The Last Steam

The Last Steam

By Ulrich Albrecht

 

I was born in the Ruhr area in Germany in 1957.  Throughout the 1960’s, all our family’s travel was by train.  Although the main lines were already electrified, many of the secondary lines were still operated with steam engines.  The trains I saw and rode in the 1960’s have influenced my modeling more than anything else.  However, this experience ended in 1971 when my father bought his first car.  I was not to use rail service again until 1976 when steam was almost gone from West German rails.  While I have seen quite a few steam locomotives in museums or during special events after the demise of steam in West Germany in 1977, my last encounter with an active steam engine has stayed with me as a particular fond memory.

In the summer of 1976, I had just finished high-school and was ready to start my studies in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Essen in the following fall.  For the interim months, I had been offered a summer internship with Ruhrkohle AG, the largest German mining company.  One of the mines where I worked was in Gelsenkirchen, about 20 miles away from my hometown of Essen.  Since I did not have a car, I commuted by train to work for several weeks.  Although riding the rails again was great, the train I used in the morning was not really that exciting since all but one of its coaches were the standard silverfish commuter cars.

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Silberling (Silverfish) Passenger Coach

A certain coach in the consist was a model railroader’s delight. It was one of the few pre-war Eilzugwagen (coaches for accelerated trains) left in service.  This particular car had both, first and second class accommodations, and its official designation was AByse. Needless to say, this was the car I always used, and I even sneaked into the first class section once.

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AB  Type Passenger Coach with 1st and 2nd Class

The white stripe above the windows designates 1st Class

Every morning, the local coal mine delivered a long line of cars, filled with the ‘Black Gold’, to be hauled away by either a V 100 or a V 160 class diesel locomotive. Watching these diesels helped passing the time until my train arrived. It was really not that interesting as these red diesel locos were something you could see everywhere in 1976.

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V100 Class Diesel Locomotive

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V160 Class Diesel Locomotive

However, one morning, the AByse and its travel comfort of a bygone time were all but forgotten.  As I climbed the steps leading to the platform of Altenessen Station, there she was!  A solitary BR 50 steam engine with a cabin tender stood on the freight tracks, hissing steam, breathing, sounding almost like she was alive. The diesel scheduled for that morning must have suffered some damage, so the railroad had sent one of its last remaining steamers as a back-up.

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Although I have seen quite a few steam locomotives in museums or during special events after the demise of steam in Germany in 1977, my last encounter with active steam has stayed with me as a particular fond memory.

The 50 class engines were designed in 1939, and were used on medium to heavy freights.  In the late 1950’s, several hundred of them received a cabin on top of their tender which was the office of the conductor.  In this way, no caboose needed to be added to the train.  My 50 was one of these. They are called 50kab for BR 50 with conductor’s cabin.  I was so mesmerized that I almost missed my train!  After all, I wanted to watch the steamer being connected to the coal train.  Alas, the silverfishes arrived before that event.  However, good old AByse was forgotten on that day.

Since then, the engines of the 50kab class have been one of my favorite locomotives, and I always wanted one for my layout.  Although Fleischmann produced a magnificent 50kab in the 1970’s, I could not use it since I was running Trix Express.

After two years of waiting, luck was on my side.  I discovered a store in the neighboring town of Marl which offered a Roco E 44 converted to Trix Express.

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E 44 Class Electric Locomotive

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Since the E 44 was another member of my long wish list, I went there to get it.  When I asked the owner, if a Fleischmann 50kab could be converted too, he suggested to use the new Marklin 50kab instead.  Its flexible frame would allow it to negotiate the tight Trix Express curves much better than the rigid frame of the Fleischmann locomotive.  After all, the Trix Express Radius 1 is only 343mm.

Of course, I immediately agreed, and went back a week later to pick up my 50kab. It ran on my railroad for almost 30 years without any problems until I decided to abandon Trix Express completely in 2008.  I gave the locomotive to a friend in Germany who still uses Trix Express; and I am glad to report that it still runs flawlessly.  However, this had left me without a 50kab for almost five years, a truly traumatic experience.  Fortunately, this problem was finally cured a while ago, with the help of Reynauld’s.

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