A Taiwan railway fan evokes memories of Taiwan’s old trains

Loren Aandahl, right, gives a copy of his new book to Ju Lai-shun, Director of the Catering Service Department of the Taiwan Railway Administration, a

Loren Aandahl, right, gives a copy of his new book to Ju Lai-shun, Director of the Catering Service Department of the Taiwan Railway Administration, a

Loren Aandahl, right, sits in the cabin of the CT259 train in Tungshih, Taichung, in January 1969. He is holding a tablet hoop authorizing the train t

Loren Aandahl, right, sits in the cabin of the CT259 train in Tungshih, Taichung, in January 1969. He is holding a tablet hoop authorizing the train t

Engineers Chen Shui-wen, left, and Chen Chun-lai pose next to their Kuan Kuang Hao express with the R64 locomotive in Shenghsing, Miaoli, on November

Engineers Chen Shui-wen, left, and Chen Chun-lai pose next to their Kuan Kuang Hao express with the R64 locomotive in Shenghsing, Miaoli, on November

Passengers alighting from the LDR2404 and its matching trailer on Kuang Hua Hao Express No. 2 make haste for the exit of the Yuli station, Hualien, wi

Passengers alighting from the LDR2404 and its matching trailer on Kuang Hua Hao Express No. 2 make haste for the exit of the Yuli station, Hualien, wi

A new photo book of Loren Aandahl, a railway enthusiast living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, may evoke precious memories of Taiwan’s old trains in the sixties and seventies.

In his book, a tea ceremony on the Kuan Kuang Hao express in the 1960s was described as incredible. The crew prepared to pour tea for passengers after the train departed from a station. One stewardess distributed black, green or oolong tea in packets. Another steward opened a tea packet and put some leaves in glasses. Holding a glass with one hand and opening the glass lid with a finger, he poured scalding hot water into the glass from a hot water pot held with his other hand. Without dripping or burning his hand, he finished his job quickly.

Aandahl, now 59, always sees Taiwan, especially Hsinchu City, as his second hometown because he had spent 16 years on this island from 1955 to 1970.

On March 24, 2011, he returned to his hometown to self-publish his first book titled “The Taiwan Railway 1966-1970,” which includes more than 200 color and black-and-white photographs.

Aandahl’s pictures of a Taiwanese railway in the past can bring back memories, said Hung Chih-wen, Taiwan’s leading rail historian.

"I’ve known Hung for many years. He encouraged me to write articles on Taiwan’s railway and helped me with many details of my book,” Aandahl said. “My dream finally came true. Now, I want to share my pictures with Taiwanese people and hope they will enjoy this book as much as I do because it is my gift to Taiwan.”

This book is not only about an important era in the development of Taiwan’s railways, but also about the history of Taiwan during the Martial Law period between 1949 and 1987.

Aandahl said he was very lucky to take pictures of the Taiwan rail system under Martial Law because local people were not allowed to do so. Most pictures in this book were taken in his teens.

When he left Taiwan for the U.S. in August 1970, he brought 1,000 photos with him and has kept them very well in his Minneapolis house for four decades.

On January 10, 1954, Aandahl’s parents Elliot and Ruth took two of their three daughters and their youngest son to Taiwan. They arrived at the northern Taiwan port of Keelung after a winter voyage across the Pacific Ocean aboard an American ship.

They traveled by a round nose railcar to their new hometown of Hsinchu. Captivated by this wonderful experience, Aandahl became a Taiwan railway enthusiast at eighteen months of age.

As his parents began their Lutheran missionary work in Hsinchu, they hired Ms. Chou to look after their son.

"Ms. Chou had a very sad story. Her husband worked in the R.O.C. (Republic of China) army. They left China for Taiwan very quickly in 1949 and their four children were left behind there,” Aandahl said. “I was kind of like her new son and she took very good care of me. I called her ‘Ms. Haha’ because she was always laughing.”

Ms. Haha soon knew that he was fascinated by watching trains at a major railway crossing near their home, located near the intersection of Gongyuan Rd. and Guangfu Rd. It became their happy routine to spend several hours each morning and afternoon at “the tracks.” Even as he attended Chinese kindergarten for two years, Ms. Chou managed to regularly take him to the “the tracks.”

"I could just watch trains passing about six hours a day. This created a very deep appreciation of Taiwan’s railway,” Aandahl said.

In September 1959, he started attending boarding school at Morrison Academy in Taichung, central Taiwan, for the next eleven years until he graduated from high school in May 1970.

Despite his difficult boarding school life, Aandahl had a good time taking the train between Taichung and Hsinchu every second weekend. Immersed in this 90-kilometer trip, he wanted to capture images of the railroads because he liked trains so much. As a freshman in high school beginning in September 1966, he started to take pictures of the railway.

Photography of all military and transportation subjects was strictly prohibited and enforced by railway police in train stations and by army troops guarding all major bridges and tunnels.

"When I saw the police or soldiers, I always put down my camera, saying hi to them. Sometimes they would question me and I knew what they’re saying: ‘What are you doing here? You can’t be here or take photos here.’ I often pretended I couldn’t speak Chinese or understand what they’re talking,” Aandahl said. “I just answered: ‘Oh, sorry, only English please.’ And then they would get frustrated and let me go.”

If he were Taiwanese, Aandahl would certainly have gotten into big trouble.

In September 1969, the Hsinchu station police got so upset that they came to his house and demanded that his father give them all his pictures. His father said no, but they came back after a couple of days. The third time, they raised their voices, insisting to confiscate his photos.

"My father just said: ‘No, we will not give them to you. He’s not a spy, but just a boy. Taking pictures is just his hobby and leave him alone,’” Aandahl said, adding that his father helped him a lot because he saved these pictures by hiding them somewhere in Taiwan.

Aandahl’s parents encouraged his interest in the railways, people and island of Taiwan. They took him on many trips around Taiwan where he took most photographs in this book.

The photo on the front cover, for example, shows the R25 locomotive pulling its Ping Kuai express to Taipei and crossing a very famous bridge on the Mountain Line in western Taiwan. One of the most scenic locations on the Taiwan railway, the Neishihchuan Bridge in Miaoli was situated between Tunnel No. 6 and No. 7. The train was going from the Taian station to the Shenghsing station.

Along this area from Tunnel No. 3 to No. 7, many soldiers guarded the tunnels and bridges, he said. But the terrain between Tunnel No. 6 and No. 7 was so rough and there were no soldiers there.

Aandahl climbed up the steep cliff to the south entrance of Tunnel No. 6 and then took this picture on March 15, 1969 when he was in high school.

"I knew good locations for taking photos and how to avoid the army troops because I’d had many traveling experiences between Hsinchu and Taichung for many years.”

The top photo on the back cover shows the GA2301 railcar of the Fei Kuai Che express service leaving the Hsinchu station and heading south to Taichung. This picture was taken by Aandahl’s father from an overhead bridge between Platform 1 and 2 in 1955 when his sister went to school on that single diesel railcar. At that time, Hsinchu was a small town and only had one-story houses.

The bottom photo on the back cover, taken by Aandahl in Hsinchu in 1970, shows one locomotive pulling a brand new Chu Kuang Hao Express. The Taiwan Railway Administration had started to introduce modern locomotives and trains.

"I put these two pictures together on the back cover because I wanted to present my beautiful childhood days in Taiwan from the beginning in 1955 to the end in 1970,” Aandahl said. “I hope this photographic gift evokes many personal memories of trips taken on these trains. Enjoy your railway adventures and cherish your memories.”