zhengzhou in 1956, he understood why the city had recently become the new capital of China's Henan province.

Lyu Maolin receives an interview at his home in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan province, Sept. 10, 2019. [Photo/]

The city is well known as one of the eight ancient capitals of China, and it was also at the crossing of the country's two major railways at the time.

Naturally, the Henan native was drawn to the province's fastest growing industry in Zhengzhou. What he had not realized was that both his son, Lyu Shunping, and grandson, Lyu Xiang, would join him as witnesses to the technological transformations of China's train industry from the front row.

China used imported steam locomotives in the 1950s, and shoveling coal in the engine room was a job for new recruits. This was no exception for Lyu Maolin, despite him graduating from a railway driver's school in Kaifeng. He recalled that the locomotive would burn tons of coal for a 20-hour trip from Zhengzhou to Beijing, which ran at around 30 to 40 kilometers per hour.

A steam locomotive. [Photo courtesy of China Railway Zhengzhou Group]

Lyu's intense physical labor paid off over the next four years, and he was promoted to his dream job of a train driver. That first year of taking the wheel, Lyu even drove a special train for Chairman Mao Zedong, who came to Zhengzhou for meetings.

Lyu Maolin took great pride in this, and it inspired him to work even harder. In 1966, he was selected as an outstanding railway worker representative, and joined the National Day celebrations like the mass pageantry and a banquet at the Great Hall of the People.

The occasion brought temporary reprieve, and helped Lyu to continue enduring hardships in the steam locomotives. He described the engine room as a stove in the summer that constantly bombarded him with scorching heat.

It was no better when winter came, when frost would cover the windows, forcing him to lean half his body out to see his way ahead. After a journey, half of his body would be covered with frost and the other half with sweat.

Lyu said it was regrettable that the job was seen as "dirty" and "tiring" during the time. The hands of steam locomotive drivers were calloused from their manual labor, with dirt under their fingernails.

Sometimes, Lyu thought how good it would have been if he could drive a diesel locomotive, but he did not get the chance before his retirement. In 1987, his son picked up his mantle.

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