Steam In Germany 1974 Part 1 Rottweil

It was September 1974 when I first set foot on European soil at Zurich airport. We had just travelled from Nairobi Kenya, where we were within a whisk of losing all our expensive photographic equipment before we got started. We hired a car for a day to photograph the big 59 class Garratts. Before leaving the capital, we decided to do a little shopping and someone smashed the car window as we returned. They ran off when we approached. That taught me not to leave camera bags, or anything in full view. It was quite a change from Australia.

kenya 59 class steam loco

Maroon 5903 East African Garratt between Mombassa and Nairobi September 1974

We arrived on our Swiss Air Flight to meet our 3 comrades who had driven all day from England with the 5 birth Comer Campervan, ready for the European steam adventure of a lifetime. Unfortunately, my friend’s luggage went to Johannesburg from Nairobi, so we had a day to kill before heading out of town.

We headed for Lucerne which looked gorgeous in early morning light, and then on to the Brienz Rotthorn Bahn rack railway, which I think is still running. In any case it was about all the steam there was in Switzerland at the time. After a pleasant if slow trip up the mountainside, watching the Cheese being loaded and rising above the clouds, we stopped for lunch at the mountain top restaurant. We thought we had come to heaven with a basket with an amazing array of Swiss Chocolates and Bread sitting on our table. Being true Aussies, we figured they were there for the taking as a token of thanks for patronising the establishment. This was short lived. At the end of the meal, our waiter totalled up every crumb we had consumed and charged us an exorbitant amount for the lot. We had been in Europe less than a day and already in money mad Switzerland we had blown our budget. It taught us yet another lesson and made us more prudent for the rest of the trip.

On the way back down the hill, a troupe of Swiss Yodellers came on board. It really was like the “Sound Of Music” with bells around the cows’ necks, Swiss Horns and of course the Yodelling singers!

switzerland steam train rotthorn bahn

Famous Swiss Cheese from the mountain cows being loaded onto the train.

On To Germany

Our instinct was to get out of Switzerland as soon as possible to the relatively cheap haven of West Germany. Yes, at the time the Berlin Wall stood firm, and the country was split in two. An Aussie dollar was worth 4 marks at the time. Today it is 1.5 Marks to the Aussie Dollar and before the GFC it was 1 to 1. We headed for Rottweil, back tracking through Zurich.

As my mates were dead tired, they threw me the keys to our Right Hand Drive car, and I gingerly started driving down what I knew to be the wrong side of the road. This was challenging to say the least.

All went well until we reached the German Border Post. By this stage I had been driving a while and was getting a bit tired. I took the camper a little too close to the guard house and clipped it with the mirror. Having read all that stuff about Germans and their lack of sense of humour, I was petrified I would be locked up or worse! As it turns out they thought the whole incident was very funny and sent us on our way. We were to find out that compared to Eastern Europe, borders in this part of the world are heaven.

The number 1 on the map is Brientz. This was a 186 km drive

Rottweil, is a small town of some 25,000 people, situated in Southern Germany. At that time it was the last German outpost for the Prussian P8s, known as the 38 class. These were rather different from our Australian version, being 4-6-0s and built in the early 1900s. We were able to photograph the last remaining 38 in West Germany, 38-1172-0, built in 1915 and in service until a couple of months after our visit in February, 1975. These locos spread all over German occupied territories, and we managed to photograph a few in Poland under the guise of the OK1 class. There were 3,700 of these engines produced, while only a handful were left by 1974!

38 steam engine Rottweil Germany

As you can see from this photo, this engine had magnificent proportions and a wonderful chimney.

While at the depot, we saw West Germany’s last remaining 78 class tank engine in regular service as well. These hauled many passenger trains in the area over the years.

78 class tank engine steam loco rottweil germany

78-246 Shunting at Rottweil Station September 1974

Of course, we didn’t come all the way to Europe to get a few depot shots, so we headed out into the countryside. Here we get a delightful shot of the 38 class on a regular passenger train from Rottweil to Villigen.

german 38 class steam loco villingen

38-772-0 speeds across the plains in Southern Germany on the train between Rottweil and Villigen. This was the last place you could see these ancient engines in regular service.

We found out that the 38 was going for a trip down the Danube while we were there, so we followed along for a while. It certainly is a place of spectacular scenery.

38 class on a tour passing one of those cliff top dwellings the Danube is famous for its Castles and spectacular scenery.

Fortunately, there was other steam in the area. I believe the whole thing went diesel or electric the year after we were there. Certainly many of my travels had a great sense of urgency, not always because of pending dieselisation, but the disappearance of locomotive variety. In latter years there were often only one or two types of loco running everything. You can see this with the huge number of QJs and JFs in China.

Speaking of common West German steam, the freight trains along the Danube were hauled by 50 class. The road ran alongside the river and railway line which was very convenient. Surveying the area, I decided the best spot was on top of the cliff next to the road, so I did some rock climbing on a fairly precarious precipice. As I got higher and higher, it was quite scary! It was worth the climb as it made for some great photography.

German 051-747-0 takes a leisurely stroll down the Danube with a passenger train

I love this shot, however, the view from the other direction is even better in my opinion.

051-202-0 heads beside the Danube on a freight

The above shot probably had the normal full sun for Northern Europe at that time. A little further down the line we caught up (almost) with the passenger. It was passing a site where tourists stopped to take pictures.

We farewelled this area and headed to our next destination in the Black Forest.

50 Class heads past a scenic lookout while tourists watch on

Part of this line is the famous Dornstetten Viaduct, a very high bridge. We managed to get a photo of a steam passenger crossing this structure while we were there.

50 class crosses the Dornstetten viaduct on a passenger

This was our first taste of German steam and a very pleasant one at that. At the same time it introduced us to the rather hazy weather that was a feature of that part of the world. It is a far cry from the clear skies of Australia and South Africa. Still, I am very grateful I made it in time to see some of these great locomotives.

As the 38 hauled special continues on its way, we bid farewell to the Rottweil area.

I Had Never Seen Steam In Snow!

Growing up in Sydney, Australia, the only time we would see snow would be to travel to the Snowy Mountains, 6 hours to the south in the middle of winter, or perhaps visit the Blue Mountains to the west on the very rare occasion that it snows up there.

As a child, our family never went anywhere near the snow, and the few vacations we had were near the sea. The very first sight of snow for me close up was a trip to Katoomba at the top of the Blue Mountains when I was 18. It had snowed that afternoon and a group of my mates sped up there before it all melted.

For those of you who are used to a white Christmas, or at least winter, you may think this a little strange. As it stands, on my departure for the grand tour, I was really looking forward to seeing steam trains in the snow! It was probably memories of Dr Zhivago.

My First South African Photo


Figure 1 GF and GMa Head A Goods At Citiview Near Pietermaritzberg South Africa August 1974

We arrived in South Africa late August, which was spring time, so we were too late to get snow shots on the Underberg line, which starts at Donnybrook in Natal. We did get some great photos in that area. It was the first stop because it was due to be dieselised at that time. My first glimpse of a South African train was a GF and GMA double header on City View, climbing out of Pietermaritzburg.

Moving around at the time was not that easy. Rags, who drove us on this trip, took us to a secret place where two 5 litre cans of petrol had been hidden. This was no easy feat as local Africans wandered everywhere, and it is very difficult to hide anything in Africa! Back home we managed to hide a car in the bush for a few months! This was the middle of the oil crisis and there was an embargo on selling fuel to South Africa and Rhodesia. The rule in South Africa was an 80 kph speed limit and you could carry no more than 10 litres in spare fuel. No fuel was available on weekends. Chasing trains involved travelling significant distances, hence the hidden reserves located at strategic points!

In South Africa at the time, all but a few trains had vacuum brakes. These relied on air being sucked out of the brake lines to allow the train to roll. On steep grades, such as at City View, there was an escape velocity. If the train went above a certain speed (I believe around 50 kph) a full application would not stop it! For this reason drivers were very cautious on this section of track.

Magnificent Glenn Dam

Figure 2 23 Class On Early Morning Freight Glenn Dam Near Bloemfontein Aug 1974

Glenn Dam is named because it is near Glenn Railway Station. Souith African Enthusiasts would arise just before dawn and set up for the early morning reflections in the dam. The lighting was superb at that time of day, and I feel privileged to have witnessed it before the overhead wires appeared. There were frequent movements o this main line from Bloemfontein to Kroonstadt. After two weeks In South Africa the three of us split up. Two of us went to Kenya for a day while Rags headed straight to London to pick up a campervan.


Our next stop was Nairobi, in the heart of Africa. It was a pretty scary place, with street merchants, and was rather antiquated. I recall seeing peddle powered sewing machines, and I still have some wooden animals I purchased there.

We picked up our hire car and headed to town for a snack. We were very naïve then. I had a nice camera bag. It was a solid box and it looked like a camera bag. It contained my two Minolta SLRs film, and 3 extra lenses.

When we returned from our visit to a shop, the back window had been smashed, and we were very lucky to see thieves running away at speed, having been foiled in their robbery attempt. In Australia at the time we used to leave wallets in our back pockets, cars unlocked, etc. Now we had entered the real world! The camera gear was worth thousands, so it would have been a very early end to the trip.

Kenya Was Gloomy

Figure 3 Mighty 59 Class On Nairobi Mombassa Line Sept 1974

The trip to Kenya was eventful if nothing else. It was hot, humid, and rather hazy, so the photography could have been better. Nevertheless, we did see some of the mighty 59 class Garratts. Our car was broken into a short time after we picked it up before we even left Nairobi, and the next day we hopped on a flight to Zurich to start our European adventure.

Five Aussies Tour Europe In A Campervan

There were 5 of us sharing that campervan for 3 months. It was an interesting time, or at least that is the best way I can describe it. We are all looking at a 40 year reunion very soon, which will be fun. Because the others were exhausted after a non-stop run from Winchester in England to Zurich, they handed me the keys.

Before the trip I was working in the International Telephone Exchange in Sydney. At that time overseas calls were expensive, however I had free access. There were only around 3,000 lines to the rest of the world and a solitary TV chanel. This is almost impossible to comprehend in today’s world.

I remember in Germany we used to buy a big round brown loaf of bread for breakfast, get some jam and cheese and this would satisfy all 5 of us. I spent less than $400A for 3 months travelling all over Europe.

Back to the trip. The only problem was that our campervan was a right hand drive car and we were driving on the right hand side of the road, in my case for the very first time. Not only that, but it was dark! I gingerly drove all the way from Zurich to the German border, zigg zagging here and there. I managed to hit the border guard’s post with the rear vision mirror. Fortunately they were good humoured. Believe me, not all border security is like that.

Years later, I spent a night on a bridge sandwiched between Belize and Mexico at Chetumal. The Mexicans didn’t want to let me in without a VISA which I had to go back to Belize City to pick up, and my Peruvian companion wasn’t allowed to re-enter Belize because her visa was for a single visit. After many hours walking back and forth across the border and appealing for common sense we were allowed a day to return to Belize City and secure the necessary documents.

Swiss Steam

Figure 4 Sep 1974 Veritcal Boilered Rack Engine On Brienz Rothorn Bahn Swiss Rack Railway

Our first stop was Brienz in Switzerland for the amazing rack railway. We had crossed back into Switzerland. This mostly operates as a tourist railway, although we did see them carting cheese up and down the hill. It was real “Sound Of Music” country. It truly is an amazing place.

Figure 5 The Line Was Still Used To Transport Famous Swiss Cheese!

At the top of the hill was a cafe, so we stopped there for lunch. Switzerland at the time was very expensive compared to everywhere else in Europe, so we ordered very basic fare. On the table was a big bowl of crackers, cheese and chocolates. Being Aussies, and not knowing the local customs, we helped ourselves to these. At the end of lunch we received the bill, the greater part of which was for the stuff in the basket! Lesson learned.

Polish Steam In Snow

Figure 6 Its Snowing But Barely Visible TKt48 Heads Toward Krakow Oct 1974

There was a little bit of snow on the mountains, but not too much as it was autumn. We continued through Germany and into East Germany, then Poland. We had 10 days in Poland and it was near the end of this leg that we finally struck snow. This was in the Krakov area. You know, a pope recently came from there. I managed a few white out shots of steam in the snow. It wasn’t quite as romantic as it looked on the movies!

No more snow in our week in Czechoslovakia, then back to civilisation. We ended up at one of my friend’s brother’s place in Munich for a couple of days which coincided with Oktoberfest. The night we went there we all disgraced ourselves well and truly!

While in Munich it did snow.. and snow..and snow. Unfortunately there wasn’t any steam to photograph at the time. As the weather was deteriorating and winter approaching, we kept going to Austria, an amazing country which in its southern part is nestled in the Alps.

We Finally Crack It In Austria

Figure 7 52 Class Linz – Summerau Austria Oct 1974

Linz Summerau was the first line we chased. That line had 52s galore and some great mountain backdrops. I have thrown in a photo. After that we visited the Narrow Gauge at Garston and then on to Vordenberg.

Mighty Vordenberg A Highlight Of Our Trip

The Vordenberg line was a rack railway with a very steep incline. Ore trains would climb the summit with one engine on the front and another at the rear. When we arrived it was snowing and miserable. For two days we rode the engines, and photographed in the gloom. On one occasion I nearly rolled the van when it skidded at less than walking pace on some ice. Let’s face it, I had little experience driving in snow. We had just about had enough b y the third day. We awoke to brilliant sunshine!

Riding in the cab on this line was an amazing experience. First of all is was “brass monkey” weather, being extremely cold. The locomotives had two throttles, one driving the rack and pinion for the 1 in 15 steep grades and the other for the normal wheels. They use the ABT rack system where two racks are offset. The wheels would frequently go out of sync with the rack, making for some great sounds. At the rear of the train was another 80 year old engine helping to get the loaded ore train over the hill. The engines weren’t particularly photogenic, but what an amazing railway. The line closed in the early 1980s, but plans are underway to get trains running again.


Figure 8 Banked Rack Goods Passes Church Steeple Vordenberg Austria Oct 1974

One of the photos was a classic Christmas shot. I know a number of our crew have used it. What could be better for religious rail fans. A banked rack train with plumes of smoke, snow everywhere and a church steeple in the foreground.

Anyway by the end of the day my thirst for steam in snow was satisfied and we came away with some fabulous pictures.

Figure 9The Train Leaves Vordenberg The Climb Starts Immediately

Future Articles On Steam In Snow

In my travels, these were not the only snow shots. I will be sharing at another time some pics in China, Turkey and Argentina. Some of these are even more spectacular.

One thing for sure, Steam trains look great in snow, even if they are very hard to photograph!

Cloak And Dagger Rail Photography Behind The Iron curtain


Robert Kingsford-Smith

In the mid 1970s many interesting steam locomotives still ran in eastern European communist countries. Train photography in the Eastern Bloc was a problem as railways had strategic significance and westerners caught photographing them risked arrest, film confiscation and possible imprisonment.

So it was with trepidation that I and four other Australian railfans drove our campervan across the heavily fortified border into East Germany in October 1974. After two or three days of tentative photography at lineside spots as far from the public gaze as possible we headed for the Berlin to Dresden mainline where most of the high speed expresses were steam hauled.

Our First Encounter With The East German Military

An initial attempt to find a suitably inconspicuous photographic location was not encouraging. The campervan was stopped and turned around by Russian soldiers at a military post near the village of Zossen. The soldiers appeared to be guarding the entrance to a large military base. After putting plenty of distance between ourselves and the soldiers by a circuitous route we eventually reached the railway again south of the village of Baruth. As it was now too dark for photography we crossed the line using a forestry level crossing and drove a short distance into a pine forest to spend the night. Our sleep was interrupted several times by the roar of passing steam hauled expresses.

Next morning we moved the van back to the railway, remaining on the forest side of the level crossing to avoid being seen from the road on the other side. The other advantage of this arrangement was that the sun, if it were to emerge from the broken cloud cover, would be on our side of the line. We started preparing breakfast with cameras ready so we could rush out and photograph any trains that might pass.

Our First High Speed Pacific

We did not have to wait long; a rumbling roar heralded the approach of an express. It thundered past at a terrific speed behind 01.20 class pacific No. 01.2050 just as the first rays of sun began filtering through the clouds. The sight and sound of several hundred tons of train travelling in excess of 80mph (130km/h) is an experience never to be forgotten. We had our first photos of a high speed East German express but we almost lost them a few minutes later when a policeman riding a step through motor scooter puttered across the level crossing and started raving about train photography being verboten. We realised it was serious when he indicated that he wanted to take our film. Using a combination of sign language and a few words of German we were able to convince him we had not photographed the train as the sun was behind the clouds (fortunately, by this time it really was) and that there had not been enough light.



Figure 1 01.20 class 4-6-2 No. 01.2050 at speed between Baruth and Golssen with a Berlin to Dresden express 5th October 1974


The East German Police Intervene

This rather confused him but he calmed down. One of our team, John, who had some German continued to talk to him while the rest of us returned to the camper van to finish eating breakfast. The copper took down John’s passport details then jumped back on his bike to leave. This was great timing as we could now hear a train approaching from the south and the sun had popped out from behind the clouds bathing the scene in beautiful morning glint lighting. But then disaster struck, the police bike would not start! The train was getting closer and it was now obvious that it was steam.

Finally the motor scooter’s puny motor spluttered into life and it’s rider approached the level crossing only to be halted by the automatic boom gates closing for the approaching express. Those of us still in the van looked at each and in silent agreement picked up our cameras and quietly climbed out of the rear door where, hidden from our Peoples Police tormenter by the campervan, pressed our camera shutters as one of the impressive 01.5 class pacifics, No. 01.0514, sped past on the north bound Meridien Express.


Figure 2 01.5 class 4-6-2 at speed between Golssen and Baruth with the north bound “Meridien” Dresden to Berlin express 5th October 1974

The One Full Sun East German Photo Of The Visit

With the surreptitious photo in the bag we climbed back into the van just as the copper finally crossed the level crossing and rode off. When John returned to the van himself a minute or two later our self satisfied grins must have told him what we had just done. He was not amused. He had been out there trying to placate the long arm of East German law while we had quite irresponsibly thumbed our noses at the police. Had the policeman turned around at the wrong moment we would all have been in deep trouble. He didn’t, however, and we got the photo and it accompanies this story.

The Trouble continues

Only five minutes later, another motor scooter bearing another green clad member of the Volkpolizei turned up. This guy was far more officious than his colleague and we only averted film confiscation and arrest by managing to convince him that we’d already had a visit from the law and that we’d provided passport details. The fact that we managed all this in very rudimentary German says more for our level of desperation than for our knowledge of that language.

I Lose My Film

Anyway after policeman number two departed we thought it was time we too should move on. Ironically some distance further down the line we were spotted by another copper who demanded we follow him. He led us to Elsterwerda station beside which was a loco shed with several locos simmering in the morning sun and he indicated we should photograph them. To say we were confused by East German police policies towards railway photography by now would be an understatement. Unfortunately most of us lost our photos at Elsterwerda shed during a real arrest and film confiscation incident a couple of days later in Poland.

John Gaydon’s Photo taken at the Elsterwerda Loco Depot.


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