Black Forest Trip with a BR 85 Steam Locomotive

Black Forest Trip with a BR 85 Steam Locomotive

By Roger Heid


In summer of 1958, my school class and I went on a field trip through the Black Forest, a mountainous area in Southwest Germany, typically overrun by tourists and vacationers, year round. The hills, deep valleys and the forests are truly picturesque. This area is also known for the famous Cuckoo Clocks made there by various craftsmen. Over the years, the Black Forest had turned into a fancy tourist trap.

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A good stretch of this railroad line is known as the ‘Hoellental Bahn’, meaning ‘Hell Valley Railroad’. I don’t know why it is called that. There are many curves and fairly steep grades to negotiate. There are tunnels and bridges, as well. The rail road track stretches over a distance of about 45 miles.  It actually is a very scenic trip, well worth taking.

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Being a school class, we were herded like cattle. We had to gawk at all the stuff our teacher wanted us to pay attention to, not what I wanted see. He did not give a hoot about the locomotive. In turn, I did not give a darn about the birds, bugs, trees and butterflies. I also was not concerned about when certain buildings were erected. They all looked decrepit to me. The station building still had a few bullet holes from being strafed by either P-47s or P-51s, I guess. But this does not matter, anymore. These damages have been repaired, by now.

I managed to take a little time out to inspect the locomotive. It was big. I counted five drive wheels. It looked like a BR 44 without a tender, just a coal box on the rear end of it. My intense studies were rudely interrupted by the teacher yelling at me something fierce. He insisted I get my butt on the train, like right now. I resented my existence, but I refrained from sulking as it would have made matters even worse. Instead, I decided to be a real attentive pupil, for the rest of the trip. I did not want to wind up having to write this wretched essay called a ‘Trip Report’.



The journey went well. Sometimes the train slowed down to about 15 mph, but I never heard the engine spinning wheels. She was definitely built to handle the job. In other places, the train reached speeds of about 60-65 mph.

The Hell Valley Railroad was first established in 1887. The tracks consisted of the rack system until 1933. In a rack track system, there is a center rail configured so a cog wheel can get a firm grip to assist negotiating steep inclines. The advent of the BR 85 made the racks obsolete, even though the rack was kept in place, in most places, as it provided added track stability.

Only ten of the BR 85s were built, most all of them being employed in the Black Forest for both, freight and passenger service. The BR 85 is noted to be the second most powerful tender locomotive that ever saw service in Germany, only surpassed by the Mallet, an eight axle affair. When a longer or heavier train needed to be pulled, an additional BR 85 was used as a pusher.

During the sixties, I had a chance to repeat this trip on my own. Unfortunately, the BR 85s had been retired in 1961. This never gave me a chance to become more closely acquainted with a working specimen. Too bad. The line became progressively electrified. Class 44 electric engines, and others, took over, along with a variety of diesel locos.

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You might have guessed, by now, that I have a Maerklin model of a BR 85 in my collection. You bet, I do. It is wonderful, all the whistles and bells. I have an appropriate passenger train to go with it, internally lit.

I don’t know if any manufacturer makes a 2-rail DC model of the BR 85.



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