Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Explore the rich history of Novi Bečej's transportation, from horse-drawn carriages to the railway station, revealing a unique blend of tradition and progress

Traffic in Novi Bečej: A Retrospective View

Due to the fact that Novi Bečej is situated on the Tisa River, river traffic has held a prominent place in the transportation of goods. Poor roads and underdeveloped road traffic directed a portion of goods, especially passengers, towards railway transportation.

Goods from surrounding villages were transported by horse-drawn vehicles, and considering the high cost of railway passenger transport, many Kumančani, and even Melenčani, would walk to Novi Bečej. This walking quite accurately illustrates the standard of that time. A train ticket from Kuman to Novi Bečej cost three dinars, and many couldn't even afford that, so they would walk 10 kilometers in one direction just to avoid paying for the ticket.

On market days, Kumanski put came to life well before dawn. Numerous horse-drawn vehicles were present, but there were significantly more pedestrians rushing to conduct business, sell their produce, or attend to various obligations in the district's institutions, eager to return home where work awaited them.

Traffic on the Tisa was particularly lively. In addition to the passenger boat, a small boat that sailed several times a day between Novi and Stari Bečej, a "large boat," an elegant passenger ship on the Belgrade - Senta route and vice versa, operated three times a week.

River passenger traffic had a modest place in transporting passengers, although there were no other connections with Stari Bečej except on foot over Ljutovo or by horse-drawn vehicle across the ferry. However, river traffic played a dominant role in the transport of goods, unlike any other city in Banat, except for Pančevo. All goods transported in larger quantities were directed by river traffic. Grains, timber for the Novi Bečej wood mill - whose capacities were significant for the time, bricks, and tiles were transported by the Tisa. The Novi Bečej port ranked first in Tisa River traffic in terms of goods turnover. Five to six barges and 1-2 rafts of goods were loaded daily. Considerable quantities of flour and other goods were shipped by the passenger boat to Belgrade and beyond.

Thanks to the rich surroundings and the fact that, from the Banat side, there was no port on the Tisa except for Novi Kneževac in the northernmost part, practically the entire Northern Banat used the Novi Bečej port. Besides the ship space, this significant traffic on the Tisa engaged about thirty Novi Bečej residents who worked in loading and unloading, as well as transporting goods from warehouses to the port and vice versa. These shore workers, who loaded and carried goods onto barges and ships, were called "vagandžije," probably named after the old measure for weight - "vaga" (50 kg.), while some claim it was because all goods on barges were put on a scale and measured. It was a very strenuous job, and "vagandžije" did it by running with a full large sack on their shoulder, over a plank that served as a bridge from the shore to the barge. This work was done with laughter and teasing among themselves, creating the impression that it wasn't difficult for them. It was an attempt to make the work easier through humor, but in reality, it was very exhausting, as evidenced by the appearance of these people. They were all worn-out, lean individuals who, under normal working conditions, would be quite strong and well-built. The harsh working conditions and fatigue often led them to seek relief in the tavern and alcohol after work, searching for some solace in their arduous lives.

Passenger traffic with Stari Bečej wasn't extensive; it was done by a small boat officially called "Stari Bečej" because the owner was from Stari Bečej, and the captain, a helmsman known as Mlađa Krstonošić. This boat traveled 7-8 times a day between the two Bečejs. The small boat, as everyone called it, transported passengers not only from Bečej but also from those traveling from Vrbas, Sombor to Banat and vice versa. The boat carried vegetable sellers and students from Stari to Novi Bečej, attending higher grades of high school, as Stari Bečej had only a lower gymnasium at that time.

In addition to this boat, the ferry also played a significant role. The ferry was used for the transport of horse-drawn vehicles and passengers, not only those coming from or going to Stari Bečej but also those who owned land on the Bačka side. The ferry operated both day and night, but during the night, it was always on the Banat side, where the ferryman's hut was located. This hut still exists on the Tisa's bank near the promenade, where, at night, when there was little traffic, they would sleep, making it challenging to call them from the Bačka side. Almost every night, shouting could be heard - "ferry" - but it took a while for the ferryman to wake up, sit in the boat, and charge one, at most two, late passengers one dinar to ferry them across. They had to row across the Tisa and return for one or two passengers, so often ferryman intentionally wouldn't respond, and passengers had to figure out their own way. The ferry was troublesome at night, an unreliable means of transport, so Novi Bečej residents usually avoided using its service at night. The approach to the ferry on both sides of the Tisa was more than poor, due to dust in summer and mud in autumn. There were no cobblestones from the dolme to the ferry, just a dirt road. In winter, when the Tisa froze, the ferrymen would dig a path through the ice for the ferry. Still, if the winters were harsh and freezing daily, the ferry wouldn't operate, and passengers and sleds with horses would go over the ice. This crossing was charged just like the ferry service because, supposedly, the ferrymen "insured" it and kept it in a safe condition.

Besides this ferry, which operated on a section of the Tisa towards Svetozar Miletić Street, there was another one in Berek, which transported Novi Bečej residents to Biserno Ostrvo or Rit, as it was called then. At that time, there were many landowners in Rit and day laborers on the Rohonci estate, so this ferry was very busy until the Tisa froze.

The impoverished people from Vranjevo used a boat to cross to Stari Bečej, which transported them from Stari Bečej to Ljutovo. From Vranjevo to the place where the boat was transported, or better yet to Stari Bečej, was no more than 3-3.5 kilometers.

Even after the construction of embankments in the mid-19th century, the Tisa continued to be regulated, not only for flood protection but also to shorten the waterway. The meander of Biserno Ostrvo, then the largest bend in the Tisa, about 23 km long, became a dead branch by cutting a new channel in 1858, about 8.3 km long. The meander in the Medenjača area, 15 km long, became a dead branch in 1863 by cutting a new course 3.2 km long. However, long after that, the meander was still used as the main navigational route, and the branch became a secondary channel. Therefore, in 1900, the branch was widened, and the meander was filled in, and practically, only in 1900 did Medenjača become a dead branch.

At that time, the Tisa near Novi Bečej was 230 meters wide at low water, 302 meters at average water level, and 1,680 meters at high water level. The depth at low water was 4.2 meters, 7.7 meters at average water level, and 9.7 meters at high water level.

Novi Bečej, at that time, unlike many other cities, had three taxis. I emphasize "at that time" because even larger, significantly larger cities didn't have many more taxis. Cars were rare in general because there were no roads for their normal use, and they were relatively new and quite expensive as a means of transportation. I don't know how their owners managed to keep them, but the fact is that they survived as taxis until the great economic crisis, even until 1931. I assume they bought them at a favorable price from the former owners who perhaps wanted to get rid of them. Higher officials and merchants in Novi Bečej, especially their children, used taxi rides to highlight their importance, their greatness in the eyes of ordinary people. This display had to be paid for, and they paid for it, ensuring the survival of taxi transportation in Novi Bečej.

For the residents of Novi Bečej, horse-drawn carriages were available for transportation to the railway station. There were about 5-6 regular carriage drivers, and I remember the nicknames of some: Pelcer, the three Švorcik brothers. Carriage drivers constantly traveled on the route from the center to the railway station, the port to the railway station, and vice versa. Whether there were passengers or not, all carriages welcomed every train, and for the boat from Stari Bečej, 2-3 carriages would wait due to the proximity of the port and the center. Only passengers coming from Stari Bečej and heading to the railway station to catch a train to Kikinda or Zrenjanin used the carriages. Many Novi Bečej residents oriented themselves to the time of the carriage's departure or return to the station, as all trains arrived at specific times, and everyone knew the arrival times of certain trains in Novi Bečej. They would then add or subtract 15 minutes based on where the carriage was coming from, arriving at an approximate time. This indicates that the carriage drivers were meticulous about not being late for any train or boat, and the boat adjusted its schedule based on the arrival of the train.

The railway line Veliki Bečkerek - Velika Kikinda was constructed and put into operation on July 9, 1883. Municipalities along the route contributed to its construction, including Kikinda with 20,000 forints, V.Bečkerek with 30,000, Novi Bečej, Vranjevo with 20,000, Melenci with 40,000, Dragutinovo with 30,000, Kumane with 20,000, and the Županja administration with 100,000 in cash and 51,000 in labor.

Officials from the municipalities of Novi Bečej, Vranjevo, and the district used municipal official carriages, known locally as "foršpan," for their arrivals or departures from the station. "Foršpan" was also used by officials from the banovina who came to Novi Bečej, and so on. The role of "foršpan" in urban transportation, despite being limited to a certain number of users, was significant, especially since these horse-drawn vehicles were used for official trips of officials to specific farms in the Novi Bečej or Vranjevo hinterland.

In summary, urban transportation, considering the type of transportation and the state of the roads, was slow. However, evidence shows that about ten families sustained themselves by providing urban transportation services.

The railway station was quite distant from the town, and the bad road connecting the town to the railway station made the distance even greater. The gravel road leading from Bašaid to the railway tracks was so poor, dusty, and muddy that it was not suitable for transporting goods. Nevertheless, carriages, and often Novi Bečej taxi drivers, transported passengers along this road from the station to the town. Each train arrival at the station was awaited by 5-6 carriages and municipal carriages ("foršpan"). The pedestrian path from the town to the station was not much better; it was gravel-covered and poorly maintained, with certain parts becoming muddy or forming puddles, similar to the road.

It wasn't until 1931 that this road was paved, but the pedestrian path was not built; instead, new gravel was laid, making it easier to pass in rainy weather. Interestingly, this condition of the road between the station and the town did not bother the industry, which often transported its products by train. Their horse-drawn vehicles were the most common users of this poor road.

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