“At half past five came Orăvițeanul, the workers’ train; at seven Marinică, the pupils’ train; at eight, a train passed towards Timișoara; at ten, another train passed towards Reșița; at twelve, another train to Timișoara; at half past one, another one to Reșița; at three, Marinică came back; at half past four the other one came back; at half past six, a train went up [to Reșița] again; at eight, it came back; at ten in the evening, it went back [to Reșița]; at ten past twelve, there was another train going to Timișoara; and before, there used to be one at 2 [at night], going up [to Reșița].”
Ion was a station clerk for 30 years. From 1986 to 2000 he worked at Moniom. He is now retired and lives in the train station building, which he bought and converted into a house. In the summer of 2022, when we did the interview, only two trains still passed through the station and no passengers got off anymore, but Nea Ion still knew the old train timetable by heart.
When we asked if they could sleep through the noise of the wheels, his wife replied: “And how! Like babies!” She is originally from the region of Moldova. Her parents came to the village when she was a child. “But we didn’t mix,” she says.
Ion is also from Moldova, from a village he doesn’t name in Vaslui county. He left home when he was 17. “I had relatives, people from my village who came here.” They brought each other here, just as people from Moniom helped each other move West after the Revolution in 1989. Ion’s sons are in England.
None of Ion’s four brothers remained in their parents’ village. They’ve scattered about. “Do you still see each other?” we ask him. “Of course. On the laptop camera,” replies Ion jokingly.
Before becoming a train station employee in Moniom, he had nine years of “wandering around”, he tells us. But when he recounts his story, it turns out the nine years were more about working in different jobs.
“I didn’t like school,” he admits, “I liked work.” He never got to finish ten grades. With an unusual memory for numbers, he remembers that on October 26, 1976, on St. Dumitru’s Day, after “summer practice” at the village collective farm had dragged on well after school was supposed to start, the principal and mayor rounded up the 10th graders and told them there would be no more classes as there were no more teachers. Ion’s father enrolled him at the construction high school in Vaslui. “The old man [his father] paid 5,000 lei, it was a lot of money then, almost 5,000 euros today.” That’s when he left home for the first time. “In the first trimester, I got 10 only in sports. I played cards, those were the kind of books I liked. In the second trimester, I told [the old man] to come and get me, because I wanted to leave. I had climbed out the window using a sheet before. There were others who went to work in Hunedoara and so I came to work too.”
The Reșița to which he arrived was a lively, booming workers centre: there was IJCM (County Construction and Assembly Company), UCMR (Reșița Machine Building Company), CSR (Reșița Steel Plant), IMR (Reșița Mechanical Enterprise) which built armament, Renk, the German gearbox factory, plus clothes factories, he tells us. “When I came, when the bus went up towards CSR and UCMR — it was one of those Hungarian Icarus buses — the doors were open and men were holding on to each other, it was bursting with people!” Men and women from the surrounding town and villages worked at the factories in Reșița, and the train commute was an important part of life. When we ask him exactly who worked in the factories, he replies “all the young able-bodied people”. Only old people stayed behind in villages, doing agriculture.
In Reșița, Ion says he worked in every job on the construction site, “from A to Z”. For a while he also worked in Timișoara, where he remembers the dorm where he lived, on Popa Șapcă Street, opposite the prison. “At 5 o’clock, the inmates would come out in chains, they carried stones, some using stretchers, others with their hands, the wardens would curse at them and we would cursed the wardens — is this the time to be waking us up?” Then he came to Moniom, to the Wood Depot.
The village, just 10 km from Reșița on the road to Bocșa (“12 minutes by train,” says Ion promptly), was another important industrial centre in the region. In addition to the Wood Depot (which has a dedicated train line), Moniom was home to the County Base for Technical-Material Supply (BJATM), which had 3 halls, 2 overhead cranes, of 10 and 5 tons (the latter still surviving at the edge of the railway, a rusty metal monster projected onto the evening sky), 3 wagons, its own locomotive and 200 employees, managers and workers, village people and commuters. On the edge of the village, on the way to Reșița, there was also a slaughterhouse.
On 26 October 1983, Ion left to do his compulsory military training. He was 23 years old. He had managed to avoid enlistment for a long time, partly because his parents didn’t know where he was, and therefore neither did the county authorities; then by running and hiding when the Chief of Staff from Bocșa came to check men’s papers; then by putting himself under the protection of the Chief of the Wood Depot, who agreed Ion would do his military service when he was ready. “Eventually I did it just to be done with it,” he says.
He was assigned to a military base in Focșani, close to his parents’ home. In February 1985, when he was released, he saw his parents for the first time in 9 years.
Afterwards he returned to Moniom, took a job at the railway station and got married. He worked in different jobs, all related to the management of train traffic. In 2000 he was moved to the railway station in Berzovia, and in 2013 to the one in Vasiova. Four years ago, he “got rid of the job,” he laughs. But not of the train station. Together with his wife, he bought the building that had been put up for sale, they turned it into a house and surrounded it with a garden in which we can see, at a quick glance, tomatoes, strawberries, plums, apple trees and a vine canopy. Ion tells us that he never liked living in blocks of flats.
At the 2011 census, there were 319 people left in Moniom. The rest are abroad, in Germany, Austria, England, Spain, Italy. Those who stayed behind work for companies in the area and travel by car or by buses hired by their employers. “But there’s recently been a feasibility study, Popa [the mayor of Reșița] and Fritz [the mayor of Timișoara] have talked to each other and they’re bringing in a hovercraft train, like in Japan,” laughs Ion, then goes on to explain the joke. Because of the “sharp” curves, trains on the Bocșa-Reșița line cannot go faster than 40 km/h, or they would jump off the rails. In addition, modified carriages are needed, with an engine on each axle. “They can’t even get those Blue Arrow trains going through here, but who knows.”
When we ask him, Ion says he considers himself Moldovan, even though he has spent most of his life in Banat, in Moniom, where he is “well known by people”. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, he tells us, “the important thing is to fit into your neighbour’s standard,” which means to be a good neighbour.
Nea Ion shows us a car parked in front of the train station. A year after he retired, he finally got a driving licence. The fastest he ever drove was on the motorway, challenged by his younger son, whom he was taking to the airport in Timisoara. Like Ion in his youth, his boys do all sorts of jobs in England: they work on building sites, they are couriers, they do food deliveries, but they are also good with computers. Ion remembers the boys’ first computer. “I went into town [in Reșița] and as I looked down Victoriei Street, I saw this internet cafe thing with big windows and inside I saw my penguins. They were supposed to be at school, they were in high school at the time. I looked at them: what are you doing? Well, we don’t have classes. Who are you telling that to? Off to school! And if I come and find you here again, don’t bother to come home. So I went and got them a Pentium 1.”
The boys come and visit him often, on holidays and vacations. The eldest also has two daughters, who like it in Moniom, but the boys will probably continue living abroad. “That’s where the money is,” says Ion. Meanwhile, he and his wife sit and wait patiently at the train station in Moniom.
Photo credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu