I invite you to join Ehnwiller, a modest borough nested in a valley of the Vosges of the North (Alsace - France) and served by a small local branchline traced in verge of road. Seek neither the line nor the village on a road map what will follow is purely imaginary, but resemblances to real facts are not sheer coincidence.
More about this layout in the RR magazine
Summer 1953. It had been hot today. I had arrived at 18.25 p.m. in station of Walbourg. Brought from Strasbourg by a long train of three axles vestibule coaches tracted by a class 242 TA steam engines, a former 4-8-4 tank from the Alsace Lorraine railway. My correspondence for Ehnwiller waited on the adjacent platform. The machine, the 232 TC 415 of the depot of Haguenau, glowing in its green and black dress, was ready to take the departure. Behind it, an oar with a heterogeneous composition, coaches with three axles, some with open platforms, others with side doors, without forgetting the baggage. Still small half an hour and I will arrive at the end of my journey. I knew this small terminal well, more especially as my aunt lived a house located in prolongation of the railway station: an ideal observatory to observe this so particular environment.
The morning train ! I rose early the morning and discreetly left the residence to go to observe the preparation of the steam engine at the engine house. It had come with the evening train and spend the night here. The cars having remained parked at the platform, the machine had joined the engine house. Previously, the team had benefitted to remake the full of water and coal. To this end, a small pier with coal, which although rudimentary with its base out of concrete and its spillplate out of wooden, filled its role perfectly. It is true that one needed a little address and much force to climb the scale with a coal basket intended for the tender. A watercran supplied with an overhead crossing coming from the water tower being next to the engine house provided the other element necessary to the life of the steam engine. The sheed made it possible to park a machine. Equipped with a pit of visit and a little tools for the servicing, its function first was to shunt the engine. Indeed repairs were done at the depot of Haguenau.
The first gleams of the day cherished the boiler. Some steam clouds escaped in the still pale sky accompanied by the intermittent blows by the air pump. A deaf noise accompanied the opening by the injectors for the boiler water supply. The team was busy with the last preparations, a point of oil, a last glance, repeated gestures thousand times, then the engine could shake slowly. It skirted the oar of cars, crossed the output turnout. A lever of turnout to be operated and here it is driving back to put itself at the head of the train. The first travellers waited to go up into the coaches. These beautiful cars with side doors which offered a summary comfort in comparison to our trains nowodays, but which did not miss a charm with their benches of wooden and their windows that one descended with the assistance from a leather strap..
In waiting of the departure, I climbed on our ' fort', a modest hut out of wooden nested in a thicket of trees below located the trackline. It had been built with some buddies of the village. Its situation in height enabled me to follow the continuation of the events: whistle of the head of station which answered almost immediately that of the steam engine, but with a tone much more strident. Open drainers the machine get going, some blows of exhausts and the convoy passed already to my height. It is true that the load of four cars was not a hard labour for the machine. I still followed it until the passage of the road to the sound of the bell and thewhistle. It was the respect of a signal that is typically Alsace Lorraine Railroad: ' whistle and bell', announced by two 'S' panels .
Texas at Alsace ! The mineral was known here since centuries. This greasy substance floating on the surface of the source "Baechel-Brunn" was used during centuries to lubricate the wheels of the carriages and to cure the tooth aches. Besides it gave the name to Péchelbronn, this village which was regarded as a high place of French oil industry. Generations of engineers were initiated in Alsace with the techniques of the drilling and the refining of crude oils. Most significant and most known of the companies ensuring the distribution of these petroleum products being the Company of Antar oils. The layer extended under most of the area and although the village of Pechelbronn was distant a score of kilometers, several points of drilling were installed near Ehnwiller, in particular the puit 22 located not far from the railway line. The imposing pump with rocker was encircled of a netting preventing any access - Its slow movement of comings and goings, accompanied by a noise throbbing and continuous did not disturb the quietude of the place.
Big team in the street ! A vapor bell was setting in motion. This one also was familiar with the life of the village since about fifty year. We quickly went up to the principal street for see 'her'. She had just engaged the level crossing accompanied by a long strident whistle: the ' TC' as it was called, although the Old ones preferred the name of T18 to her - its class which it carried from the time of AL (Railroad of Alsace and Lorraine) until the nationalization of 1937 when it exchanged for the series 1-232 TC. It was generally the 420 which runs on the small line of Ehnwiller. She engaged now slowly in the principal street of Katelhausen, at slowly speed, because we could follow her while walking quietly to side. It is what we never failed to make, and to remain with more close to the machine to see its mechanism moving. We were sometimes so close we feel the heat released by the cylindrical body of the boiler which dominated us of his imposing mass. It blew, rolled, jolted sometimes on the joints of rails, passing very close to close the farms, the cemetery, the church. Moreover a little further, the convoy approached so close to one beat that one could almost touch it while leaning since the end plattform of a car. Besides one told the history of this splendid tart with quetsch plum which had just left the furnace and setting to be cooled on the edge of the window of the kitchen remained open. It was the last time that it was seen, because an unpleasant joker, but surely fine gourmet, subtilized it since the train in marche. The bell continued to strike his blows, the train advanced slowly. After, the line finding its exclusive right of way, it could again release the power of its ' Baltic' and take again speed. This characteristic to use the street of the village thus was singular for some of the lines of local interest built by Reichseisenbahnen Elsass-Lothringen (= EL) then managing the shoed network of Alsace and of the Moselle annexed in Germany between 1870 and 1918. The line traced in verge along the existing roads constituted an economic solution then to connect a region towards a broad outline.
A racing car ! Here are what we had arranged, my cousin and me, during the first days of the great holidays 1951, and we had put all our know-how of 12 year old kids to realize, which was in our eyes, a splendid racing car. Because it was to be able to compete with the pedal car of the Jean-Louis, our neighbor and rival in this business, in particular in the descent of the ' Gass' - an inclined lane of the village of Katelhausen, always appraisal in any season to carry out or slips winter, or the most various races. We took the departure in top of the lane, with the intersection with the principal street, the place where an immense chestnut was drawn up proudly more than centenaire - it is said that it had been planted there at the time of the French Revolution.
'Lumpezug' ! It was a goods freight train which led its batch of the most various wagons daily to place them on the various ways for the handling of their contents: gondola, boxcar, flatcar, logcar, etc. Its evolutions had wanted to him the nickname Alsatian of ' Lumpezug' (= Ragman). Into general, it was a class 1-040D, former G8.1 of the AL which I had the privilege to see arriving around 10 a.m. Since the quay of loading, I could follow the events. Only had to be paid attention not to obstruct the loggers who brought the trunks with attachments of horses since their place of cut in the surrounding forests. In waiting of the loading on logcars, the trunks piled up on the quay.
But for the moment, the steam engine drove back a boxcar towards the storage shed. This one was next to the station building. This configuration was dictated by at the same time economic and practical requirements: these small stations supporting only one reduced traffic, compared to those of a mainline, were in general held by a very restricted personnel, and the possibility of reaching directly the storage shed from the service bureau of the station building was an undeniable advantage. Besides this last had only one modest counter and a waiting room, the possible luggage were to be given since the perron (= platform) of the station.
The boxcar seemed to be awaited impatiently, since hardly parked, a cart had just positioned opposite its sliding gate and the unloading of bags of flour could start. During this time, the steamer continued its labour and was going to seek a flatcar prepared at the factory Klein Frères. It was one of these many small industries of the valley which had appeared in the 19th century and had grown with the advent of the railroad. Its successive enlargings were quite visible, since the buildings were different architectures in spite of the recourse to brick like principal material. This one produced brushes and was served thanks to a hand operated turntable. At least twice per week a wagon brought the day before left the influence of the factory thus.
A last operation and it was the turn of the logcars to be presented to the quay of loading. The loggers could finally begin their loading. After all these efforts, the engine joined the oar of wagons lately made up. Checking of the couplings, test of brake, and here is the train ready for the return towards Walbourg and Haguenau. But before, it was necessary to await the arrival of the railcar to have the free track.
Monday = washday ! A little with the variation the bridge railroad was also the laundrette - this one was not only the ' machine with laver' of the time, but also a place of conversation privileged for the women of the village, one exchanged there last pewters or crusty stories on such or such villager. Of course the places were allotted. Oldest took the site upstream, where water was still clear, while young people were downstream. The laundrette was then used more only for part of washing. The clothes were initially boiled in a large pot with the farm, before being brought in small carriole to the laundrette, there to be soaped and rinsed. Moreover it was for these meetings of washing that the women absent from the kitchen, prepared a suitable dish not requiring any follow-up lasting cooking: the famous backeoffe, a potful with potatoes, pig, sheep and white wine. It had become the speciality of Monday, day reserved for the washing. The housewives prepared it Sunday. The following day, at dawn, they carried it in the baker, where it was cooked in the oven until midday.
The Railcar ! The trains of the semi-day were ensured by a DE DIETRICH rail-car, which brought color with its delivered red and cream. The regular humming of its Saurer engine made it very discrete and it was to often use of its horn to wake up the attention, especially with the passage in road verge. Moreover a quite particular rite proceeded with the 3323, which arrived at 12.13 p.m. Benefitting from the cut until the departure of the 3324 leaving at 12.58 p.m., the engineer and the controller lunched quickly at the Restaurant of the Station. But not to waste time, the enginner announced the number of menu to be prepared as of the input in station with a blow of horn by cover! Indeed, it happened sometimes that a head of traction or a second controller in formation did accompany the team. It was like that on the small lines aside from high speeds and madness of the big cities.
Under the gleams of the sun setting ! The 232 TC returned with the last train of the evening. It was my last escapade in station of Ehnwiller before the dinner. Last brake application, the oar was immobilized, everyone went down. Some travellers came to settle on the terrace of the restaurant judiciously named ' Station'. It was more than pleasant to benefit from the good air and the last moments of the sun while enjoying a delicious beer Perle, a famous brewery of Schiltigheim. Been useful quite fresh, it crowned very well a hard day of labour, and made it possible to exchange the last remarks on the evolution of the critical situation in Indo-China or the last french governmental rehandling. The steam engine during this time had already joined the engine house to take forces for the following day.
Epilogue. Initially left with the abandonment in the early 80th, the influences of the trackline were re-used in 1996 for the establishment of a cycle track, useful to discovered this area the Vosges of North. The memories return to me from each time I take this way by bike, to believe that the places are still loans of the dry blows of exhaust of the steam engine which always bring back for me at the same time, that where I passed part of the great holidays in my aunt to Ehnwiller. Still a kilometer of effort on my ' drahtesel' (= bicycle in Alsatian popular speech, literally ass in wire), and I will have found this place which marked my childhood. Today there remain nothing about it, except the station building transformed into a house for 'Teenagers'. But my thoughts precede me since a good odor of ' Hasepfeffer' (= Rabbit with pepper, a great alsacian dish) agreeably seems to tickle me the nostrils. This one, like always admirably prepared by my aunt, mijote since several hours on the cooker. It will be a feast this midday....