Meeting a BR 39 Steam Locomotive

Meeting a BR 39 Steam Locomotive

By Roger Heid


Back in summer of 1967, I needed to go on another business trip. This time from Stuttgart to Hamburg, which is quite a stretch, relative to distances encountered within West Germany. The trip would take hours. By that time, I was 24 years old. I no longer rode a commuter train, and I no longer pestered railroad personnel to get permission to ride on locomotives.

Instead, I planned on having breakfast in the Dining Car, to be followed by a nap in a very comfy First Class compartment. In fact, I never even bothered to check out the engine, before the train took off. No, I had not dropped my interest in railroads, model or real. It just so happened that, during those days, I was focused on other interests and hobbies, not only girls, by the way.


The trip started out as planned. The ride in this fancy Dining Car was nice; the service was excellent; but the breakfast was skimpy in quantity and too expensive, for my taste. I decided not to try the lunch which I would probably sleep through, anyway. I went back to my compartment where I almost immediately dozed off, following suit to the two other guys in the compartment who were already zonked out.

Something woke me up, some kind of commotion. The other passengers were already awake and milling around. I asked if we were in Hamburg.  No, we weren’t. I can’t recall just exactly where we were, but I knew it was still quite some distance away from there.

Apparently, the train had been sitting in this station for almost 30 unplanned minutes. Being a ‘very experienced’ real world railroader, I instantly knew this would mean one of two things. Either there was problems with track blockage ahead of us, maybe an accident, or there was a problem with our engine. This I needed to investigate, right away.

I got off the car and went to the front of the train. Alas! There was no engine. Aha! Some by-stander told me that they had to tow our engine away, and that they are scrambling to procure a replacement which should be here, anytime soon. I decided to wait. Maybe I should not have, but I did.

The replacement locomotive came all right. Its arrival was announced by a lot of huffing and puffing and a lot of smoke billowing from out of the stack. Once it pulled closer, it got my immediate full-fledged attention. I thought I had seen big steam engines before. Now I stood corrected. This one was bigger and longer, like in new and improved. I could not keep my eyes off it. I completely forgot why I was even here. Somehow, I was caught in some kind of time warp, back to my youth. Uffda! That was a new one. I had never seen it before, I think. Four very large drive wheels. I was simply overwhelmed. She must be very fast and powerful.

The name plates identified her to be a BR 39. I could really feel the dire urge to ride in it. I just had to do this. Never mind the duds I was wearing. I had a change of clothes in my suitcase. Once in Hamburg, I could always wash myself, change clothes and find a Dry Cleaner. No sweat!


I pulled every available register of charm and diplomacy to convince the engineer to let me ride the loco. I succeeded. As I expected, the remaining portion of the trip to Hamburg went by way too fast. I still think this was the apex of my locomotive riding career. This was somehow different. Every fiber in my body could sense the capability of this giant. Everything sounded different from what I had heard before; more substantial. Gaps in the tracks were heard, not felt. As promised, I kept out of the engineer’s and stoker’s ways.

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Checking through the Hamburg Station passenger gate was another experience I had never been subjected to before.

“Oh my Gosh, what happened to you?” some guy asked me, looking at me as if I had just landed in space ship.

“Never mind that! I am a railroad engineer, you see. I wound up having to drive a steam engine before I had a chance to change into my work clothes”, I lied.

Luckily, he did not ask me why I was checking through the passenger gate. I rushed away and grabbed a cab to take me to my hotel. Needless to say, the cab driver gave me the same look. I repeated the lie. Fortunately, my Mom was both, not here and no longer checking on my immediate well being and appearance.

Yes, a Maerklin BR 39 is in my collection. I know the DCC 2-rail suppliers also have it in their catalogue. I just love the one I have. I am working on very elaborate passenger train for it. It should be completed by Christmas. What a show it will be, truly.


Later on I learned that this was one of the last opportunities to ride a BR 39, as it became retired later that same year. Here I had gotten lucky.



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