Who is afraid of the E 44?

 

Who is afraid of the E44?

By Roger Heid

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Well, I was, when I first met one. It all started out on a certain day, sometime during the late forties; it could have been in summer of 1948. The day started out with my Mom doodling around with her sewing machine, something she did frequently. Often her doodling resulted in her presenting me with a new piece of garment, mostly complete outfits.

Apparently, her major objective in life was to make me the best dressed kid in the neighborhood. I realize now that she meant well, but back then, her idea of what constitutes being best dressed and mine did not jive, at all. Usually I felt even Bozo the Clown would be highly reluctant to don one of her products.

On many occasions, the completion of a new outfit for me would lead to us to visiting some friends of hers. There she would showcase me as if I were someone prancing around on a catwalk in a fashion show. I had to show my very best behavior etc. To me it seemed obvious that she was soliciting compliments from the adults at the scene. Some of them faked it, others meant it, I could tell. More often than not, I would wind up with some candy treats. This compensated me for my undue suffering.

Anyway, my new outfit was ready. Mom dangled it in front of my face, bursting with pride. The stench of moth balls almost made me gag. I loathed the whole situation.

“Oh, Roger, this fabric will look so good on you!” she announced, smiling obnoxiously.

This smelly rag she called ‘fabric’ made me suspect she had torn off a piece of the wall paper in the hallway, but there were no scribbles and drawings of mine on it; she must have torn it off close to the ceiling. In an outburst of heroism I put the rag on, trying my best to ignore how ridiculous I looked.

“Uh, Mom, where are we going?”

“Today, we will visit Aunt Emma. She is anxious to see you in your new suit.”

Yeah, right! Besides that, this lady, who talked way too much, was no relative of ours. I could never figure out why my Mom always referred to strangers as aunt and uncle. In this particular case, I did not mind it so much. These people had plenty of toys they let me play with. However, for diplomatic reasons, I avoided to let my Mom know my sentiments, simply because here was an opportunity to solicit a treat from her, without having to resort to sulking.

You see, early in life I had learned that there were basically two ways to convince the adults of one’s immediate needs. One way was to throw a hefty tantrum, the other way was to display well rehearsed creative sulking.

At first, I personally did not engage in either one. Instead, from observing my peer first, I determined that professional sulking yielded much better results, especially if you could manage to look outright pathetic. Hours spent in front of a mirror eventually proved to be of high value.

On the way to Aunt Emma’s place we had to cross two railroad tracks. Just before getting there, one could get ice cream in a grocery store. Mom promptly bought a cone with two scoops on it. I had gambled on that; no sulking required. I must say that this ice cream was not nearly as good as the one served on a US Army Base. This local ice cream had the consistency of soft mud and tasted like wall paper paste.

I am certain you can relate to my familiarity with soft mud. The reason why I knew what wall paper glue tastes like, well, that’s an entirely different story. Don’t ask. The reason why I had the chance to taste the Snack Bar ice cream, well, again, that’s another story I may tell you about, some other time.

By the time we got to the RR crossing, the guard bars were down; we had to wait for a train to pass through. It came, it did. It was headed by a huge green monster, screeching and roaring. The train came out of a curve, and it looked like this monster, running straight toward me, was going to devour me. There was no time for any sulking; instead, I panicked. While running away, the ice cream went all over the outside of my new suit; parts of my innards went inside my new suit. Then I tripped and fell headlong into a mud puddle. It had rained earlier that day.

The walk back home was my most humiliating experience ever, bar none. This was definitely not my day, nor was it my Mom’s. I should have sulked earlier, I swear. Afterwards, I would keep quite some distance between myself and closed crossing bars.

This is not the end of the story. Soon thereafter, my Mom started to date a US Army officer. On the upside was frequent indulgence in good ice cream and Coca Cola, along with many other goodies. On the downside was the fact that my creative sulking now was completely and utterly ignored. Sulking was no longer an option. I did not even dare the tantrum route. I knew that I was not good at it, anyway. I had never tried it. It had always seemed that those who tried never got any pliable results. Sheer futility!

One day he took me to the Stuttgart Main Station. He seemed to have a lot to do with railroads. We walked all the way to the front of some passenger train. I instantly recognized this nasty monster of a locomotive which had caused me such dismay.

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I tried to hide behind his legs. He, in turn, yanked me up with one hand; with the other hand he opened the cab door and shoved me inside. His grip was very firm. Any attempt to squirm away was useless. He promptly climbed after me into the cab. The engineer present mumbled something like ‘Good morning, Sir’

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E 44 Cab Interior

The train took off, and we went for quite a stretch. As time went by, I felt my initial fear vanishing in thin air, making way to a feeling of tremendous pride. What a Dad this would be!

We got off on some station. There he bought me a bratwurst and a glass of lemonade. Then we traveled back to Stuttgart, on a different locomotive. I can’t remember what it was. But I do remember climbing into the cab by myself, this time. I wound up doing this a number of times, in the years to come.

 

PS: Later on I learned that the scary locomotive was a BR E44. I also learned that my future Dad was a USTC Coordinator.

I will elaborate on the specifics of the E 44 in a future blog.

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