Articles > Last train for Bansko

by Alexis Ulrich  LinkedIn

Bansko (Банско in Bulgarian Cyrillic) is a small town located in southwestern Bulgaria, about 150 km from the capital city of Sofia (София). It is located in the Pirin massif (Пирин) which highest point is the Vikhren peak (Вихрен) with its 2 914 m. Bansko is also a ski resort where Alpine combined and slalom events are regularly held, and thanks to the continental climate of the region, its summers see their temperature rise into the 30°, a good reason to enjoy some Bulgarian ice cream during the international jazz festival that takes place there every year.

Bad Hobby

The city of Bansko also has a railway station, and in this station, once you have crossed the three tracks of it, lies an abandoned locomotive and wagon, almost century-old remains inviting to urban exploration, and to the discovery of the Bulgarian language (and incidentally to the Czech language). Let us make it clear right now: I don’t speak Bulgarian, hardly can I read part of the alphabet. This is with a conversation guide and its reduced grammar, some automatic translators and a Bulgarian transliteration tool that I am going to try to unlock the secret of the still readable cryptic messages.

Не отваряй преди влакът да е спрял !

Не отваряй преди влакът да е спрял !

The particule не (ne, not) always comes before the word to which it refers. Here, the verb to the imperative отваряй (otvaryay, to open).

The word train (влак, vlak) is of masculine gender and occupies the function of subject (the so-called “long form”). His definite article is therefore -ът (-at) and is placed in the suffix position: влакът (vlakat, the train).

The conjunction да (da, that) introduces a clause.

The verb to stop (спра, spra) is conjugated to the perfect, the time indicating a perfective aspect, which denotes a result here. If one can be in the process of stopping, the resulting state is the stop. Either the train is running or it is stopped. The Bulgarian perfect is formed with the auxiliary “to be” in the present tense (съм, sǎm), here e, and the active past participle in (-l), which gives е спрял (e spryal).

Once the sentence analyzed, its translation is relatively easy (that being said, the position of the sign was already very explicit).

Не отваряй преди влакът да е спрял !
not open before train-the that being-stopped!
Do not open before the train has stopped!
Вода и гориво

Вода и гориво

Two plates are located outside the train, each with a word on it: ВОДА (voda, water), and ГОРИВО (gorivo, fuel). It would have been harder to make it less clear.

Машинист преминаването на затворен семафор забранено !

Машинист преминаването на затворен семафор забранено !

The longest message is repeated in the compartments at the front and rear of the car, a priori prohibited to the public. Let’s analyze it word by word to discover its meaning.

  • машинист is obvious once transliterated: mashinist, or machinist (or train operator if we want to be more verbose).
  • преминаването (preminavaneto): we find here the defined neutral article -то (-to) as a suffix, or the passage.
  • на (na): to, on, in, by.
  • затворен (zatvoren): closed.
  • семафор (semafor): this one gave me a lot of trouble since I thought they were two separate words. Once glued back together again, they formed a transparent word, the semaphore.
  • забранено (zabraneno): forbidden.

By putting the puzzle together, we obtain: machinist the passage to/on/in/by closed semaphore forbidden!
Word-for-word translation shows its limitations.

It seems, however, that the word machinist is written larger than the rest of the text, as an injunction to the train driver to remind him that the passage is prohibited when the semaphore is closed, which corresponds either to a fixed red light in light signalling, or to a horizontal positioning of the mechanical semaphore.

This message can now be translated as: “Machinist! Passage is forbidden when the semaphore is closed!”

внезапна спиране

Внезапна спиране

In Bulgarian, the adjective is placed before the noun to which it refers. On the emergency brake block, it is written внезапна спиране (sudden braking), the word braking (спиране) is placed in second position.

Curiously, we can also read the word Alarme.

As for the third word, it is unreadable.


Českomoravská-Kolben, akciová společnost

On the locomotive, we can see a metal plate with a few words in Czech language. It says:

Č°1085 PRAHA 1927

This plaque will take us through the history of a series of companies, and in particular that of a man, Emil Kolben.

After studying at the German Technical University in Prague, and then on a two-year stipend to study abroad, Emil Kolben (1862-1943) travels to Zürich, Paris and London, then moves to the United States where he will work, among other things, as an assistant to Thomas Edison. In 1889, he visits Nikola Tesla’s workshop to learn more about multi-phase AC motors and the power system the inventor was developing at the time. A two years’ experience as a chief designer in Switzerland in the Oerlikon firm later, he returns to Prague in 1896 and founds the company Kolben a spol. (Kolben and co.), specialized in hydroelectric power plants and locomotives.

He will merge this company in 1921 with the Českomoravská strojírna (Czech-Moravian mechanical workshops) to form the joint stock company (akciová společnost) Českomoravská-Kolben. This company will in turn merge with the Breitfeld & Daněk to form the Českomoravská-Kolben-Daněk or ČKD in 1927, a company of which he will be the director until March 1939. At that time, the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia and demoted him from his position because of his Jewish origins. Emil Kolben was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto where he died in 1943.

The company will then produce armoured vehicles for the German army, and be nationalized in 1945 (it will become one of the world’s largest tramway producers in the Soviet era), before being privatized in 1994 in the form of a holding company by the Czech government. Several of its component companies will go bankrupt in 1998, others will be bought back, as the transport division, the ČKD Dopravní systémy (Transport systems ČKD), acquired by Siemens in 2002.

The locomotive that interests us here was produced in Prague in 1927 and bears the number 1085 (Č° is the abbreviation of číslo, as is the one for number).

The plate can now be translated.

Joint stock company
N°1085 Prague 1927


In the toilets of the train, still hanging on the wall and made almost unreadable by corrosion, we can see an annotated diagram of what appears to be a water circuit. Besides, we can still decipher the first word of its title: схема (shema, schematics).

Here is what I was able to decipher:
5 Изиускателенъ кранъ (Crane??)
6 Кранъ за измиван (Washing crane)

Will you help me unravel the mystery?