Travel Across Siberia in 1897
BY SLEDGE AND RAIL ACROSS SIBERIA.
Harper's Weekly August 14, 1897 pages 806-810.
To make the overland trip across Siberia and Russia from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg in 1895 required a journey of some 6400 miles. A little more than one half of this, or 3300 miles, could be made by rail, 1325 miles by the river systems, and the remaining distance, 1775 miles, by various vehicles. If it is desired to make the trip with the least possible delay, a choice must be made between the winter and summer seasons, carefully avoiding the transition period when one is merging into the other and for this reason:
The Amur River and its tributary the Shilka form the only available route through the larger part of eastern Siberia. The Amur is navigable for nearly 2000 miles from its mouth, and from June until October forms the great summer route, while from December until April its frozen surface makes the highway for the winter's sledge travel. In the intervening periods between these seasons all through travel is practically at a standstill, as there are no good roads except such as the ice bound river affords. In the fall, from the time the boats stop running until the ice has formed thick enough to travel upon with safety, and in the spring, when the warmth of approaching summer first weakens the surface until the freshets have cleared the stream throughout its whole length of the vast accumulation of ice, all travel is suspended, and any one unfortunate enough to be caught en route between these periods must bide his time in patience until the elements have completed their work.
Apprehensions of an intolerable delay on the very threshold of our journey faced us in a possible further detention of two weeks that would follow if the slightest trace of infection was found aboard our ship. The last boat going up the Amur was advertised to leave Khabarovka- where we would connect with it- about October 1, and it would require four or five days at least to reach that point. The case really seemed a hopeless one, until we learned that the time schedules were given in Russian or Old Style dates, and that we had twelve days to our credit, putting us back to September 23.
While so near that we could see the people walking in the streets of the city, we were yet as much isolated as if a thousand miles away. We were permitted, however, to communicate with the shore by letter, and so anticipate some of our preparations; but it did seem an excess of caution when, on giving a letter for the Governor into the charge of one of the officers of the little steam launch that visited us twice a day to change the guards, it was first thrown on the deck and sprayed with some disinfecting fluid by a hand pump before it was handled.
Our panorama of the city was made from the ship while in durance -surreptitiously, of course, for if either one of the two stalwart Cossacks who were on guard night and day had been aware of what we were doing there might have been a confiscation at least. The point of view is about two miles below the city, and embraces all the harbor except the extreme upper end of the "Horn" around to the right. It is in this part that there are gathered for the summer the dozen or more battle ships, cruisers, and torpedo boats that supplement as a means of defense the formidable batteries crowning each of the hills in the background.
Once ashore, and after being introduced to our new surroundings, the first thought was for the necessary permit to photograph. On applying to the Governor, "le General Major Paul de Ounterberguere," he gave a ready assent, but the matter must be referred to General Strygoff, commandant of the port, who at first returned a peremptory refusal. Further intercessions during the day resulted in a concession which allowed us to photograph all we pleased about the railroad grounds, but under the supervision of an officer detailed to see that none of the jealously guarded batteries on the surrounding hills came within the scope of our lenses. This was the only place in all Siberia where photography was prohibited; everywhere else the utmost freedom in this respect was allowed.
In every direction we had evidence of the thoroughness with which the building of the trans Siberian railway is being carried on. At every step the work is finished as if for all time, and the substantial station is simply in keeping with all the work as far as completed. The extension of this line across Siberia has many features in common with that of our own transcontinental railway during the sixties; but although the Russians have a much more difficult contract on their hands, and with every incentive to push the work with the greatest possible rapidity, there are no makeshifts in the way of unballasted roadways, ephemeral station buildings, or wooden bridges, such as characterized the construction of most of our Western roads. Here the track is thoroughly ballasted, the substantial station buildings are finished to the last detail, and steel bridges or stone culverts are over all the crossings before the road is open to passenger traffic. Even at the extreme end of the track workmen were engaged in sodding the carefully dressed sides of all the cuts and fills, and laying out flower beds about the station grounds.
The eastern division of the Siberian Railway at the close of the year 1895 extended northwards from Vladivostok some 250 miles to the Iman, a small tributary of the Ussuri, whence steamboats connected with the railway for the Amur country. The policy of the government seems to have been from the first to push forward the completion of the road at the earliest possible moment to the navigable waters of the Amur. This has already been attained at the eastern end, and now, as soon as the western extension is carried on a thousand or twelve hundred miles further to Stretensk, there will be a continuous steam route across the whole continent, but available only during the summer.
The second morning after our arrival we were off on our long trip. The train left at nine o'clock, but for an hour before that time the station platform was crowded with a busy throng, nearly all of which was made up of uniformed officers, soldiers, and workmen. The Governor and his staff, with a company of Cossacks, were on their way to Nikolsk, about one hundred versts up the line, and many other officers, naval as well as military, were on hand to see them off. In strong contrast were Russian peasants, in long, unkempt hair and cumbrous clothing, Japanese, Koreans, and Manchurians, all on their way to work on the road. The rank and file of the Cossacks were sturdy, active fellows, very neat in white blouses, heavy boots coming up to the knees, and a sort of Tam o' Shanter cap.
Our train was a long one, consisting of some sixteen cars, largely second and third class for the soldiers and workmen, the balance, with the exception of our own, being made up of freight cars with railway material. Attached to the rear of the train was the private car of the engineer accompanying us, and a long second class coach for the Governor and our party. There are no first-class cars yet in use on this end of the line, except the one kept as a show piece, in which the Czarowitz rode when making his tour in 1891. Our car was some fifty feet in length, and ten feet six inches wide inside, divided into two general compartments, with another smaller one something like the state room of a Pullman. The passageway, or aisle, ran the whole length of the car along one side, and communicated with small vestibules in each end, opening out in doors at the side, without steps, to meet the high platforms provided at all stations. The seats ran transversely in pairs, back to back, and so arranged that the upholstered back of each seat swung up to make an upper berth for sleeping: The trimming was all in gray cloth with linen covers. A convenient toilet room opened from the passage at one end of the car, while a hot water heating apparatus occupied a similar apartment at the other end. Everything had an air of clean, roomy comfort, the only drawback being the very small windows and the ancient and inefficient oil lights still in use on some European railways. The body of the car was built of iron, rather plain on the outside, but well painted and tastefully ornamented. The running gear consisted of two iron-frame, four wheel bogie trucks of the Russian standard- a five foot gauge.
Our first day's run was to Spasskaya, 223 versts, making it in thirteen hours, an average of seventeen versts, or nearly twelve miles, an hour. Out to the first station, or to the "Brewery," it required two engines to pull the long and heavy train over a "divide" with a one per cent. grade. After this, one engine handled the train easily, as grades and curvatures are all very slight.
As we proceed inland from the coast, the country is principally a gently undulating plain, the thinly scattered groves of birch and aspen stripped bare of all leaves by the autumn winds, and the prospect reduced to a level monotony of russet tones. There were immense stretches of flat prairie extending over the broad bottom lands of sluggish rivers. These were covered with a deep and heavy growth of grass; in fact, the whole country appeared to be most richly endowed for either pasturage or hay making, which industry wits about the only work going on. Harvesters were out everywhere, and with the rude appliances of hand labor were cutting and stacking an abundant supply of forage for the long winter to come.
The railroad avoids the proximity of all the larger towns, Nikolsk, the principal town in this section, being left five or six versts to one side and hardly discernible from the station, so that the general aspect is one of vast stretches of sparsely settled country, with no fences and little cultivation. Such habitations as were in evidence, outside of the station buildings, were in little clusters of dreary looking log houses. About a hundred miles from Vladivostok we passed the scarcely perceptible divide separating the drainage of the Ussuri from the coast, and until night overtook us were skirting the marsh like valley bordering Lake Khanka. The country was so level that the intervening groves of small timber, slight in themselves, effectually concealed the lake front view.
Our " lay over " at Spasskaya was to enable us to complete our ride over the rest, of the line by daylight, the regular train going on through so as to reach the end of the track the next morning. The following day brought the same monotony of broad meadows, enlivened occasionally by long bands of fire and smoke stretching across the drier uplands. About noon we crossed the Ussuri on a three span steel bridge, and then followed the valley of this river to the banks of the Iman, where construction halts awaiting the completion of the bridge. There will be but very little delay, however, as the immense quantity of material accumulating at the end of the line will be pushed forward on temporary tracks laid on the ice as soon as winter sets in. In this way the road bed is finished far in advance of the slower and heavier bridge work.
The Ussuri, for nearly its whole length, is the boundary between Siberia and Manchuria. It is a broad, shallow, muddy stream, and the channel through the shifting sands is so difficult to follow that we had to lie by most of the nights; as it was, we were continually getting aground, often taking hours to warp the boat off into deeper waters with the volunteer help of nearly all the lower deck passengers. When to these detentions, are added the stops to wood up and the necessary landings, it is easy to understand why it took three days to go 250 miles down stream. Our landings were all on the Siberian side, and took place at the larger only of the series of towns or stations that line the whole extent of the Chinese frontier. These are the "stanitsas," or outposts, of Cossack emigrants, colonized here by imperial authority as a check on any invasion of its territory.
Approaching its junction with the Amur, the river broadened out to over a mile in width, but was still so shallow that we could have waded ashore from almost any place in mid stream. This necessitated frequent running out of the rope to pull ourselves off the sand bars, for our old boat was aground a half dozen times a day. At the confluence of the two streams the stretches of water reached out on the horizon to where it met the sky, suggesting some great inland sea rather than a river. The northern shore was so low it could not be seen; on the left a range of hills made it blue and shadowy outline in the extreme distance; while on the right, quite near at hand, were the abrupt bluffs above which rose the quintuple emerald green spires of the cathedral and the widely scattered buildings of Khabarovka.
After being domiciled in the residence of Governor General Duhoffsky, who was absent in St. Petersburg, we were in a state of turmoil and suspense for more than a week, preparing and planning for the continuation of our journey up the river. The last regular boat had left two days before our arrival. A week later we learned that it was aground some four hundred miles up the river, and the rapidly falling waters had left it hopelessly stranded, to become ice bound later, on, and eventually to: be destroyed in the breaking up of the ice in the spring. Its passengers, of course, got ashore and reached Blagovestchensk as best they could. For a few days our hopes were centred upon another boat that had come up front Nikolsk rather belated, and which we were assured would take us as far as Blagovestchensk. This failed us also, however, for after deliberating the question for several days, and in, obedience, more particularly, to telegraphic advises from up the river of the rapidly falling water and formation of ice in the side streams, it was decided to abandon the trip and put the boat in safe winter quarters where she was.
Resigning ourselves with the best grace possible to the long time that must now elapse before we could resume our travels- which, by the way, extended from day to day until nine weeks had passed--the intervening time was pleasantly and profitably spent in visiting the adjacent railway construction camps and the villages of the aborigines, and in responding to the hospitable attentions crowded upon us by the hearty, whole souled representatives of the imperial government in Siberia.
Khabarovka is the seat of government for the Amur region. On the east is the Maritime Province, and on the north and west the Yakutsk and Trans Baikal provinces. It is also the residence of the Governor General of Eastern Siberia, whose authority: extends overall these provinces. It is almost wholly a garrison town, an extensive system of substantially built barracks providing permanently for some ten thousand troops, chiefly infantry and artillery the Cossacks, as the mounted branch of the service, being scattered about the country, chiefly on the frontier, in small cantonments. The town is thinly, scattered over three parallel ridges at right angles to and ending in abrupt cliffs at the river front. Under this bluff along the water's edge is the Chinese settlement- the original Manchurian village existing before the Russian occupation, and containing representatives of pretty nearly all The Mongolian and Tartar races.
On the central ridge, starting from the river, are most of the executive buildings, the cathedral, the merchants' shops, and on the cross streets sloping down from the central ridge most of the residences of the officials, civil and military. The eastern ridge is occupied almost entirely by barracks for the infantry, while on the west are the artillery and arsenal building it is also the older residence portion of the town. From our photographs it will be seen that the majority of the houses are of characteristically Russian type, built of hewn logs, nearly flat wood or tin roofs, and a large amount of wooden fret work. The interiors are arranged more for comfort than for elegance. In the winter double window sashes, sealed air tight, and the immense Russian stove or oven built into the walls of every room, insure an equal degree of warmth through out the houses in the coldest weather. For nearly every one except Russians they are kept entirely too warm.
In the mercantile line there were four or five large establishments, doing an extensive local retail as well as a large outside jobbing trade. Among these were two well-known American houses with branches located in several other Siberian towns. In addition were two or three large Russian stores, and scattered about the town the usual assortment, of chemists, bakers, shoemakers, watch repairers, etc. In the larger establishments are found everything needed by their customers -dry goods, groceries, hardware, jewelry- anything from a paper of pins to a horse and wagon.
Down under the bluffs near the boat landing is a busy street called the "market," where are congregated all the small traders Mongolians, Koreans, and Japanese dealing chiefly in the limited line of goods required by the peasantry. Some of these native traders also do a large business in the products of the surrounding country. The Sungari, draining nearly all of Manchuria with navigable streams, has its outlet in the Amur just above Khabarovka, and its grain trade is almost entirely handled at this place. The concentration here of large bodies of convicts to work on the railway, and of still larger bodies of troops, taxes the resources of the whole country to sustain them.
It seemed to be generally understood that the extension of the railway westerly from Khabarovka was to be abandoned indefinitely. One serious problem was the bridging of the Amur at this point. The broad stream is thrown against the rocky base of the high bluffs on the Khabarovka side, and is confined to a comparatively narrow, deep channel, with a fairly stiff current. Still, it would require a bridge some 8000 feet in length, besides the approaches, and extraordinary strength in the, piers to withstand the force of the enormous floods following the breaking up of the ice in the spring. The river freezes to a depth of six feet, and when this tremendous body of solid ice, moving in immense masses, is raised up and sweeps down with the current, its power is irresistible.
Under the guidance and instruction of the engineers in charge, several visits were made to places along the line of work, the centre of activity being some forty versts from Khabarovka. In the outskirts of the town a large force of convict laborers was engaged in leveling down and grading the uneven surface of the hills to the water's edge for terminal facilities, where the railway would connect directly with the steamboat traffic up and down the river. From here on to the front the work is pretty generally distributed along the whole distance. Following the locating engineers, who were far in advance, came a large number of men clearing the route through the forest, making an exceptionally wide path for a single track road. This was to lessen the danger of the fierce fires which in the dry seasons sweep through these wild wastes, and for the protection of the telegraph lines, as well as of the road, from falling trees. This work goes on nearly all winter, when all grading and mason work must of necessity come to a standstill. All the sound wood is cut up and carefully stacked, to be used as fuel in the future operations of the line, and the rest is burned on the ground.
Grading was still actively under way. Men with clumsy wheelbarrows were in the side work, and long trains of iron tram cars pulled by horses moved the earth in all the larger cuts and fills. The culverts and bridging of small streams were all in brick or stone, the wider crossings awaiting the arrival of steel bridges, that were to come later on with the rails. Station buildings, "section" houses, and water tanks were in course of construction nearly everything except the laying of the track.
All the work is done by contract, carried on under the direction and supervision of the government engineers, and is divided among a number of civilian contractors. Tifontai, a prominent Chinese merchant of Khabarovka, said to be the richest man in the province, has all the station buildings and culvert work over one of the divisions, employing Mongolian labor almost exclusively. Many Japanese are also employed in brick and stone work, and Koreans in less skilled work. The earth work is done almost wholly by convict labor. In October, 1895, there were less than a thousand engaged on this part of the line, but preparations were being made to put fully three thousand at work in the following spring.
The island of Saghalin, lying off the Siberian coast at the mouth of the Amur, is the chief penal colony of Russia in Siberia. The direct transport service by sea from Odessa makes it far more convenient for the deportation of criminals than the long and tedious overland route, and it is now receiving a large proportion of this class of compulsory immigration. Colonel Tashkin, formerly Governor of the island, and now in charge of all the convicts engaged in railway work, afforded us opportunities for visiting the camps with him when making his weekly rounds of inspection. From him we learned that the contractors pay the government ninety five copecs per day (a copec is equivalent to three quarters of a cent) for the services of the convicts, but they are fed, clothed, and cared for by their official guardians. Ten per cent. of his pay goes to the convict, and he is also allowed extra compensation for over time. Many of them are said to clear as much as eight rubles a month (equal to six dollars), which, with all their necessary wants provided for, is quite a handsome sum, and enables the thrifty ones to lay by a considerable amount against the day of their release. They are, of course, under military surveillance all the time, a picket guard being maintained about the field of their labors, and are escorted to and from their work. There are many "trusties," however, for we saw small gangs on detached portions of the work without guard. As laboring convicts they were well clothed and fed. We could see but little difference in the provision made for their comfort from that of the soldiers guarding them. A soup or stew of vegetables, and fresh meat, black bread, and tea, were the staples, and were provided in abundance. In one of the largest camps soldiers and convicts were served alike from the same mess house.
Their winter clothing of sheepskin, with the wool worn inside, felt boots, fur caps, and big mittens, were ample for the coldest days of winter. In summer they live in large canvas tents, but for winter quarters substantial log houses were just in process of completion, each one accommodating forty men. Built half underground, with the roof covered deep with earth, the only ventilation being through the chimneys and a door at one end, they were too close and warm to please any one but a Russian peasant. Along each side raised platforms seven or eight feet wide, sloping slightly to the centre, extended the full length of the house, forming, in connection with a little sheet iron stove, the only furniture. The men sleep on these benches in a long closely packed row, in their usual out door dress, with sometimes a sheepskin for a mattress.
The severest punishment for refractory conduct is the dungeon, or dark chamber. In the guard house of each little group of these winter quarters two small closets are provided for the punishment of exceptionally obstinate or vicious cases by close confinement. For lesser infractions of camp discipline and like offences a deduction of pay, or light irons worn within the limits of the camp, was the extent of penalties inflicted.
With the opportunities for escape on all sides, the nearness to a border country, the forest growth surrounding all the work, and extending indefinitely to other provinces, the number of convicts who "run" is comparatively few. This is accounted for by the fact that they are well treated, and that out door occupation like this is much preferred to the confinement and purposeless life on the island. Then, also, the chances of getting entirely out of the country are exceedingly remote, and the dangers of the forest, wild animals, starvation, and cold are more to be feared than arrest by the patrols.
For good behavior there are various degrees of commutation, up to one half of the time of their sentence; but an escaping convict, if recaptured, has his time doubled. Colonel Tashkin's coachman, a fine looking fellow of about thirty, sent out originally for eleven years, has made five attempts to escape, and his penalties have now lengthened out his time to more than his natural term of life.
Besides the convicts, another large class employed in construction are the "colonists." These are convicts whose terms of imprisonment have expired, but who are still practically exiles, as they are not allowed to return to their homes, and are held under a modified military surveillance. They live apart, in houses of their own, and support themselves by such occupation as they can find. Their pay was said to be about twelve rubles per month, the average price for unskilled labor; but why the contractors should pay the government more than double this price for convict labor was not explained.
In the houses of military and civil officers at Khabarovka, convicts are almost entirely employed for domestic duties. Cooks, waiters, coachmen nearly all menial service is performed by men and women drawn from the prisons. Murderers are said to be preferred for domestic service, as being morally far more reliable than other classes of criminals. Details from the ranks are also employed in the houses of the higher military officials.
The few aborigines with whom we came in contact are related to the Tunguses, who are distributed over the central part of northern Siberia. The "Goldes" are a local tribe of the Tunguses, living along the lower Amur. They exist almost entirely by fishing; but there are also good hunters among them, who make frequent incursions in the winter, on snow shoes, into the neighboring hills for bear, deer, and other large game, depending almost wholly upon stout spears in attacking the most formidable denizen of the forest. They are expert in dressing skins, and, besides the heavier pelts, make a light and very serviceable garment from the skin of the salmon. They also display much taste and skill in a sort of applied embroidery, using bright colored silks in covering their garments and ornaments with a mass of intricate tracery in conventional designs. Some of the head families of the tribe are well to do, dressing in silks, woollens, and furs instead of skins. Only last year two of the chiefs journeyed all the way to Moscow to be present at the coronation of the present Emperor.
Taking advantage of the first freezing of the river, a trip was made to a Goldes village, called Supcheekee, some forty versts down the Amur, a group of less than a dozen houses on a ridge overlooking one of the many side channels of the river, and just high enough to escape the spring floods. The houses were built first in a framework of wood, and then filled in and plastered with mud and thatched with straw. In their general arrangement, inside and out, they resemble very closely similar structures in Manchuria, Korea, and northern China. The interiors are usually in two divisions; in one is the stove, or combined heating and cooking arrangement (the "khang" of Manchuria), the smoke and heat being carried under and around a raised platform in the adjoining apartment, which is the sleeping, living, and general reception room of the family. A small square space of earthen floor is reserved in the centre, in which a brazier of coals is placed when evening comes on, for the benefit of the smokers as well as for additional warmth. The photographs will show better than words the leading features of this Goldes village. Many dogs are employed by them for winter traveling, making journeys of hundreds of miles from their hunting grounds to available markets to dispose of their skins and furs. A good leader in a team of six or eight dogs is said to be worth two hundred rubles. Very clannish and quarrelsome, it was amusing to notice how jealously these animals guarded their own special precincts from the intrusion of neighboring dogs. They are also great thieves, and the elevated store houses in every village are needed as much to protect the family supplies from their own dogs as from other predatory animals.
Like our own aborigines, these people are fond of masquerading, and in their Shaman priest, with his grotesque dances and weird incantations, have the equivalent of our "medicine man."
KHABAROVKA TO LAKE BAIKAL.
Harper’s Weekly August 21, 1891 pages 829-834.
The great highway of travel through eastern Siberia is for the present the course of its largest river, the Amur. This is equally true at all seasons of the year, as the river is navigated by small steamers during the few summer months, and by caravans of sledges during the longer period of the winter. Between the two seasons, of course, it is unavailable for either means of transit; but this only means that travel ceases in the spring and autumn, as roads do not exist. The river Amur is the boundary between Siberia and Chinese Manchuria for a distance of something like fifteen hundred miles. Its waters are mainly derived from the country lying between its course and the great chain of the Yablonoi Mountains which separate it from the Siberian plain on the north, and from the other great chain of the Khingan Mountains that divide Manchuria from Mongolia on the south. Like the other great Siberian rivers, the Amur may be looked upon as either the cause or the effect of it wide depression to the table land of northern Asia. Like them, it carries a vast body of water to the ocean, although its drainage area is not nearly so large as that of several of the others; but it is a sluggish stream, flowing through large tracts of swampy land, much of which is covered with dense forests.
When our long period of enforced delay at Khabarovka began to draw to it close, it became necessary to make preparations for our long journey across the snow. The distance that lies between Khabarovka and the point to which the Siberian Railroad was understood to have advanced from the westward at Krasnoyarsk is about 2850 miles, all of which has at present to be traveled in sledges drawn by the little ponies of the country. Year by year, indeed we might almost say, month by month; this distance is being lessened by the steady march eastward of the great railroad, and but for the proposed diversion of the line from its original route terminating at Vladivostok to a point on the Gulf of Pechili, a very few years more would probably render the sledge route up the Amur Valley wholly a thing of the past. Yet it is only a very few years since the whole distance from old Russia, at the limit of the Ural Mountains, to Nikolsk at the mouth of the Amur, or Vladivostok at the southeastern corner of the Czar's Siberian provinces, seven thousand miles, had to be laboriously traveled in the same primitive fashion.
The Siberian post system, which, although maintained primarily for the conveyance of the mails, is really, over a large part of the vast Siberian regions, the only reliable means of transport, has its main line over the route which our party was about to follow; but it has many branch routes, which, generally following the courses of the rivers, spread themselves in all directions over the great northern plains almost as far as there exists any population, and certainly to the limit of the farthest post at which it has been thought worth while to station a Russian soldier or official. Owing to the large use made of the extensive river systems, many of the land services are only kept on foot during the winter months; but these, it must be remembered, extend to eight months out of the twelve over nearly the whole country, while in the northern districts they are perhaps two months longer. The extent of the country served by these post routes may be estimated when it is remembered that even now one of them, starting from Irkutsk, runs northward through the gold bearing district of the Lena, thence to Yakutsk, then onwards to Okhotsk, at the northwestern corner of the sea of that name, and from thence round the peninsula of Kamchatka to the port of Petropavlovsk- a distance, on the whole, of about seven thousand miles.
The system is, of course, a government one, and the travelers intended to be primarily benefited are, as a matter of course, the officers of the government, principally military, on their way to and from the scene of their duties in these remote regions. After the needs of this class of travelers have been supplied, however, civilians who possess the necessary passports and permits to use the service are transported at certain established rates. Each line is divided into districts, and stations are established along it at intervals of about eighteen miles, although there are many exceptional cases in which, owing to the character of the country, the distance may be shortened to half that distance or increased to nearly double. The station keepers are usually owners of the buildings, as well as of the whole outfit of horses, sledges, harness, and wheeled vehicles, of which the tarantass is the usual type. He receives a license from government, and is subject to very stringent regulations as to the operation of the service to its most minute details, which are displayed prominently in his guest chamber at the station. He is obliged to keep always on band a certain fixed number of serviceable horses, and his station is recognized in accordance with the number, as a twelve or twenty four horse station, as the case may be. He is subject to one regulation which would delight the hearts of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as he is compelled to allow each horse a certain resting time between each journey, according to the distance, and any breach of this regulation might cause his license to be canceled. The object of this is, no doubt, the very practical one of keeping the service efficient, rather than any purely humane motive, and it is undoubtedly an excellent check, both on the cupidity of the station keepers and the impatience of travelers. The government pays a regular rate to the station keepers for forwarding the mails, and the mails are sometimes so large as to require four or five sledges, each drawn by three horses (known as troikas) and loaded to its utmost capacity, for their conveyance. This, however, is exceptional; the ordinary mails for which the station keeper has to make provision require the services of two troikas each day to accommodate the service to the eastward of Irkutsk.
Our long stay at Khabarovka had secured us many friends, from whom we obtained useful hints as to our outfit, the benefit of which we had good reason to appreciate later on. When at last we were ready to start, our traveling outfit consisted of three sledges, two of which were substantial povoskas that had already made the trip one or more times, the third a commoner sort of conveyance, with simply a canvas hood over the back part. These, of course, we had to buy, as there is provision made for the hire of horses in Siberia, but none for that of vehicles. The povoska, as may be gathered from our illustrations, is a large and roomy sledge with a close cover or body, set low on runners of very narrow tread, which gives them a top heavy look which is not reassuring. They are much less unstable, however, than they look, which, indeed, is fortunate, considering the frequent roughness of the track over the river ice and the almost invariable rashness of the drivers. The saving feature in their construction, apart from the lowness of the centre of gravity, is the fenders with which they are provided, which slope downwards and outwards, and serve both to ward off obstacles and to maintain their equilibrium. Our drivers, like all those employed in the passenger traffic in Siberia, resembled the famous Israelitish Captain Jelin, if in nothing else, at least in their habit of driving furiously, so it commonly happened that we skated along first on one fender and then on the other, while our ponies were kept at a gallop without the smallest reference to the roughness of the track over which we traveled.
The first point at which we proposed to make any considerable halt was the town of Stretensk, on the Amur, at a distance of upwards of six hundred miles from Khabarovka, and our route lay for the most part along the frozen surface of the great river. The river bed, however, is in many places by no means straight, and the ice is frequently- especially in the first part of the season very far from smooth, so that it was no unusual thing for our drivers to make a short cut where the state of the banks would permit us to get out of the bed of the river, and the country was sufficiently clear of timber to enable the sledges to travel freely. There are only two considerable towns between Khabarovka and Stretensk, both situated on the river, and at very nearly equal distances apart. It was as we approached the second of these, the town of Albasin, that we began to encounter the first of the great stream of Siberian traffic which awaits the setting in of the regular winter season for its active commencement. We were ourselves in the very front of the tide of traffic which all through the winter months sets steadily across the Siberian plains from the east, but it was only here that we began to realize something of what this traffic really was as we met the stream setting east ward. The regular means of transport, for goods as well as for human beings, is, as a matter of course, sledges, usually drawn by single ponies, and carrying a weight of not more than five hundred pounds each. One of our early experiences in this neighborhood was more interesting, as we encountered a real Siberian caravan, consisting of the odd looking two humped Bactrian camels of central Asia. There must have been not less than a thousand of these unwieldy looking animals, and it would be difficult to give an idea of the weird effect which they produced as they traveled noiselessly over the snow in the white moonlight, an apparently endless train of animals each dragging its absurd little sledge, while here and there was perched a driver on one of their loads, silent as themselves, and probably asleep. There was something very ghostly and intensely foreign looking about that interminable Indian file of spectral animals, each treading in the footprints of the one before him, and to all appearance the very counterpart of every one of the others. And so they passed us, winding away into the dint white distance, looking, as they disappeared, like some huge serpent twisting away in giant curves into the night.
Of Stretensk itself not very much can be said, and its general features will be seen in our illustration. Like all the towns of eastern Siberia, indeed, its main characteristics are military. While there are some stores of respectable size, and a few houses that belong to the resident town population, what strikes the eye and alone attracts the attention is either the provision for the Church or the military and official life of the place. In those Siberian towns the church is at all times a prominent feature, with its curiously painted spires and Oriental architecture; but, after all, it is the soldiers and the provision for their quarters that fill the foreground.
STRETENSK TO LAKE BAIKAL.
When we reached Stretensk we had accomplished something like twelve hundred miles of our overland journey. We had still another four hundred miles to travel before reaching Chita, the official capital of the Trans Baikal province, and from thence another six hundred before we should reach the shore of Lake Baikal. Chita is situated on the upper waters of the Shilka, a tributary of the Amur River, and is the point at which the surveyed line of the trans Siberian railroad terminates at present. At this point, also, the regular trade route across the continent, which we had been following, leaves the course of the river and strikes across the higher land which divides the water shed of the Amur from that which supplies the rivers that run into Lake Baikal, of which the Selenga with its tributaries is the most important.
We had by this time become accustomed to our surroundings, and began to appreciate more fully both the good and bad points of our mode of travel. We had been fortunate in the preparations we had been advised to make for our journey, and, in spite of some discomforts, we found that some degree of comfort was attainable even in sledge travel over Siberian snows. Our sledges, indeed, were not of the luxurious type to be met with occasionally in the country, resplendent in paint and upholstery, with landau top and large glass windows, still less of the sort used for ladies and children, which are large and roomy, and provided with stoves; but for our purpose they were serviceable without entailing a vast expense. They were open, and of course gave admission to abundance of cold air; but even with a temperature as low as sixty degrees below zero, we found that reclining among half a dozen wool pillows upon several layers of fur rugs, and wrapped in the enormous elk skin coats which are considered indispensable, we were quite comfortably warm. As the stations along the route are not to be depended on for meals, we had provided ourselves with the necessary commissariat stores, which were neatly packed in the bottom of the sledges with our other luggage. There was about a barrel of soup, frozen into lumps, each supposed to serve as a meal, also cutlets, steaks, bread, and milk, all frozen as hard as iron, and therefore easily packed and carried rolled in paper parcels. On arrival at a station, we had only to call for a samovar of boiling water to make tea, and then to thaw our eatables, and so to procure a quick lunch of the most approved Siberian pattern.
Siberian posting stations, it must be understood, are not way side inns, and make few pretensions to providing accommodation for travelers. As the sledges drive up to the bare- and to the foreign eye, at least, uninviting- log building, the traveller can form a fair estimate of the probable accommodation he may expect from the size and surroundings of the desolate looking spot. On dismounting he will be ushered at once into the guest room, which every station can boast, and which in the average post station is the only one at the disposal of travelers. He will find the apartment thoroughly and characteristically Russian of the rustic variety. The room may be large, but it is never lofty, and he will find it singularly bare of everything which in any other part of the world is associated with ideas of comfort. Clean and bare, with few seats of any kind, and those of the plainest, its principal feature the huge oven like stove in the centre, and its only attempts at ornament the "Icon," or image of the Virgin, with its little lamp or candle burning before it, in one corner, and the equally omnipresent portraits of the royal family scattered here and there about the walls. In this room the traveller waits, and usually eats, during the delay occasioned by getting a change of horses; and should he be unfortunate enough to be compelled to wait over a night before he can procure them, he sleeps here also, finding his own bedding and wraps as a matter of course. Here and there, indeed, a more extensive establishment may be met with where there are three or four guest chambers, but even in such cases they are no more than repetitions of the one described. These larger establishments generally boast separate accommodation for the yemschiks, who otherwise have to find accommodation with the family of the station keeper, not unfrequently in a single apartment. The posting yemschik, or driver, it must be understood, is, like the relays of ponies, attached to his own particular station, and passes away with his horses on receiving his drink money of ten kopecs -a little more than five cents- to be relieved by a new one belonging to the next stage. He reflects the various tribes and nationalities that inhabit the country, and may be a Russian, a Cossack, a member of almost any of the eastern tribes, or even, on occasion, a Manchu or a Mongol. It matters little, however, what his nationality may be; in appearance this mummy like figure is very much the same.
Chita, as the capital of the Trans Baikal province, is a place of importance, in and around which a considerable variety of picturesque figures may be met with. As a town, indeed, there is but little to distinguish it from the other towns of eastern Siberia except a few larger and finer buildings, such as the official residence of the Governor of the province, the gymnasium, and the military club house -all of which are substantial and comparatively imposing buildings. Then there is, of course, the universally prevailing military element of Siberian society, of which we indeed had nothing to complain, as it was invariably something more than cordial in its greeting and treatment of ourselves; but when one military town has been seen, the traveller practically has seen them all. In Chita, however, there is a commercial element which is somewhat cosmopolitan, at least so far as Asia is concerned. Scarcely a tribe or nation of eastern Asia is wanting in representatives. Men and women of the widely spread Buriat tribes are to be seen on all sides; Tunguses hunters from the colder north, intent on exchanging their furs and pelts in the market of Chita; Cossacks, both military and civilian; archers from the steppes of Mongolia; traders and peddlers from Chinese Manchuria -go to make up the population, strange and picturesque, to be met with in and around the capital of the Trans Baikal.
As we had approached Chita we had found the snow covering of the country growing thinner, which had compelled us to keep mainly to the course of the river so as to get the advantage of the ice; but on leaving Chita matters became still worse. Here we were compelled to abandon the course of the river and to ascend the high lands that form the divide between the valley of the Amur and the hollow occupied by the waters of Lake Baikal, and here we found the covering of snow in many places so scanty that for several stages we were compelled to hire tarantasses, while the empty sledges were drawn by relays of ponies. In some cases where wheeled vehicles were unobtainable we remained in our sledges, and were dragged laboriously by teams of as many as six ponies, who found it no easy work upon the steep inclines. As we began to descend the slopes toward the lake and its great tributary, the river Selenga, we found abundance of snow once more; indeed, its abundance was so great that we were wholly unable to obtain any of the fine views that are said to be obtainable from the high lands of the divide.
We had now practically passed over the country which is comprised in the Trans Baikal provinces of eastern Siberia, and were able to form some opinion of the country through which we had passed. The impression it made was certainly not favorable. It is true, of course, that we crossed it during the winter, but even with such reservation as that implies it must be admitted that the country impresses an observer as essentially poor and hungry. We had, it must be remembered, been traversing the extreme southern boundary of Russian Siberia, and therefore presumably we had seen, at any rate, the part of it which enjoys the most genial climate. So far as we saw or heard, very little can be said in its favor. The Country itself is said to be not only cold, but poor in quality, and never likely, except, it may be, in a very few districts of limited extent, to grow much food or to sustain any considerable population. The depression which forms the valley of the Amur and its tributaries no doubt contains some rich soil, the washings of the higher lands from which the drainage is drawn by the river system; but in the lower bottoms it is largely swampy in its character, and no doubt subject to floods on the breaking up of the ice, while the forest, which occupies the higher levels, does not give the impression of being the product of good soil. The productions of the districts watered by the Amur are principally mineral at present, and these are as yet but little developed. There is hardly any population that can be called agricultural, the so called colonists being chiefly employed in government works, trapping or hunting wild animals of value for their fur or skins, or, in a few instances, raising a breed of inferior cattle, which roam during summer over the open lands, feeding on the coarse grass of the country. All mining, as well as the search for precious stones, several kinds of which are met with in the Amur country, is, it need hardly be mentioned, a strict monopoly of the government, and is carried on, so far as it is developed at all, by means of convict labor. The population of the entire province is small, and, except in the case of the emancipated exiles or convicts, mainly belongs to the native or Mongolian races, which are more or less nomadic in their habits.
LAKE BAIKAL TO EUROPE.
Harper’s Weekly August 28, 1897 pages 853-857.
The popular and familiar idea of a journey across Siberia in winter is that of lonely travel over vast wastes of wind swept snow and ice, its monotony only enlivened by pursuing packs of famished and ravenous wolves. Our experience certainly did not at all come up to this exciting reality, though it must be admitted that the country, as we approached Lake Baikal, gave the impression of being well suited for such experiences. The regular route, going either east or west, in winter, is to cross the lake on the ice somewhat to the south of the point at which it is joined by its great feeder the Selenga, and we had hoped to follow this route until we were warned that the experiment would not be safe, the ice not being considered firm enough at the time we reached its neighborhood. We had consequently to take the longer route round the southern end of the lake, over the most desolate and roughest country we had encountered on our journey. Fortunately the snow lay deep in the neighborhood of the lake, and our yemschiks vied with one another in racing their pony teams at full gallop down the slopes at a headlong speed which was exhilarating even if at first a little alarming.
We saw nothing of the wolves, however. Indeed, we were in no want of safer company, for we had now got into the full tide of traffic, such as flows in a continuous stream both ways to and from Irkutsk over eastern Siberia during the whole of the winter months. It is carried on almost entirely by means of pony sledges, each carrying about five hundred pounds weight of goods, and proceeding, apparently without halt or rest, in a long line across the snow. Each pony is fastened in each caravan by a rope to the back of the sledge before him, on which are placed a box of grain and a bundle of hay, that he may eat as he goes. Of course the little animals must rest from time to time, but the impression they give as you meet them by day or night tramping silently onwards through the snow in long unbroken files is that they go on forever. They are evidently entirely accustomed to the life, for they are but little troubled with the attentions of drivers. An attendant who nods drowsily on every sixth sledge has the apparently easy task of looking after them. There was something strange in the sensation of passing one of these caravans by moonlight when the long train looked ghostly and moved silently past, with not the sound of a footfall nor a sign of human life; only the low occasional tinkle of a bell on the "dougas," except when now and then a bundle of fur would move as we passed, and perhaps a face peer curiously at us from the shapeless heap. We were on the road continuously, and yet we hardly ever saw these trains at rest. At all hours of the day or night they seemed to be going, going, going onwards without rest, and yet the pace was brisk, and the little beasts looked strong and well. Of all the thousands of teams we passed on our journey we saw less than half a dozen dead ponies left by the way side.
The merchandise exported to Siberia from Russia amounts, it is said, in a year to not less than 300.000 tons, and it is probable that little if any less finds its way across Siberia into Russia, as this includes nearly all the trade with China. Allowing that perhaps from a half to two-thirds of the export trade never goes beyond Irkutsk, some idea may be formed of the number of sledge loads, at the rate of four to each ton, required to transport some 400,000 tons of goods, no inconsiderable part of it tea, over the snows of eastern Siberia.
The hilly country around the southern shore of Lake Baikal will present many engineering difficulties in the way of the great railroad whenever it is found necessary to make the line continuous. For the present it is not proposed to attempt this, and in the mean time it is intended to carry the trains on steam transports over the lake from the mouth of the Angara, or rather its point of outflow, on the western shore a few miles from Irkutsk to a point on the eastern shore where the land is tolerably favorable for railway construction. This will involve a crossing of about fifty miles, and as the lake is subject to violent storms, the problem may well prove a serious one. Sooner or later, no doubt, the necessity of undertaking the work of finding a way for the line through or over the mountainous country will force itself upon the Russian government, and it will doubtless be met with the clogged determination characteristic of the race and its rulers. The projected line of railroad through Manchuria, now arranged for with the Chinese government, diverges in a southeasterly direction from the line originally laid out to Chita and Stretensk, a little to the east of the point where it crosses the Selenga east of the lake, and will unquestionably, both in the character of the country through which it passes and in the point at which it will reach the Pacific, be a vast improvement, in addition to effecting a saving of some 1200 miles in the distance between Irkutsk and a seaport.
Irkutsk itself is unquestionably the most interesting as well as the largest and most important city in Siberia. It is now more than two hundred years since the city was founded by the early Russian conquerors of western Siberia, and there can be no doubt that they showed excellent judgment in the choice of a site. Situated on the Angara, only a few miles below its point of outflow from the great lake of the country which substantially marks the division between eastern and western Siberia, it practically commands the approaches to the upper waters of the two great rivers, the Yenisei through the Angara, and the Lena by an overland approach either direct from the city itself or from the western shore of Lake Baikal over an easy country. The lake itself has somewhat the proportions of all inland sea, being some four hundred miles long by a width of from thirty to fifty miles. It is true that the Lena, running far to the east and then bending west as it approaches the arctic circle, runs for the most part through a district almost unparalleled among inhabited countries for the severity of its climate and for the poverty of its soil. In the mean time its population is very limited, consisting mainly of nomadic aboriginal tribes of Mongolian origin who live chiefly by hunting and fishing. It has, however, of late years been discovered that considerable districts in the valley of the Lena are rich in minerals, both gold and other less valuable metals being present in considerable quantities, so that in spite of its unattractive climate it is more than possible there may yet be a considerable population in the country of which Yakutsk is the centre, the trade of which will always be likely to pass through Irkutsk. The great valley of the Yenisei, on the other hand, which in its southern parts at any rate is notoriously the most fertile district in Siberia, will always have a chief depot at Irkutsk, owing to the fact that the Angara is the largest and most navigable tributary of the great river. The agricultural population of the depression in the northern plateau through which the Yenisei and its tributaries flow is already very considerable, but there is no reason why it should not be very greatly increased within a few years, especially as the railway when it reaches Irkutsk will enable the immense supplies of wheat which it is capable of producing to be sent to the Russian market at a price which will yield at least the modest margin of profit which a Russian farmer esteems sufficient.
The city at present contains a population of fully fifty thousand souls, of whom, of course, a considerable percentage are either civil or military officials. At Irkutsk, for the first time on the journey westward, the traveller begins to see the western or European type of humanity showing itself in the ordinary population, which hitherto has been submerged under the Mongolian type of eastern Asia. There are, of course, still plenty of typical Asiatics to be seen everywhere, but the regular civilian citizens of Irkutsk are principally of European Slavonic race, and evidently related to the military who may be seen everywhere in the broad streets. There is no want of fine buildings in the chief capital of Siberia; indeed, either from a distance or upon a nearer view, Irkutsk is entitled to be considered a fine city, to which the popular name of "the Paris of Siberia" may be applied with some degree of justice. In the winter it is of course a city of snow, which may be regarded as its regular aspect for seven to eight months out of the twelve, but this hardly takes anything from the appearance of the place, and its wide thoroughfares form a brilliant spectacle of life and gayety with their dozens of handsome sleighs and dashing teams. There are many fine buildings, nearly all for public and official purposes, indeed, but this is a common feature in all great Russian towns, and the ample space generally allowed to each helps to give full effect to their architectural beauties. This element of ample space is a very marked feature of Irkutsk, and impresses an observer as having some connection with the vastness of the country itself. Such buildings as the residence or palace of the Governor General, the cathedral, and some of the monasteries gain immensely by this freedom from the encroachment of near neighbors, and so add greatly to the beauty and dignity of the city.
As usual, much has been done for the military part of the population, and the number of officers of high rank who are to be found in Irkutsk at all times, either on business at headquarters or as part of the staff, helps largely to give the city its brilliant appearance, and to lend to its society that glitter which has perhaps had much to do with its Parisian reputation. As usual, our party met with every kindness and attention at the hands of official society, both military and civilian, and the few days we passed in the city were fully and pleasantly occupied in seeing all that could interest us as strangers or inform us on the subject of the railway works, in which we were specially interested.
We were now nearing the end of our posting journey, as we expected to reach Krasnoyarsk in four or five days from Irkutsk, and did, as a matter of fact, accomplish the 670 miles on the fifth day after leaving the city. We were now in a position to calculate both the time and expense involved in a winter trip across Siberia, and found that from Khabarovka to Krasnoyarsk, where we reached the completed railroad, we had traveled by sledge 2850 miles; we had stopped at 183 posting stations to change horses, and from these stations we had obtained in all 1630 horses and 549 different yemschiks, or drivers. A troika, or team of three horses, was the usual complement for each sledge, but sometimes, when the roads were good or horses scarce, two sufficed for each, and in the dry region of the Trans Baikal, where the snow was thin, four, five, or even six were required. In this way we had made an average of 114 miles a day throughout the trip, sometimes accomplishing as much as nearly 150, and at others dropping considerably below a hundred.
In the matter of expense, the following figures will show that winter travel in Siberia can hardly be said to be cheap at present. There were six persons in our party, making use of three sledges, and therefore greatly reducing the cost individually. The sledges cost 300 rubles, the hire of horses came to 1163 rubles, the fees to station keepers, apart from horse hire, 164 rubles, and "drink-money" to the 549 yemschiks, at ten copecks each, about 55 rubles more. In all, therefore, the direct expenses of travel came to 1683 rubles, or $1262 nominally. In reality, however, the ruble was only worth about fifty two cents at the time, reducing the actual cost to about thirty cents a mile, or five cents per mile for each person. Extra expenses for food, and expenses of our stay at the various towns at which we rested, no doubt added half as much again to the cost of the journey per head, thus bringing it up to something like eight cents a mile for each of the party.
FROM KRASNOYARSK TO EUROPE.
The conquerors of Siberia appear to have exercised a wise discretion in the sites they chose for the towns, which originally were little more than military posts of occupation in a hostile country. It is at least possible, however, that circumstances rather than deliberate choice determined some of these, as we find that they are in every case situated at the point where one or other of the great rivers of the country has to be crossed. Thus while Irkutsk stands on the bank of the Angarn, Krasnoyarsk, the next city of importance, is built on the bank of the other great branch of the Yenisei, at a distance, in an almost straight line, of 670 miles to the west. There is little difference in the latitude of any of these cities of Siberia, from Tomsk, the most northerly, in the fifty fourth parallel, to Irkutsk, in the fifty second, all of them being in about the same parallel as Moscow, and several degrees south of St. Petersburg.
In our sedge journey to Krasnoyarsk from Irkutsk our course lay nearly northwest and through a country which we are assured will, within a comparatively few years after the completion of the great railroad, be the most prosperous and probably the most populous in Siberia. Our route lay across the depressions in the great Siberian plateau through which the various feeders of the river Yenisei find their way northward towards the Arctic Ocean. Of these, besides the great stream of the Angara at Irkutsk, we crossed no less than five before reaching Krasnoyarsk, each of which would in summer have been a serious barrier to progress, although in their frozen condition they caused no delay or trouble. They will, however, add considerably to the cost of maintenance as well as of original construction of the railway, owing to the risk of great floods when the spring thaw sets to each year, bringing down vast quantities of ice front the mountainous regions of the Altai range, in which it takes its rise. Our route lay across a series of broad low valleys, divided by low ridges of country. A very large part of it is covered with heavy forest at present, but even now there are considerable stretches of cultivated land which bears, it is said, unusually fine crops of wheat, and is capable of almost indefinite extension, nearly all the lowlands being of rich alluvial soil.
Up to the time of our visit, and indeed until the summer of last year, the railroad was only in operation for passenger traffic as far as Tomsk, on a branch of the river Obi, 364 miles to the west of Krasnoyarsk, but the line had been laid as far as the last named town at the time of our visit, the last hundred miles, however, being laid entirely on the snow. This, indeed, is part of the policy of construction, and will no doubt answer its purpose, which is to take advantage of the winter season, when all the rivers and streams can be crossed without the bridge works which on the whole of the enormous line form the one great problem of construction, so as to forward material for the construction, which is being pushed on from a number of different points at once. In this way trains were being run as far as Krasnoyarsk, though not one of the great tributaries of the Obi had been bridged, nor, indeed, had the great channels of the Obi and Irtish themselves, still farther to the west, although regular traffic for passengers and goods was being carried over those sections. Many of these bridges are no doubt completed by this time, and it was intended during 1897 to carry the line onwards from the Yenisei at Krasnoyarsk over the 670 miles to the Angara at Irkutsk.
Krasnoyarsk is neither so large nor so fine a city as Irkutsk, though except for the fact of the latter having been so long the acknowledged capital of Siberia and the chief seat of official expenditure, there does not appear to be any reason for its inferiority. Its position on the western bank of the direct stream of the Yenisei is a fine one, and its command of this great river, with its nearly seven hundred miles of advantage in the matter of land transport into Europe over Irkutsk, can hardly fail, after a few years, to make it the great depot for a large part of the rich valley country of the Yenisei and all its western tributaries. In this and many other respects, indeed, the completion of the great trunk line of railroad across the continent -and perhaps not least its extension to a good and accessible port on the Pacific- will work revolutions in the condition of things in this vast and hitherto unknown country, the mature and extent of which it would be more than rash to predict. Among the least, although the most inevitable of these, will be the rise into importance of new cities, and the change in the relative importance of old ones for reasons no longer regulated by official commands.
At Krasnoyarsk we were fortunate enough to meet Prince Hilkoff, the Russian Minister of Ways and Communications, who had just arrived from St. Petersburg by a special train- the first that had made a continuous trip over the whole line up to this its farthest point of even temporary construction -and very gladly availed ourselves of his invitation to go back with him on his return. The prince's train was in all respects a great improvement upon the sledge accommodation we had enjoyed during our 2850 miles' ride from Khabarovka to Krasnoyarsk. It was thoroughly modern in construction, even to its equipment for Pintsch gas and an ample supply of hot water pipes in each of the three vestibule cars of which it consisted. The minister's private car had two ante-rooms, a large saloon, and an observation room in the rear, and was altogether a very grand and luxurious affair. The first class passenger coach which was given up to us was divided into six compartments, opening from an aisle which ran along one side of the car, and proved very comfortable, its cushioned seats forming good beds at night, and presenting an agreeable contrast to the limited sledge couches we had occupied so long.
The rest of our journey was something in the nature of a triumphal procession, as we enjoyed the full hospitality and some of the consideration that waits upon a great Russian official. East of Tomsk no provision had at that time been made for the refreshment of travelers, but as the guests of the minister we were, of course, independent of such conveniences, and fared sumptuously in the prince's saloon car, which was equipped with everything from a cooking outfit of the latest pattern to a French chef of excellent quality. To the west of the great river Obi the station buildings of all sorts are well advanced towards completion, and give promise of being complete in every way. The accommodation for travelers is especially good, the dining rooms being as a rule large and lofty and handsomely finished in hard woods and plaster. The tables at these places were especially attractive in their brilliant display of plate, linen, and epergnes loaded with fruits, while the menus gave evidence of the most competent service in the culinary department. The general service, indeed, witnessed to the truth of the often repeated assertion that the higher classes in Russia, for whose benefit these places were evidently designed, are among the most luxurious people of modern Europe.
As Krasnoyarsk marks the centre of the last river depression of the Yenisei country, so Tomsk, situated nearly four hundred miles to the west, marks the central point of the country of the Obi proper, the Siberian river which carries the greatest volume of water to the northern ocean. Like all the great rivers of the country, it draws its headwaters from the great chain of the Altai Mountains, which, under various names, forms an almost continuous belt across the whole continent from Afghanistan to the Sea of Okhotsk in the northeast. It is certainly a majestic stream. The great bridge, the stability of which will form no inconsiderable problem for the engineers, was not yet erected, and our train crossed the broad river, as it had already done a good many of less imposing size, upon a roadway laid on the ice.
The journey from Tomsk on the Obi to Omsk on the Obi's great tributary, the Irtish, a distance of nearly five hundred miles, and thence over a succession of large tributaries of the Irtish, till at a distance of nearly six hundred more miles westward we reached Chelyabinsk, in the neighborhood of the Ural Mountains, was monotonous in the extreme. The vast district, it is true, is said to be at present the most populous and the most extensively cultivated in all Siberia, but as seen by us in passing it seemed to consist of interminable stretches of level prairie, covered with an unbroken mantle of spotless white extending everywhere to the horizon, and giving a peculiar effect of infinite distance and utter loneliness. A picturesque variation was now and then afforded by lines of forest, chiefly of the birch tribe, that served to break the monotonous expanse, but in no way decreased the impression of want of life, which was the prevailing one left on the mind. It is said that the population of the Russian Empire increases at the rate of a million and a half every year. There is room enough in the districts of Siberia that are at least as habitable as a large part of Russia in Europe to find homes for the surplus population for many a year to come.
As we approached the boundary of Europe, and began to ascend the long and gradual slope which marks the eastern side of the Ural range, villages recurred more and more frequently, their uniform array of low thatched roofs resembling huge white mushrooms in their winter covering of snow; windmills stood up gaunt and bare looking on points of vantage, and the tall white spires and bright green domes of the churches made us feel that once more we were approaching the habitations of our species. Chelyabinsk is the station which marks the dividing line between the European and Siberian railway systems, though the actual line of division between the continents is still another hundred miles to the west, at Zlatousk, on the low crest of the Urals. There are extensive workshops at Chelyabinsk, and on the side tracks long trains of cars loaded with railway materials of all sorts waiting to go forward. Among these we saw a number of lately imported American engines, which seem to be in favor, as the minister's own train, in which we traveled, was drawn by one of these throughout the journey. Not long after leaving this station we came in sight of the rolling and thickly wooded hills which mark the ridge of the Ural range and the dividing line of two continents. There is nothing impressive in its appearance; indeed the entire elevation of the range at the point where the railroad crosses is only some fifteen hundred feet, and the maximum grade on the Siberian slope does not exceed one per cent. We had thus crossed the largest of the continents at nearly its widest point, and from this point until we were safely landed in St. Petersburg we were on comparatively well know ground. The route which we had followed for something like five thousand miles impressed us with the vastness of that yet undeveloped country which owns the sway of the Czar, while the great work, which will soon be completed to open it up to settlement, is evidently one which could only have been carried out by a government possessed of vast resources and entirely unaccustomed to find itself thwarted in anything it chose to undertake.
In the construction of the railway the higher branches of the service are filled by graduates from the Imperial institutes. The engineering department includes the "road master," who receives from 250 to 300 rubles a month as salary. This officer has charge of from fifty to eighty miles of track, and of all the workmen on the section, whose pay runs from eight rubles a month for gatekeepers to forty for track men. Inspectors, who fill much the same position as general superintendents with us, receive from 8000 to 16,000 rubles a year. Engine-drivers get 150 and firemen from seventy five to eighty rubles per month.
Photographs by W. H. Jackson.
WIFE AND CHILDREN OF A GOLDES FISHERMAN. Dressing Fish-skins, from which they make Clothing.