• Kester Eddy

End of the Line - a Steam Locomotive and the Political, Social and Technical History of Europe

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Every Picture Tells a Story [Don't it?] - 05 - UPDATED

​You might well say it's just an old train, on a longish bridge on a wintry morning. And you'd be correct, to a point, except it should not have been so wintry - it was an April morning (if rather early). Train buffs may know better, of course, because the story of this class of engine (I'm not sure about this particular locomotive) arguably encompasses much of the 20th century history of Europe. Certainly, examples served from France to Romania, from Lithuania to Greece (and most places in between) in part precisely because of the political upheavals that engulfed the continent in those times.


These engines were not the fastest, nor the most powerful, though they performed admirably on expresses because of certain then state-of-the-art technology fitted when first introduced.


Nor were they especially aesthetically beautiful. But they could go most places, haul passenger or goods trains, of whatever load, and do these jobs without straining the crews and with limited maintenance.


In short, they were, or at least became, rugged railway workhorses.

The example pictured is one of what was by then a mere handful still chugging out a living in the country of their birth. I suppose it's an indictment of my slow acquisition of photographic skills that, despite a dozen or more visits to said country in the 1970s this is about the only photo I rate as being worthy of a big print. If you happen to be a steam freak, you'll probably be able to identify the class and country where this was taken easily, maybe even the rough area - though the exact location I'd imagine is pretty near impossible. If you're a 'normal' - you can take an educated guess on the country from what I've written here. I'll post the details and the personal backstory behind this piccie tomorrow, work allowing.


Having said that, work should have precluded me from taking this picture at the time :)


UPDATE Sometime in early 1973, a fellow student at university approached me with an offer: how about we go somewhere on the European mainland, on his motorbike, to chase some steam locos that I loved so much? I was a bit surprised, because the guy, a Brummie by the name of John Knott (hope I've got the spelling correctly) was not into railways. I suppose I must have told him about my passion, and he decided he'd like a bit of adventure and he'd do the trip for the general fun of it. Whatever, one Saturday in late March, we set off in driving rain heading for Dover on John's bike. It was an early 1960's vintage, I think it was a Matchless, single-cylinder 350cc. I confess I was a bit concerned: we were heading, ultimately, for the picture postcard town of Horb, in the Black Forest, south-west Germany. which had to be about 650 miles (1,050 km) on the road from Loughborough, our university town in the English east Midlands. What with some extra running around, we'd be expecting this less-than-modern two-wheeled machinery to be doing some 1,500 miles (2,400 km) there and back. In our favour, John was a hands-on type of engineer (unlike yours truly) who could probably patch things up if the bike avoided a serious breakdown. By Sunday evening we'd made it to Metz. It was fun on the French roads, passing bikers showed great camaraderie, and if we took a break anywhere you could be sure one or two would turn up and discuss – or attempt to discuss – the pros and cons of what by then was an obsolete single-cylinder four-stroke engine. On the Monday, we stopped by in Sarreguemines, smack on the German border, to find one surviving American-built SNCF 141R still at work (see first post in this off-topic section for a piece on the 141Rs), before the final leg of the trip to Freudenstadt, where we found a local Jugendherberge to take us in. The real purpose of the trip was to photograph the few surviving German Railways 038 class based at Horb, and still pottering around on some very secondary lines in the Black Forest. These engines, originally designated Prussian Railways P8, first hit the rails in 1906. They outperformed anything of the same size at the time because they employed a Schmidt superheater, which put a whole lot more energy into the same mass of steam than in an unsuperheated locomotive, which in turn meant you could get a whole lot more out when it came to hauling trains. German military expansionism caused them to start wandering to neighbouring countries, and subsequent war reparations meant many more were sent abroad after WW1. Romanians loved them so much they built 226 of their own under license.


According to Wikipedia, a total of 3,948 P8s, including the Romanian clones, were built, making the type the most built passenger locomotive in the world – although a citation is needed for that. (Thank you Wikipedia for this and most of these historical details. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_P_8) It's quite amazing that at least one of these machines remained in service for another 20 months, the last one being withdrawn from normal service in December 1974. I really can't remember much about the time we were there, but I got this piccie in the village of Dornstetten, about ten kilometers from Freudenstadt, at about seven in the morning, possibly on the Thursday, when I think we had to leave. (Fair dos to John, who got himself out of bed in time for us to find this location.) (As an aside, it now turns out the Dornstetten is an almost-famous village: it's next door neighbour is a place called Glatten, where a certain Jürgen Klopp, now the manager of Liverpool FC, grew up. But at the time, he wasn't even an Apfel in his daddy's Augen.) On the return leg, we broke down about 10 km from Dunkerque on the Friday evening, and pushed the machine to the docks in time to catch the Night Ferry boat. John chatted up a truck driver on the channel – and bought a few beers as encouragement - to get him to take us and the bike to London, where somehow we got fixed up. It was a lot of effort, just two months before our final exams (which is what I should have been home preparing for all along – wonder is I even got a lower second) and the pic above is about all I've got to show for it. Plus some fond memories of the straight, fairly empty roads across France. I lost touch with John after university – but if you ever read this John, thanks for all the hard driving. And if you can make it to Hungary, I'll buy you a few beers for the memories. Congratulations my old pal Brian Bartram, who identified the P8 (though failed to guess it was somewhere in the Black Forest) and Albyn Austin, who wrote P6 but I suspect that was a typo. Owen Brison thought it was “probably a German” engine. Hubert Warsmann was, as usual there or thereabouts on the German bit (these engines did work in France too, Hubert!)


Here's a pic of the kind of bike we were on - this is off e-bay. Goodness, if John kept it to today, it would have been well worth pushing it to Dunkerque docks - almost £4,000 asking price.


https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Matchless-G3-Ex-AFS-1960-350cc-/324359395996 That's the story. Now I've got to think about a pic for next week.

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