Kagawa: Gasoline-powered railway car to be re-created as full-scale model

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The full-scale model of the gasoline car body is on display in Takamatsu.

TAKAMATSU — A project is underway to re-created as a full-scale model a small gasoline-powered car that used to run on rails in Shikoku in the first half of the 20th century.

The railroad opened in 1929 and was crowded with passengers heading to the Shionoe Onsen hot spring resort in the mountains about 30 kilometers south of central Takamatsu. At that time, some inns in the Shionoe district had girl operetta troupes that many visitors also came to see, it is said.

A 93-year-old woman remembered her childhood when there were many cafes and other establishments around where she lived.

“Gasoline cars were full of passengers when the troupes held performances,” she said.

Gasoline-engine cars were adopted to reduce the cost of installing overhead lines. They used to make a round trip on a 16-kilometer railroad to the hot spring area. The car was nicknamed the “Matchbox” because of its appearance.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jun Murayama speaks to The Yomiuri Shimbun and shows off one-20th and one-eighth miniature models of the gasoline car.

However, gasoline became sparse when World War II began. The railway was discontinued in 1941 after operating for only 12 years.

The now-defunct railroad car is about to be restored mainly by a 32-year-old man from Fukushima Prefecture. Jun Murayama was originally dispatched through a governmental system from outside the region to help revitalize the Shionoe Onsen district. Even after his term ended, he settled in the district and established Topica Inc., a general incorporated association to work on regional revitalization.

After Murayama talked with a curator at a local museum about an exhibition on the theme of gasoline cars, it was decided in March 2018 that a precision model of a gasoline car would be made. With the help of local students from the Kagawa University Faculty of Engineering and Design, and the National Institute of Technology Kagawa College, Murayama worked on making one-20th models. He completed them by using a 3D printer based on a blueprint of the car found during research the students had done.

Murayama is working on making a full-scale model of the car because he felt the miniature models did not completely satisfy the residents. During the presentation of the models to them, he heard many saying they wished they could ride the gasoline car again.

Key to reviving bustle?

Courtesy of Shionoe History Museum
A gasoline car at the time of its operation

He believes that the full-scale model might also help draw people to the area. The Shionoe Onsen district gained popularity due to the recreation boom in the 1960s and several years before and after, when Japan achieved high economic growth. However, after that, hot spring inns and other establishments closed one after another, and depopulation progressed. The current population is about 2,300, a significant drop from about 7,500 in 1957.

“Railway fans can be any age,” Murayama said. “If we have a model of the gasoline car that you could actually ride in, I think a lot of people would want to come try it.”

First, a wooden car body was completed with the same green paint as how it was originally, and it was exhibited at a roadside rest area called Michi-no-Eki Shionoe in November last year.

In addition to Topica’s event income and subsidies from the central government, Murayama plans to utilize crowdfunding to finish the wheels, floors and interiors, among others.

The Yomiuri Shimbun