Having Fun with a KoF Yard Shifter

Having Fun with a KoF Yard Shifter

By Roger Heid


Right in front of the High School I attended during the mid 50s and early 60s, in West Germany, there was a single railroad track. This track connected a local manufacturer to the rail yard which was not far from the school.

Almost daily, sometimes even twice in a day, a small Diesel yard shifter would drag one or two flat cars past our school. They were loaded with some heavy steel products, such as turbines and segments of larger equipment, to be assembled at their final destination. During the late afternoon hours, empty flat cars were pulled back to the plant.

These little diesel engines were usually of the KoF type. I think there were three of them. One of them, painted in a loud orange and the manufacturer’s logo, was particularly loud. You could hear it from one end of its short trip to the other. The engineer was an old curmudgeon with a permanent sour puss face. Maybe the loud engine noise had gotten to him. We did call him a name that was not exactly flattering.


Sometimes, there were more than two freight cars involved. In these cases, a DHG 500 was used. Those were the busy days on the track.

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During one school year, namely 1957-58, our class room faced the street side, and from the windows we could see the tracks and the trains. Whenever a train approached, the whole class would simultaneously stand up and cluster around the windows, gawking and commenting noisily, until the train was out of sight. That was fun.

This drove one of the teachers nuts, but he never was able to do anything about it. Eventually, we felt sorry for him, and we quit disrupting the class. Another teacher weaned us away from this by giving us a humongous amount of homework. In addition, we all had to write an essay about railroad shift yard operations. I think I wrote about 16 versions of it for 16 different students. I charged a quarter for each issue. This enabled me to buy a nice flat car for my model railroad. This was even more fun.

Then there was another teacher, a dainty looking elderly lady without any noticeable sense of humor. While she conducted the class, we typically did not perform our well choreographed act when the train approached. One time, however, during late fall, it was decided to pull it on her. She had ticked us off, a day or two before. Now, it so happened this was a cold, windy and rainy day. We were not at the windows yet, when her voice, unexpectedly loud and shrill, stopped us dead in our tracks.

Within no time flat, we were all lined up along the railroad track, school books in our hands. The train came and went. The rest of the period was spent in the outdoors. That was no fun, at all. The prevailing climatic condition did not seem to have any effect on this teacher lady. The next day, she calmly informed us, that during her younger years, she was a nurse in the German Army, doing winter duty on the Russian front. She impressed on us that we would never be able to impress her with any fancy stunt we may be attempted to pull on her. Well, we never did again. Nobody did, ever again.

Then there was another teacher. He was different from all the others, in many ways. When we pulled our act on him, he simply joined us, gawking and commenting. Yes, he was quite a character. After some time, he wound up being the only one staring out the window, watching the train going by. Figure that one out.

This teacher had a car. Sometimes, he was a little late getting to school. On those days, he was not very particular as to where he parked his car. Wherever there was enough space, there he would park it and walk away.

One afternoon he was late again. This time around, he parked in such a fashion that a train would not be able to pass without an extensive remodeling job on the teacher’s car. Wouldn’t you know, just as school let us out, a train approached, led by the loud orange Kof, sour puss in the cab.

There he was, unable to pull the train any further. It was on its way back to the plant, pulling two empty flat cars. He pulled a lever causing a very loud shrieking horn to bellow out his disgust. He waited about a minute; then he shut off the motor and got out of the cab, saying things unfit for print.

I happened to be one of the students hanging around this rather unusual scene. He turned to me and mumbled that this dingbat can move the train back to the plant himself. While walking away, he further announced that he did not have all night to wait for his butt. Off he went, disappearing in the fall mist.

I have to admit, this was the most unusual situation I was ever in, as far as trains are concerned. This I needed to see through, all the way. I decided to take the next train home, being late for supper, at the risk my mom would blow one of her gaskets again. There are certain priorities in one’s life, you see.

After about five minutes or so, I decided to go back into the school building to usher this teacher to the place of his heinous violation. On the way to the scene, I explained that the engineer had abandoned the train and that he had delegated the task of taking the train back to the plant to him.

“No problem. I can do that. Do you want ride along?”

Never mind what I thought, if I even had any thoughts. Well, he moved his car to a safe place, and we both climbed into the cab. Ten minutes later, the train was properly docked at its night spot. The walk back to the car took about 10 minutes, during which time the teacher elaborately explained to me, that, during the war, he had been a locomotive engineer. Due to war injuries, he had not been able to pursue this as a career, but he often got a chance to work on a shift yard during school vacations.

I asked if he knew the engineer.

“Yes, I have known him ever since the war. We were assigned to the same line between Hannover and Hamburg, later in Norway. That’s where I got a load of shrapnel from a land mine.”

After my Mom was done blowing most all of her available gaskets, I attempted to faithfully explain to her the reason of my unplanned delay. I don’t think she believed a word I said.  Perhaps, I should have come up with a more plausible explanation. Sometimes things are just too complicated.

Yes, I have both models in my collection. Occasionally, I run a short freight train with them, reminiscing the old days in High School.

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