It’s an ordinary Thursday morning near Arques station. We catch a glimpse of men in blue coats. Whistled or sung tunes compete for our ears with hammer blows and the grinder. The smell of pie tickles our nostrils. “When the women are here, we eat well”, says a retired SNCF worker with a smile. But mealtime is still a long way off: there’s plenty of work to be done for all these Chemin de Fer Touristique volunteers.
“What takes the most work out of us is the steam locomotive, explains Jean-Claude Renaux, an active member of the association. But it’s far from the only one requiring the expertise and patience of volunteers. “All the equipment is old. What’s more, the vehicles sleep outside. So there are often repairs to be made. Not to mention the day-to-day upkeep of the site, the maintenance of the equipment…”. So thereare around thirty of them, meeting once or twice a week, all year round, whatever the weather, to keep the trains running on weekends when they’re open to the public.