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Museum on the tracks – discovering the history of the narrow-gauge railroad on the Polish-Slovak borderland

This is how it is – a good idea gives rise to another one. This was also the case with the project dedicated to peat bogs. The renovated narrow-gauge railroad wagon, which used to transport workers extracting peat, and its popularity among the visitors, was an inspiration for another project devoted to the former railroad in the region, “Museum on the tracks –  discovering the history of the narrow-gauge railroad on the Polish-Slovak borderland”. And another original tourist product was created – a sort of museum on the tracks. It is a journey into the past, when on both sides of the state border narrow-gauge railroads were used to transport wood, peat and other materials. They performed perfectly in mountainous, wooded areas and marshy peat bogs. The Orava Forest Railroad functioned from 1918, more or less at the same time the peat railroad started to run on the Puścizna Wielka peat bog in the Municipality of Czarny Dunajec. After World War II, the changes, including technological ones, caused the rolling stock to decline and decay, and the historical wagons and locomotives became redundant. Following generations forgot about their former function, how the inhabitants of these regions lived and how they used the natural resources.

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And this is what the initiators of the project decided to revive. Because the narrow-gauge railroad on the borderland is part of the region’s tradition, a material trace of how its inhabitants used to live and work. How they used the natural resources and gifts of the peat bog. Specially prepared peat bricks were used to heat houses to keep them warm. Wooden highlander cottages were insulated with moss collected on the peat lands. In the 1980s, moss was exported to western countries. There, it was used to produce shoe insoles. The marsh Labrador tea growing on the peat bogs protected the highlander's woolen trousers and other clothing from clothes moths. It was also used in medicine – as an ingredient of painkillers. The whole plant produces a strong smell, is poisonous and has intoxicating properties. Vikings supposedly added marsh Labrador tea extract to beer to increase its “power”. And the liquor from the swamp lingonberry, growing ubiquitously in the swamp has such potency that one glass is enough – its name “drunkard” (Polish: pijanica) speaks for itself.

But coming back to the museum on the tracks. On the Slovak side, nearly ten years ago the Orava Museum launched a narrow-gauge railroad as an attraction for tourists. On the Polish side it has not been possible yet, but a second life could be given to the decaying, historic carriages of the narrow-gauge railroad. Renovated, they became home to a mobile exhibition presenting the history of the Polish-Slovak borderland through this little known and very interesting aspect. A real gem is a passenger car from 1909, together with a small locomotive.

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And, as we know, appetite comes with eating, and the plans for the future are great. A dream – as Jacek Piotrowski from the Municipality of Czarny Dunajec says, is to run these wagons so that they would return to the narrow-gauge railroad tracks again. He makes no secret that need to take an example from our Slovak neighbours. The narrow-gauge railroad on the Polish side is still operative. It is used to transport peat from the extraction field to the plant. But the renovated carriages would be used to take tourists to the peat field, so that they can see with their own eyes how peat is extracted.

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Blog prepared in the project entitled: "Cooperation that enhances and develops as a key to a positive image of Poland on the international arena", co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland as part of the competition "Public Diplomacy 2020 - a new dimension".

Project co-financed by the European Union from the European Regional Development
Fund under the Republic of Poland - Slovak Republic Cross-border Co-operation Operational
Programme 2007-2013 and from the funds of the Malopolskie Voivodship