Burton Holmes on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Chapter 7: All Aboard!

Departures are announced by the ringing of a big bell at the station. We soon learn not to be startled by the first ring, for it means merely that it is time to begin to think about beginning to commence to get ready to prepare to go. By and by comes another clap or two, just to remind us that the bell has rung before. Then finally after we have stepped aboard at the polite personal request of the numerous employees, a final, ultimate, and authoritative clang

At a Station
AT A STATION

announces that something is really going to happen, by and by. And sure enough, after a shrill blast from the whistle of the station-master, a toot from the horn of the switchman, and a squeak from the locomotive, the Trans-Siberian flyer does move at last, and before long we are once more "out of sight of land," encircled by the wide horizon of limitless Siberia. There is nothing in sight except distance, bisected by the straight and seemingly endless line of the track.

We seem to be far from everywhere. Yet this line of steel marks a new route around the world; we never lose this thought, —a thought that shrinks this old world of ours and makes of it a ball so small that we almost arrive at a conception of it in its entirety. Despite the seeming levelness of this vast plain of Siberia, we are conscious in some way

All Aboard!
ALL ABOARD!

A Park-Like Vista
A PARK-LIKE VISTA
Reading Our Permits
READING OUR PERMITS

of the earth's rotundity. Thus we speed eastward for many hundreds of miles across a Dakota-like expanse, which awaits only the touch of agricultural industry to transform it into an infinity of wheat. Again for many miles the line runs over marshy ground, unpromising and even more repellent than the deserts traversed by our own trans-continental lines. It surprises us to learn that the Trans-Siberian railway traverses

During a Halt
DURING A HALT

no sandy plains; no regions that may be described as deserts. We are still more surprised to find so many miles of wooded country where a broad swath has been cut through primeval forests of fir and birch. There is but little variety in the landscape—one day all plain, another day all marsh, another day nothing but endless curvings in tree-bordered aisles, where, more than in the open wilderness, the sense of vastness takes possession of us. But as if to keep the settlers

Eastward Ho!
EASTWARD HO!

and the railway employees of the region from brooding on this oppressive vastness, there are tiny things by millions. The Siberian gnat is not to be ignored even in the big land

In the Forest Region
IN THE FOREST REGION

Siberia!
SIBERIA!

A Curveless Line
A CURVELESS LINE

Section Hands
SECTION HANDS

An Anti-Gnat Headdress
AN ANTI-GNAT HEADDRESS

that it has made its own. But the mujiks of this infested province have devised an armor that successfully protects them from attacks and makes life and labor in the region possible if not exactly pleasant. The entire population appears to have "taken the veil," for every head is swathed in a net or hood of black or greenish gauze. We, however, suffered only while the train was stationary; apparently the insects do not care to travel.

Not Afraid of Insects
NOT AFRAID OF INSECTS

An Extensive Woodpile
AN EXTENSIVE WOODPILE

Much work is being done along the line. Regrading has

been already undertaken in many places, and the entire line is to be rerailed with heavier steel, for the existing rails have proved far too light for speed or heavy traffic. In the meantime trains run slowly and accidents are rare occurrences. Only one marred our journey—a fatal one, resulting in the death of the conductor who fell from the

The Conductor
THE CONDUCTOR

A Fatal Accident
A FATAL ACCIDENT

platform while reaching out to take a written order from a station-master. Fortunately, his death was instantaneous and painless. They left him lying there on the track to await the coming of the proper officials upon whom devolved the duly of reporting the occurrence to the administration at Moscow. We did not go to look but went to work with a subscription-list for the benefit of his wife and children.


Other pages about Holmes on the TSRR

| the previous chapter | the route | the contents page | the next chapter |