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Archive for the ‘Alternative History’ Category

If I’m going to keep that Steampunk vibe going on our rather implausible steam powered tank then I need rivets, and lots of them. This is a new problem for me as I usually make models of modern(ish) trains, which are welded together.

While working out how to make putting off the rivets, I made some heavy duty doors, extra wide on the basis that anyone leaving this vehicle will likely want to do so fairly quickly, and most importantly for the younger member of the project team, made sure the ridiculously large seven-barelled gun would be appropriately hidden when not in use.

So far it seems to work. Below, gun port closed:

Sliding a cunningly placed “Pipe’ on the other end of the tank pushes the gun forwards, opening the hatch as it does:

I’d like to claim this was achieved by careful measurement and engineering, but as long term readers will already know, it was mostly guesswork, and as usual I’m not quite sure if I could make it work twice.

Having done this I couldn’t put of the rivets any longer, so I bought some short brass pins from a sewing shop, and after breaking two drill bits making holes for them, I spent a happy couple of evenings gluing them on to the tank.


With my usual speed of uptake, I also realised that the kit we’d bought for the caterpillar tracks had lots of interesting detail parts, and added as many of these I thought I could reasonably get away with.

I’m guessing the cables were carried in case a tank broke down in the field, and I decided these would be essential. On an an engineering disaster like this I think it’s a bit optimistic hanging them on the back instead of the front…

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The last instalment of the Körschtalbahn’s ‘history’ was so long ago I had to back and read it. I left the line in a bit of a mess, with Deutsche Bahn trying to shut it down and increasing road transport competition.

This is of course a rather typical scenario: so many books on Narrow Gauge history describe it as ‘inevitable’ that this or that railway closed because of “Economics”. Economics has become a dogma, an excuse for anything that corporations and governments want to push through against the will of normal people, but just occasionally, if there’s enough people, and they’re properly organised, they can change things.

Let’s assume this happened. The local government was planning a major road building project, which would cut through the heart of several villages in the Körschtal,Of course, this would render the railway ‘obsolete’. A similar scheme had just finished off the Altensteig line, but whereas the road that replaced that line had crossed the Nagold valley on a graceful viaduct, this plan would mean destroying the historic centre of Wildberg.

Coming so soon after the oil crisis, and at a time when tourism was really beginning to kick off in the Black Forest, the citizens of Wildberg and the Körsch valley revolted and elected a new council opposed to the scheme. Much muttering and negotiating later, the Körschtalbahn, track stock and buildings and the power plants on the river were bought from Deutsche Bahn who valued it at one German Mark: the Tax Department demanded twenty Pfennigs extra.

It was quickly realised that the summer tourist season would contribute the most revenue but also that tourists would be the least inclined to make allowances for the state of the track and overhead wiring. Over the winter of 1979-1980 therefore, passenger trains were replaced by buses and the track was entirely replaced. There was some discussion about making the line diesel operated throughout but this was rejected: oil prices hadn’t settled down yet, and there were plenty of metre gauge trams on the market which would provide a cheap, rapid passenger service. For greater capacity and through trains the newly formed “Körschtalbahn Limited” (KÖB) refurbished their fleet of ageing bogie passenger coaches: these and what freight was still running were handled by a motley collection of diesel locomotives until such a time as the railway could afford more powerful electric rail cars in the mid 1980’s.

By 1985 the line was running several passenger trains a day plus tourist trains in the summer and winter peak seasons: the trams had proved a success, and several new stops had been integrated into the system. The maintenance sheds ad Dachsburg were extended and upgraded to handle major repairs, and a new railcar shed was built in Spitzenwald which could handle day-to-day maintenance on diesel locomotives. I’ll explain why that isn’t pie-in-the-sky in another post.

School traffic provided a regular steady income outside of the holiday season and there was a small but growing number of commuters who had moved out to the Körsch valley and worked in Wildberg, Nagold or even Pforzheim, but the railway was still handling but a tiny percentage of the freight traffic which was booming in the Körsch valley: timber, the traditional staple of the railway was moving to road as fast as the swamills were growing, and as new industries came to the valley they were often adding more and larger trucks to the already congested roads, damaging the very fabric of the villages and driving away tourists.

It was time for the Körschtalbahn to re-enter the freight transport market.

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Körschtalbahn railcar VT 4-4 03 in a siding just outside Spitzenwald waiting to form the afternoon school service to Dachsburg. Before leaving the railcar will pick up a van for return down the valley with the post from Spitzenwald and the surrounding villages. The van will then be attached to a Wildberg-bound train to arrive in the local sorting office by mid afternoon.

Okay, I’m making it up. This is what the railcar looked like before I had a go at it with the Gimp*:

A couple of weeks ago we inherited a super-duper, all singing and dancing printer from a friend which we were promised would print brilliant photo quality images the like of which we had never seen**, perfect in fact for making prints of wagon and carriage sides to make rolling stock construction easier.

So I decided to try doctoring a couple of pictures to get a bit of practice, and to try out some colour schemes.

Connecting the printer was the usual twenty minutes of swearing and trying to connect cables to discover what this particular printer will do instead of print as promised in the manual. It turns out that this printer specialised in very, very, faint printing. In pink.

I am not going to have a railway with pink railcars, I mean, come on.

So instead of designing my first printouts, I consoled myself with a quick repaint of the railcar.

There’s a lot of “what if’s” in this version: if the promoters of the proposed railway from Garve to Ullapool, on being unable to raise the capital for a standard gauge line, had instead built to three foot gauge like in Ireland? And what if this line had survived into BR days?

(Background image from here)

Okay, it’s a bit far fetched, but here we see 152 001 forming the morning Garve-Ullapool service. I’m assuming that the rail car was one of several ordered from Japan to replace some seriously elderly wooden bodied stock on this ‘socially necessary’ railway.

If you read it fast enough it is almost convincing.

Now, maybe British Rail Blue and grey, or something a bit more adventurous?

*very similar to Photoshop with the important difference that it is free.

** The printer, that is. Our friend was getting married and moving to North Germany, where I am reliably informed there are trolls.

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 As I hinted last week, I’ve been experimenting a bit. A while ago I fell over this video of a Steampunk robot make from the small yellow containers that come inside a brand of chocolate eggs in Germany, and it occurred to me that I could make something like that: it would be a chance to do some more relaxing model making which in turn would mean I could try some ideas without risking a disaster on a model I’d been working on since January.

The boys thought this was a great idea because they’d get loads of chocolate eggs, so when I used a cheese pot instead they were a bit disappointed, but such is life.

I’ve a vague idea of making this a sort of steam powered tractor, with the bottom half coming along sometime later. I didn’t want to have a military model so the story is that it is for exploration in places like Antarctica. I’ll try and paint it this week I’m not sure about the colour, but it’ll probably be a reddish orange: when you’re a Victorian explorer traversing the snowy wastes of Antarctica, you’ll need to be visible so your airship can locate you if you get into trouble.

The ides is that a secondary project will provide an antidote to my perfectionism and a way to build a bit of confidence before tackling things like fitting LED’s in the railcar. Once this is painted I fully intend to be ‘serious’ for a bit, and give you more railcar updates but if it all gets a bit much you’ll be hearing about how to make caterpillar tracks.

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There’s one thing I miss in Germany: big white, manually operated crossing gates with a red spot in the middle like we still get in the UK on some rural lines.

There’s a thread over on the Narrow gauge railway ‘modeling site’ asking people what prototype station people would build if they had the chance. Most people have responded with something from the Lynton and Barnstaple, or Vale of Rheidol, but I’m fascinated with the idea of taking a prototype, possibly standard gauge railway and making a recognisable model of it, as if it was narrow gauge. For example, last time I was in the UK I went to Bedale, and wondered how it might have been if the government had responded to the 70’s energy crisis by rebuilding lines closed under Beeching, but narrow gauge to save money. In the scenario I came up with during a very boring meeting, withdrawn pilot scheme diesels could be re-gauged under a government contract so you’d have class 15 or class 17 claytons running on 2’6″ or 3′ gauge track hauling modern bogie coaches and stock. The class 15’s may have even been rebuilt with a lower short hood to give the driver better visibility. They’d look interesting in British Rail ‘large logo’ blue. Of course the Government wouldn’t replace the crossing gates.

On the other hand I expect it’s less far-fetched to have a reason for a German narrow gauge line to have crossing gates than for a British one to be rebuilt and re-gauged, so I’ll stick to plan ‘A’.

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I’ve been working on a background story for the 1:35 scale model which is a challenge: it has to be modern to fit Stephan’s diesel, but also work for a 600mm common carrier line. He’re what I came up with eventually. Let me know what you think it’s about:

I’m becalmed again at a place called Untermettingen, a point on the map in the region of south Germany known as the Allgäu. Word comes along the train that there’s a points failure in Lindau and nothing is moving in or out- nor is it expected to until tomorrow. It looks like I’ll have to spend the night here.
On the platform I’m accosted by a gentleman who is everyone’s picture of a German German. who asks a question in the local dialect. After realising that I’m not understanding a word, he switches to ‘high’ German, then to English.
“You need somewhere to stay?”
I’m short of cash and wary of offers of help from strangers, but it’s going to be a cold night, so I cautiously assent.
“Come with me. We find you somewhere.”
From this moment my new friend never stops talking. By the time I’m through the station I’ve learned that he’s got transport, his name is Schmidt, and that he’s the Burgermeister or mayor, of the village, this last one is borne out by the station clerk who addresses him as such. I’m reassured by this, but less by the empty street outside of the station. I really want to know if there’s a train out tomorrow, but then there is the sound of a horn, the Burgermeister strides out into the street in a manner that would have been suicidal if there were any cars, and around the corner a train appears that looks like it escaped from a Thomas the Tank Engine story. The Burgermeister waves, the driver waves back, and the tiny, dilapidated green diesel and handful of wagons comes to a halt, slap across the road.
“I must apologise for the state of the transport” The Burgermeister says as he throws my bag onto the first wagon. “We are reconstructing a wagon to make a carriage, but it is hard to get some parts, and we’ve only been able to renovate the other locomotive.”
I’m just astounded that there’s any way to travel at all.
“How did you do this?”
“Aha, we were fortunate” He waves at the driver again “Hold tight.” The engine sets off and the wagons jerk into motion. “We had a railway for… earth, like soil, but for burning… for compost?”
“Peat”
“Aha, yes. peat… near the village. Of course after the peak there was no need to remove quite as much… Peat… to other places but a very great need for us to transport people and things around the village and to the railway station. So we’ve taken the railway to the village.”
He’s clearly proud of the achievement. I am still wondering about onward trains.
“Can I get back to the station in the morning?”
“Of course. We will get you to your train.”
By now we’re running along the main road. Alongside us cyclists ride in both directions. The track weaves across the road occasionally and everyone waits for us to pass before bouncing over the wooden crossing. Schmidt points put sinews of track dissapearing between buildings with comments like ‘That’s the way to the cheese factory’ or ‘ We’ve just put that in. It goes to a new farm’.I’m beginning to enjoy the ride.
“You’re lucky to have this”
“We are- many people tried to stop it” Her Schmidt is laughing. “Especially the owners of a big car dealership in the next village. We wanted to sink the track into the road surface, but they howled.”
“Why?”
“They were convinced everything would go back to normal, so the track would get in the way. So I said: fine, we’ll build it on top of the road so we can take it up again”
“Then what happened?”
“About six months later the railway bought the dealership. You’ll see it when we get to the next village.” He waves to a passing cyclist.
“And how do you run the trains?”
“Vegetable oil. we’d prefer electricity but we’ve not enough generating capacity, so the railway barters with farmers to transport goods for oil. A train has steel wheels on steel rails, that’s very efficient, and we use very little oil. Anyway, there’s a plan to build engines with batteries soon.”
We cross the road again and stop outside a large warehouse. Herr Schmidt jumps down with the agility of one much younger. I’m about to join him but he gestures for me to stay where I am.
“Just taking freight off. This is the farmers cooperative.”
A couple of people emerge from the building. There’s much laughter and talking, then cases are unloaded and loaded onto the train. Herr Schmidt comes back and we carry on.
We leave the village and immediately veer off the road. “The old cycle lane” Schmidt tells me. People were so convinced we would find a… a magic fuel to replace gasoline they insisted we keep the railway out of the way.” So now the train uses the bike lane and the bicycles and horse-drawn vehicles share the road.
In the next village, Obermettingen, the tracks fan out into what look like engine sheds. Another locomotive is being repaired and repainted bright red, and a wooden carriage is almost complete while wagons sit in various states of repair. It’s quite clear what the building used to be: the old name is gone, but the remains of a three-pointed star and circle can be seen on the wall and the old sign displaying prices is still standing.
“It was a logical place” Schmidt insists when I ask him about this. “And it seemed appropriate.” He adds, with the ghost of a smile.
It’s ten minutes to the central square and then another ten walking up a steep hill to my place for the night, which turns out to be Schmidt’s house: a wooden cottage where I meet his family who seem to have stepped out of a Heidi book. Before the meal I’m asked to collect water from ‘the supply.’ this turns out to be a pump in the garden and it’s getting dark before I fill all the containers. Is it that late already? Suddenly I’m exhausted.
The meal is simple and long, as I’ve become accustomed to in Germany. Schmidt seems to be friends with a lot of people and enjoys being the chief storyteller, although he’s given a run for his money by another gentleman with a moustache that could support several birds. At some point I’m offered a job. By the time we’re finished it’s hard getting up the stairs and into my room, although that’s probably due to the home made wine as much as the darkness.
The next morning I’m woken by the sun pouring into my room. I can see most of Obermettingen from here, and the road along the valley we followed yesterday. The little train is coming along it with a few wagons. Working here is an attractive idea in the fresh optimism of the morning sunshine.
Schmidt bustles up the stairs. “The train is coming” he announces.
“do you know this person?” I ask, showing him the scrawled address on the paper I was handed the night before.
“Of course” He replies, looking at the paper. “He’s running two farms on the other side of the village.”
“Can you show me where?”
“If you wish.” His eyes twinkle. “You may miss the midday train though”
“I don’t mind” I say.
I collect my bag and leave the room.

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Continuing the history of the fictitious Körschtalbahn. To start at the beginning go here.

In 1945 anyone could see that the railway was severely run down. The one remaining Mallet had kept going in the final months of the war, as the generating equipment spent more time broken than operable, and the railcars were so worn out they sagged in the middle. A daily mixed train had run each way during the war but it was alarmingly apparent that the track was highly unstable, straight sections having taken on the appearance of a length of wet spaghetti. None of the signals worked and once a train disappeared up the valley no one knew where it was. There was nothing anyone could do except hope it would make it back sometime, and on at least one occasion the passengers spent an uncomfortable night on board as the crew pulled the mallet back on the track. All services stopped a week after the end of the war. The line lay unused until it became clear that permanent closure was not an option and the occupying French forces made enough repairs for a limited steam hauled service to run as far as Dachsburg by Christmas 1945, with trains returning to Spitzenwald in summer 1946.

As the “economic miracle” took place in West Germany the line found itself carrying more traffic. For a while the new Deutsche Bundesbahn dragged its feet on investment, but eventually the State of Baden-Württemberg stepped in and funded repairs to the permanent way and overhead wires, and a new electric railcar. Someone somewhere was pushing for electric operation to Spitzenwald: a study was carried out in the late 50’s but nothing came of it, and a used diesel was bought at the end of the decade to replace the two war era locomotives. It was joined by a MAN diesel railcar, either second or third hand -nobody was entirely sure- but it behaved well and growled its way through the upper valley every day with a couple of freight wagons in tow.

On June the 28th 1961 the line bade farewell to steam as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations, and promptly began running a summer tourist service with the Mallet a year later. In the mid 60’s the road to Dachsburg and beyond was rebuilt, but no amount of rebuilding could quite straighten it out and the railway continued to offer a competitive journey time. By now the line was operating a daily passenger service with the main peak in the morning, a school service mid-afternoon and a second smaller peak in the early evening as people returned from Wildberg and beyond.

On paper the line seemed secure, but already there were clouds on the horizon: ever more trucks were coming into the Körschtal, causing damage and pollution to the pristine valley, and undercutting the railway. The Körschtalbahn management and local towns had been clamouring for investment in freight transfer facilities, seeing that an ability to handle containers would be vital to the line’s future, but all was in vain. As the 1970’s drew to a close DB seemed deaf to all requests and calls for improvements, even when the local governments offered to foot the bill. It seemed that the national railway company was uninterested in further work on narrow gauge railways and quite happy to allow the Körschtalbahn run into the ground.

(To be continued)

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