The Case of the Missing Locomotive IV

The Case of the Missing Locomotive IV

Doing Time

By Roger Heid



June had arrived. The progress on our layout had been painfully slow. The Maerklin 3-rail AC tracks and the 2-rail DC Fleischmann tracks could not be interconnected. The two types of tracks needed to be laid out separately, using two separate power supplies.

In order to have both lines cover the available platform space evenly, we decided to install two overhead bridges to make this possible. Bruno had to go back to the drawing board and partially re-design the layout.

On one fine day, Physics was on the daily curriculum. Hysteresis was supposed to be the subject. This lesson was supposed to teach us about a war between the North and South poles of a common magnet. No, the North can never win this particular war. It will always be a stalemate.

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So, who was this physics teacher? He was one of the youngest teachers on the faculty staff. He was tall, slender and quite handsome. His dark brown bushy hairdo topped an intelligent looking face which was smiling by default. He was recently married, a little one on its way.

It was known that, toward the end of WW II, he was an ME 109 fighter pilot. He was forced to crash land his plane behind enemy lines where he was promptly taken into custody by the US Army and hauled to the States where he did slave work on some farm in Louisiana for 2 ½ years. His English was perfect, including the inherent drawl. He loved country music. Some called him flaky; some called him a genius.

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You could not pull any pranks on him. He would either ignore them, foil them, or pay back in kind. He was known to set up experiments of all sorts on a rolling table. These setups were unduly complicated and way too complex for their intended purpose. He was often criticized for this, but he was set in his ways. In fact, the experiments he set up became more and more elaborate as time went by.

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Example of a very Basic Setup

Bruno had told me that, at one time, this teacher had set up an experiment that could have sent Einstein up the walls. The teacher had to go back to the supply room to get some gismo he had forgotten to install. While the teacher was gone, Bruno eyeballed this maze of wires and gadgets. Then he changed a few wires around.

The teacher returned, installed his gismo and turned on the main switch. This action promptly resulted in a lot of sizzling, smoking and stinking, so Bruno had told me.

Almost immediately, his face hewn in stone, the teacher turned to Bruno and said:

“Bruno, you will fix this even if it takes you all night.”

“Why me, Sir?”

“Bruno, you are only one in the class capable to do this. You will eventually amount to something. I can already see that.”

So much for pulling pranks on this one.

The physics class was about to start. There was no rolling table standing by. We had expected some sort of contraption consisting of a bunch of magnets, an array of movers and shakers and so on.

The teacher entered the room, an impish grin stretching all around his head. He carried a fairly large bag which he carefully placed on his desk. He commenced the class by saying something to this effect:

“When I lived in Louisiana, the farmer I had been detailed to work for had two sons in their early teens. They had a huge Lionel layout, and they let me play with the trains. They got me hooked, for good, I swear.

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Now I see you got a model railroad work group going. I was one of the supporters. I would have gotten involved earlier, but this clique turned me off. Now it is gone. Now I will get involved. Not as a member, but as your advisor.”

“But, Sir, we already have an advisor. He is a member of the Model Railroad Club,” Eugen interjected.

“I know him. He wouldn’t be much of an advisor. I am also a member of this club. I do keep low key, though, and I will continue to do so until we have our project completed. I need a copy of the track plan.”

For a moment or two, you could have heard the famous pin drop. I could already picture a multi-layered layout requiring massive nuclear power to keep it running, wall to wall control panels and a light show that would put ‘Tokyo at night’ to shame. The question was, who would pay for all this and who would do all this work. Rules prohibited the teacher to lay hands on. There were only 13 of us, and there were only five months left. It would take a full time army to get all this done, whatever it was our new advisor had in his illustrious mind.

“I got my key yesterday,” he continued. “Last night, I took a look-see of what you all have accomplished, so far. Not bad, not bad at all, I must say, but it is a far cry from what I have in mind.”

How come I wasn’t surprised? In a situation like this, he was highly predictable.

He opened the bag he brought and spread the contents across the desk. There were tracks, turnouts, bridges and trusses, buildings and other various sundries some of which we did not recognize. There were so many items; some of them found their way to the floor.

“For a starter,” he continued. “That one bridge you are planning on is too high; the approach is too steep. We will make it an automated draw bridge. The tracks underneath the bridge will automatically be unpowered via a signal until after the bridge is raised again, automatically, of course.”

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By the end of the school day, eight more classmates signed up. The next two weeks yielded seven more students from other classes. This resulted in three more students of our own class to join. The added pool of parents, willing to contribute, solved the logistics problem; labor force was no longer an issue. Our physics teacher was totally beside himself. God was frequently seen sporting a huge grin which he had not been known for, until now.

The weeks before the deadline went by rather quickly; progress was made at a rapid pace. Wilhelm wanted to help so badly, he could taste it, but the rules did not allow this because he was no longer a student at our school. Instead, he gladly accepted the task being in charge of the Club kitchen on show opening night. Of course, this was right up his alley.

On one occasion, we had some difficulties wiring some complex ladder logic entailing a coal hopper unloading coal into some dump truck which would then pull away. It would head for some building and disappear inside, sliding doors closing. Inside that building, hidden from public view, the truck would be turned upside down to lose its load of coal which consisted of finely ground walnut shells dyed black. The empty truck would then re-appear and head for the company’s motor pool. Under certain conditions it would repeat the whole process.

Against the rules, the physics teacher was called to the construction site to assist us. We got away with this, because he never touched anything. Just a day before Showtime, testimony was given that no outsider had laid hands on to complete our project.

The night before the show was here. We had managed to finish the whole layout just in the nick of time. A couple of men we had not met before hauled our stuff to the club house. It took us about two hours to get everything set up and functional. Our layout, one out of seven, was the biggest, slightly larger than the one the next contender struggled to set up.

They were short staffed, and some of us wound up giving them a hand. When all was done, they complimented us for our layout and treated us to a round of Pepsi. At that point, we were finally informed that this show was a regional championship event or something like that. I could never figure out how the powers to be had been able to shield us from this information.

Bruno had spotted some malfunction on some other layout, and, with my assistance, he took care of it. There was another round of Pepsi. We had to get out of there, before the Pepsi would come out of our ears.

Punctually at noon, on the ‘Day of Show’, a Saturday, the door opened and the crowd, greater than expected, flooded the show room. Spare me all the Oohs and Aahs.


As hoped for, and much to our relief, we only had two minor malfunctions which were quickly neutralized, not to occur again. That was between noon and 7 pm. During those hours, our physics teacher, after he had calmed down, was floating on Cloud Ten, right above 8th Heaven.

Right at 7 pm, a bell rang, the trains were shut down and the crowd turned silent. A four man panel of judges was about to announce the winners and hand out the prizes, 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Our physics teacher accepted the 1st Prize, a check for DM 1,000.-, going to our Work Group. The layout the members of the local club had put up received the honorable mention that it was ideally suited for beginners.

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After the ceremony, train operation resumed to keep going until midnight. All went well. During the evening, Bruno and I got a whiff of the fact that God, our principal, had made a bet with the club’s head dictator who had challenged God that his students would not be able to fight their way out of a wet paper bag as far as building and running a substantial layout was concerned.

God won, the Dictator lost. Officially, none of us ever knew just how money those two had wagered; unofficially we knew because God handed us the loot. Between it, left over money and new donations, we, the Work Group, had enough dough to build our layout all over again.

Sometime during the following weeks, the President of the local model railroad club resigned, the club dissolved and the building was put up for sale. A wealthy local restaurant owner bought it and the club was re-instated; our physics teacher was elected President; Bruno took a seat as Vice President. Our layout was placed in a separate presentation room where it remained for years to come.

I kept visiting the math teacher and his family for the next 11 years until I finally left for the States. Bruno had been accepted by the MIT in Massachusetts. He left three months before I did. Wilhelm had been accepted by Le Cordon Bleu Paris. After graduation he was hired by that very school as a member of the faculty. The math teacher had retired and learned to play with model railroads. He even became a member of the local club.

The school work group became integrated with the local club as the school needed the room.

Moral of the story: Take your locomotives to school and tick off the math teacher. Who knows what the result might be.



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