Not many First World War veterans are still at work a century after the conflict ended. TONY STREETER finds one, in a twist to our series on East German survivors.
The shadows of the ‘Great War’ can be long. Sometimes unexpectedly so.
Train 8903 from Wernigerode to Eisfelder Talmuehle is normally hauled by a 2-10-2T; one of those 1950s engines that, depending on your point of view, is either ugly or a triumph of functionality. However, if you’d turned up for it in September you might have found a very different locomotive: one with a tall chimney, long side tanks – and perhaps not quite so many domes balanced on top of the boiler compared to its more modern relatives. A 100-year-old Mallet.
If you’d wondered about it, you might still not have realised that No. 99.5906 would not have come to Germany’s metre-gauge Harz lines if it hadn’t been for the First World War. Indeed, it would never exist. Ironically, the reason the 0-4-4-0T was in steam today was the same one that first brought it here: a shortage of engines (see News).
When we think of Germany’s First World War railways, it’s probably the 2ft gauge ‘Feldbahnen’ that comes to mind. But there was a demand for metre gauge engines too, and that would affect what was then the Nordhausen-Wernigerode Eisenbahn. It had built its lines running north to south across the Harz, and to the Brocken mountain, only around 15 years before the conflict started. Core to the NWE’s stock list was a fleet of Mallets delivered around the time of the lines’ openings. Even today, three of them survive – but other casualties over the years include those that were requisitioned for war service and never returned.
This is where the story of the First World War engines in the Harz really starts. For the German army’s railways didn’t just requisition engines, they also had their own ones built. These included a metre gauge 0-6-0T design, which was constructed in both superheated and saturated versions and tried out during 1915… in these hills.
Ultimately, that helped fill the motive power gap: the NWE was able to hire in the superheated 0-6-0T, which became No. 6, and
which it formally acquired after the war. The saturated version followed as NWE No. 7.
When British visitors turned up in increasing numbers some decades later, they would have known the 0-6-0Ts by their later numbers 99.6101 and 99.6102; sightings of them were perhaps especially memorable if they were spotted behind hedges and fences, serving industrial sidings around Wernigerode. Sadly though, these spurs are now gone and the engines are not the most suited to line work: although they found use on special trains No. 99.6102 has not run since 2008, and No. 99.6101 since 2015. A plan to put the former engine through a ‘heavy general’ was abandoned, and the old No. 7 has effectively spent the last decade out of sight. There is, though, a proposal to put it back together for display, with work taking place at the same Klostermansfeld workshops that once overhauled LNER ‘B12’ 4-6-0 No. 8572.
AN ACTIVE VETERAN
Then though, there is the veteran that appeared even more recently on Train 8903; today, it is really Mallet No. 99.5906 that keeps the First World War story alive.
Yet if British visitors think at all on its history, they probably look back not to the ‘Great War’, but the years after BR steam ended, when behind the Iron Curtain No. 99.5906 was part of a rag-tag fleet on the relative backwater of the Harz system, the Selketalbahn.
In fact, even in recent years, you were most likely to experience this ‘old timer’ on the line reaching out from Gernrode shed. As ‘number two’ to 1939-built 2-6-2T No. 99.6001, the Mallet was more than just a reserve – being the regular motive power for Gernrode’s second steam diagram that ran three days a week.
Sadly, a combination of engine and manpower shortages have meant those trains have not run either this year or last – and No. 99.5906 has spent much of 2018 at Wernigerode instead. From there it has mainly worked specials when the ‘original’ NWE Mallets Nos. 99.5901 and 99.5902 have been unavailable, plus making its rare appearances on Harzquerbahn service trains. Those are a remarkable echo of the past.
For as with the 0-6-0Ts, the NWE found extra motive power in what was a surplus army engine. Built in 1918 by the Maschinenfabrik Karlsruhe, this one had been intended for France. Instead, in 1920 it became the second NWE engine to carry the number 41.
A relatively stable career followed until after the end of another world conflict. By now Germany had been split and the NWE had disappeared in the nationalisation of East Germany’s railways. So too had the previously independent Gernrode-Harzgerode Eisenbahn – today’s Selketalbahn. What had been NWE No. 41 was now the Deutsche Reichsbahn’s No. 99.5906.
Looking to modernise the Harz fleet, in the 1950s the DR built its new series of 2-10-2Ts based on a pre-war design (one example of which, No. 99.7222, is still on the Harzer Schmalspurbahnen books). As the boxy new engines arrived at Wernigerode, the old NWE fleet could be sent away – to the Selketalbahn where the stock list was in an even more precarious state.
In the post-war years the Selketalbahn was severed from the rest of the system – a consequence of track-lifting as part of reparations to the Soviet Union: the section between Strassberg and Stiege would only be rebuilt in the 1980s. Mixed trains were the norm.
The route between Gernrode and Quedlinburg – part of today’s network but which first opened as a metre gauge line in 2006 – was still part of the standard gauge system.
From the 1960s Gernrode was No. 99.5906’s home. It would stay there until being stored in 1990. Moves by the DR to sell it into preservation failed, and in 1995 it was overhauled and returned to use by today’s HSB. Its most recent overhaul took place in 2016/2017 – a reconstruction that included replacing all four cylinders.
So, as it celebrates its centenary, this German ‘Great War’ engine hopefully has some life yet. Quite probably it is now one of the oldest engines available for regular traffic anywhere in the world.
Celebrating its centenary this year is 0-4-4-0T No. 99.5906. The Mallet is in charge of a Selketalbahn service train near SternhausHaferfeld in 2009.