Sunday, August 16, 2009

Visiting the Selfkantbahn - Sunday

It was a long evening yesterday, and I had trouble getting out of bed at first. Reminder to self: If you are not used to drinking beer, do it in moderation...

However, today's the day!

Shortly before 9am we were back in Schierwaldenrath where Christoph and Jan had already prepared the locomotive for the day. There was not much left for us to do so we went inside the car hall for coffee and breakfast. Yup, the two of them did the job of oiling, lubing, and a light polish in less than a quarter of the time it took us yesterday...

The morning was cool, with patchy fog and overcast skies, and by 10am I found myself in the warm cab of the locomotive switching an extra freight car to the tail end of the train. By now I was much more comfortable with the controls and had a blast. I must have been grinning over both ears most of the time. I picked up the freight car, spotted it to the end of the train, and then pulled the train forward into the service area so that the folks in the dining car could comfortably load food and drinks for the day.

It's not trivial to stop the train in a way so that the dining car ends up near the entrance door to the workshop, since from the cab you can't see neither the car in the train, nor the entrance door. All you know is roughly how fast the train is going, and hear over radio how far away the car still is ("two car lengths, one car length, 1/2 car length"). No-one complained, so I guess I stopped reasonably well.

Once the dining car was loaded, we pushed the train back to the platform, uncoupled and topped off water. Then it was back to the coaling platform for refueling and cleaning out the ash box, and my Dad took over to bring the locomotive to the head of the train for the first run of the day. Thomas took some excellent video footage of my switching maneuvers with my camera and I'll post that (and more video footage) once it's edited.

Wolfram showed up shortly before 11am, and immediately started taking pictures. He looked so professional in attitude and attire that I had to clarify with the other seminar participants that, "yes, that's my brother, he lives nearby, and no he doesn't do this for a living". Quite a few passengers filled the platform, and at 11:15am we took off for the first run with Dad at the controls. He did a great job and carefully guided the train to Gillrath. It was very hard to take good photos or decent video footage even from the car behind the engine. The angles are not right and you often wish to be flying next to the train so you can film through the open cab windows.

After the return trip we had a quick lunch since it was almost time for the second run. Bernd took the train down to Gillrath and I brought it back to Schierwaldenrath. I (again) had a little problem with braking when we got to Birgden and accidentally left the brake lever in a slightly open position so the stop in Birgden became ... errrm ... a bit abrupt towards the end. Did I mention that braking is hard? Especially when you try to be gentle to the equipment. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Back in Schierwadenrath, I didn't want to leave the cab, I could have go on and on, but sadly my turn was over.

Wolfram, Dad, and me skipped the 3rd run and had excellent ice cream at the station restaurant instead. While Dad relaxed in the shade, Wolfram and I climbed on the loading ramp and waited for the train to return. It was already time to say Goodbye to Wolfram since he wanted to get back on the road to drive home.

Thomas took the train to Gillrath, and I managed to get back in the cab for the return trip to Schierwaldenrath with Jan at the controls. It's very interesting and enlightening to watch a professional engineer who knows the line by heart, play with the controls, move the locomotive with centimeter accuracy, and just the right amount of steam or braking. It was also another demonstration of how a good team of stoker and engineer can work together in an almost artful dance to feed and care for the machine.

Once we returned we received our certificates and now it was really time to say Goodbye. To the group, to the railroad, the people that cared for us all weekend long, and of course "our" locomotive 20.

On the way home the sounds and sights of the weekend continued to play in my head. It was an awesome experience, and if I lived closer to Schierwaldenrath I would be there more often. Contrary to modern locomotives, steam engines feel a lot more alive, a feeling that is impossible to experience by looking at photos or watching them on TV. If you ever have a chance to see steam engines in operation, ride in a cab, or maybe even, take the controls yourselves, go and you won't regret it.

Friday - Saturday

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