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.

Steam Railway (UK) - - ‘P’ CLASS RESTORED -

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.


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.

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