Back on the (fruit) wagon

A reconstructed railway takes riders on a tour of a restored citrus orchard in Rehovot

‘Orange Railway’ giving a ride to a group of schoolchildren (photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Orange Railway’ giving a ride to a group of schoolchildren
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This past Monday, a ceremony took place in the Minkov Museum in Rehovot marking the official dedication of the museum’s “Orange Railway.” The railway, which is about 200 meters long, has two small locomotives named Tapuz and Eshkolit (“Orange” and “Grapefruit”) – one at each end of a train of three wagons with benches designed to carry passengers.
The Minkov orchard was established in 1904 by Zalman Minkov, 14 years after the founding of Rehovot, and was known for employing only “Hebrew labor” at a time when such a thing was unusual. Many famous members of the Second Aliya worked there, later going on to greater things: Yosef Haim Brenner, A.D. Gordon, the poet Rahel and many others.
The orchard continued production until the 1960s, when modern technology made it uneconomical.
The land was sold, leaving the site derelict. In the 1970s, the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites began restoration of the Minkov orchard and conversion of the original buildings into a museum of the history of citrus orchards in the Land of Israel. Today visitors can see the restored buildings, where fruit was sorted, wrapped and packed into wooden crates at the packing house. The present-day citrus orchard was planted in 1998.
A barn that once housed livestock is today used as a conference hall, where a sound-and-light show (with commentary in Hebrew or English) presents the history of citrus orchards in Israel from the early 20th century to the present day.
In the early days of orchards in the Land of Israel, small hand-propelled wagons were used on narrow-gauge railway tracks to transport fruit to the warehouse. These light railways were known as “Tarazina.” The name is a corruption of Draisine, after the German Baron Karl Christian Ludwig Drais, who in 1817 invented a primitive bicycle bearing that name. The term was later also used for hand-operated railway wagons and maintenance vehicles.
Each Tarazina train in the Minkov orchard carried 10 boxes of 20 kg. each.
Throughout the country, where an orchard was on a slope, the trains could travel quite fast, and to bring them back up the hill they were hauled on a chain wound around a reel.
Fruit that fell off the wagons had to be discarded, as bruised citrus fruit could not be sold. Two of the original trolleys, one of them on a length of narrowgauge railway track, are on display in the orchard.
The money to construct the new railway was donated by Lydia Horovitz in memory of her parents, Dvora Yana and Yitzhak Karol Horovitz, who immigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1949 and were among the founders of Moshav Nir Yisrael, near Ashkelon. Karol Horovitz worked for Mekorot for 35 years, and after his death in 1994, Yana moved to Rehovot, where she died in 2006.
After a short ceremony in which Horovitz unveiled a plaque in memory of her parents, guests at the event were invited to ride the train through the orchard and back.
The reconstructed railway, locomotives and wagons – not an exact replica of the original Tarazina, because it is designed to carry passengers rather than fruit – was built at Kibbutz Ein Shemer by a team of workers under the guidance of Ran Hedvati, who specializes in restoring old farm equipment.
The little railway carries groups of schoolchildren booked in advance for museum visits.