My loyal readers will recall that our group had finally arrived in Augsburg, checked into the Hotel Ost am Kö and gone to bed. (After a beer or two in the hotel lobby bar. We are in Germany after all!)
The next morning's wake up call came rather much too quickly. "Guten Morgen, Herr Meier. Ihr Weck Ruf!" Geez, I thought I had just gone to bed. The hot shower did not really help to wake me up. However what did finally get me going was the breakfast buffet in the hotel's "Frühstücks Raum"! I love to eat. I particularly love breakfast. And nobody does breakfast quite like the Germans do. All manner of breads, Brötchen, cheeses, cold cuts, fish, eggs and even cereals were to be had. A multitude of juices and jams and, on request, they would even make a plate of bacon and eggs for you. But I digress: this blog is supposed to be about trains!
At 8 am our group piled into a bus waiting for us in front of the hotel. Originally the idea was that we would use scheduled trains from the Augsburg Hbf (Central Station) to get to our daily objectives. But it transpired that by doing so the schedules just could not be kept. So a bus was hired. And a beautiful, brand new bus it was. Apparently it had just come off the Kässborer/Setra assembly line a few weeks before. Oodles of room (certainly a lot more than on the French TVG in First Class), glass roof, electric outlets at the seats, small kitchen, toilet and it was very quiet.
We managed to leave right on time. Unfortunately the weather at this point was most uncooperative and it was still a bit dark to boot, not much to see on the way therefore. A few miles outside our destination of Warthausen it cleared up a bit and we were able to enjoy the scenery.
In Warthausen the train was ready and waiting, already attracting much attention. Here is why: Just before disembarking from our bus the tour guide had given us an interesting bit of information. It appears that this tourist/heritage railroad does not run during the winter at all. When the Railway Touring Company approached the Öchsle Bahn folks with a charter proposal for January the idea was met with great enthusiasm, but with one proviso. Our group of twenty six would get three, reserved coaches, just for us. The Öchsle Bahn wanted however to invite the local population for a winter steam event necessitating an additional four coaches and a restaurant car. Of course this was all agreed to without any problems. The railway would not only get the charter fee from the Railway Touring Company, but also the fares from the local people riding that day. And us anoraks would get a long train to photograph and take videos of, with the engine having to work that much harder for great shots.
We all settled into our carriages. These were early twentieth century 3rd class narrow gauge rolling stock, apparently the only coaches of this kind still in existance. Two axles, steam heated with wood slat seats. At each car end was an open vestibule and we were encouraged by the railway stuff to ride there. No American liability fears here!
I suppose a short history of the Öchsle Bahn would now be in order.
Around 1890 the state government decided that it would be necessary to connect the town of Biberach and the town of Ochsenhausen via a railroad. Originally intended to be built in standard gauge, it was decided to eventually proceed building the line in narrow gauge at 750 millimeters. It was not until 1899 that the railway was inaugurated.
The line was quite successful, but experienced a lot of damage during World War ll. After the war the Deutsche Bundesbahn (the German national railroad at that time) ended up with the railroad. Passenger traffic was rapidly beginning to disappear, but freight traffic kept it's own due to some major companies being located along the rail line. The Deutsche Bahn began a program of dieselization to modernize, however that did not stop the eventual realization that a narrow gauge railway was just not economical. By 1981 Deutsche Bahn decided to close and abandon the line. Somehow the local villages and towns along the track thought that this would make a good tourist railroad and took over the physical plant which Deutsche Bahn did not want any longer. A not for profit company was formed and, after a few hicups, the now Öchsle Bahn AG, found it's stride as a "museum railway". Most of the staff are volunteers and they are definitely making a great show of it. A little over 50,000 people visit the railway each year.
The line goes through some great country side, ending up in the charming little town of Ochsenhausen. There is enough time for a leisurely lunch before the return trip commences. Among other interesting tidbits Ochsenhausen has a "Museum der Waschfrauen"! A museum about laundry women. Unfortunately the building was closed, thus I was not able to get the story behind this fascinating building and concept.
The motive power for our trip was class 99 (more technical info here) number 788. It is a 750 millimeter gauge 2-10-2 steam engine. Under the German classification system all narrow gauge motive power is designated class 99; be it steam, diesel or electric powered.
788 was built in the former DDR by the Karl Marx VEB in 1956. East Germany at the time had an extensive narrow gauge system and continued to build steam locomotives for it. The country had lots of coal, cheap labor and quite a few excellent steam locomotive manufacturing facilities. Even now, more than twenty years after reunification and the demise of the East German state, the existence of the steam locomotive works continues. It seems to be a great niche market: steam locomotives from all over the world are being sent to the former East Germany for repairs and work ups. The Meiningen Dampflokwerke are booked solid for many years in the future.
During the trip a few runbys were made. The locals on the train were pretty clueless about the whole procedere. I guess one would have to be a died-in-the-wool foamer to understand what this is all about. Anyway, we all got off the train and managed to get our runby photographs and videos. Even the weather cooperated: it did not rain for once!
In due course we arrived back at the Warthausen station to board our bus for the ride back to Augsburg. Here is a short video of the whole Öchsle Bahn experience: