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My Märklin Memories
Author: Kurt H. Miska, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (EMail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
If my memory serves me correctly, my first exposure, to what I now call my beloved Märklins, must have been a Christmas eve in the early to mid-1940s. I remember vividly that they were classic tinplate windup locomotives and freight cars set up on the dining room table. There were two trains, each with three freight cars - one for me and one for my younger brother. My locomotive was a very simple 0-4-0 with a two-axle tender (R 890) and my brother's was a two-axle electric (RS 900). We each had different freight cars which no doubt led to long forgotten arguments who was to play with what specific car. At some point we each were given two more freight cars. I still have both locomotives and the cars, all a bit the worse for wear. The only box that remains is the one for the steam Lok and the brown box is marked RM 6.00, a modest amount at best.
As Christmas 1944 approached and unbeknown to my brother and I, good friends of our parents asked them to safeguard what turned out to be a good assortment of OO-gauge equipment. We lived near in Wilhelmshorst about 5 miles from Potsdam (southwest of Berlin) and with the increasingly severe air raids against Berlin, my parents' friends feared for their precious OO-gauge "Tischbahn." The result was that these trains were set up for us at Christmas time. You can probably imagine the surprise and joy we felt at being able to play with these marvelous electrics. I seem to recall that there were three locomotives, a small tank engine switcher, a small electric locomotive and a 4-6-2 passenger locomotive. In referring to Koll, I think they must have been a T790, RS700 and HR700, respectively. There was "Oberleitung" or catenary and therefore the ability to operate two trains simultaneously. The lighted 4-axle passenger cars and a fair assortment of freight cars were the greatest. I don't remember if the turnouts were manual or electrically operated but none of that mattered because these trains were so far and above the tinplate that we were used to. In retrospect and in light of our young ages, I am still surprised that my brother and I were able to deal with making the necessary electrical connections without shorting everything.
Other than the continual air raids, my brother and I were not too conscious that the war was coming closer and closer. Then came the night of April 12th and with it the big raid on Potsdam. We were terrified. Living very close to that doomed baroque city, Wilhelmshorst received more than a few hits and I can distinctly remember saying to my mother that we would soon die. Probably shortly after midnight, it was all over and water, electricity and gas were cut off. That also put an end to our playing with our parents' friends OO-gauge. By early May, the war was finished but it was a while longer before some electric service was restored. Still, we had to part with the Märklins but by no means did my interest in trains part with them.
Fast forward to about 1983, or was it 1984? In those in-between years I had a short affair with American-style HO but it wasn't anything lasting. I also played with cars, cameras and electronics. I vaguely recall that in '84 some sort of gift suggestion mailer for executive toys came across my desk at work in which a modest Märklin starter set was offered. That triggered something. The die was cast. I knew I had to return to Märklin. My family and I had settled in Chelsea, Michigan after a corporate transfer and my employer had taken our house in Connecticut off our hands. The result was that we had some extra money and we promised each other something that we'd each enjoy. She opted for furniture and I cast my lot with Märklin, to my wife’s surprise. I mumbled something about it really being for Paul our then very young son. My wife wasn’t fooled but wound up endorsing my “craziness.” An ad in Model Railroader with a very German name caught my eye and I placed an order with Helmut's Hobby Specialties, then still run by Helmut Wilkniss a dyed in the wool Berliner. Initial purchases included the ever popular 3000, a 3039 and the 3310, a fair assortment of freight cars, three-axle Umbau Wagen or commuter passenger cars and some 24 cm D-Zug Wagen.
My first layout was on the almost obligatory 4 x 8 ft (approx. 1.2 x 2.4 m) sheet of plywood laid on an old pool table. I’ll not easily forget the first time I ran my newly acquired treasures. I’m certain many readers will associate certain smells with good and not so good memories. Think about the wonderful aroma of the Thanksgiving turkey roasting in the oven, your wife’s favorite perfume and others. Well, so it was when my Märklin Loks ran on that sheet of plywood. Believe it or not but the smell of the warm oil mingling with the tiny sparks that come off the motor commutator are the same today as they were on those OO gauge trains we were allowed to play with in ’44. Incredible!
Even though this was a very interim layout built mainly to become acquainted with Göppingen's goods, I couldn't resist incorporating a turntable. I also knew then and there that I had to have a "Betriebswerk" (Bw) or locomotive servicing facility. That simple, two-dimensional layout taught me a great deal and became a planning tool for a more interesting, three-dimensional layout. Also, extensive reviewing of the Märklin 0700 Layout Book. Märklin Magazin and eisenbahn magazin (yes, the title is lower case) provided much valuable insight into German layouts. Fortunately, I am fluent in German which made browsing through those publications even more pleasurable. Not content with my locomotives and rolling stock, I added others including the wonderful 3300 Crocodile Anniversary Set, after all a Märklin layout without a Crocodile is not a real Märklin layout.
In the meantime, we moved from Chelsea to Ann Arbor and by 1988 I had put my workshop back together and started construction of a separate train room. It wasn't some grand, huge affair because we had some thoughts about finishing the basement so our kids would have a place to entertain their friends. While in the end that idea never materialized, my train room's dimensions remained modest.
The layout construction follows classic American practice with the basic framework being 1 x 2s (25 x 50 mm) with risers to handle the tracks. The locomotive servicing facility or Betribswerk is named Michendorf; it was built separately and then installed into the layout framework. Michendorf is the next station after Wilhelmshorst where I grew up. Everything is 2200 series K-track. At one point I took advantage of a chance to buy a vast amount of K-track for a song including the 2241 and 2251 large radius curved sections. Turnouts are a mix of 2271, 2261 and 2267. Catenary is a mix of Märklin and Sommerfeldt. In retrospect I should have done Sommerfeldt throughout but I think I was too anxious to get trains running that I opted for the simpler catenary. Now, retrofitting is just about out of the question. Signaling is a mix of semaphore style and the more modern light signals. Even with only 21 locomotives, changing to digital would be too costly and therefore I’m probably the only remaining analog layout in the U.S. but, no matter, I do just fine with my three 30VA transformers since I'm the only one playing with my layout. All lighting is by means of a substantial industrial transformer with multiple secondary taps, ranging from 4 to 24 volts. All the lights are on 12 volts for longer bulb life and not that glaring bright light exhibited by bulbs about to go to their maker.
Growing up in our small village, it stood to reason that I named my station accordingly even though the countryside of my railroad in no way resembles that of the line serving Wilhelmshorst. My industries are a chemical plant, a lumber mill and a gravel yard. The lumber mill cuts real wood not cheap, imitation plastic logs and the gravel yard processes real gravel. Both are served by a suitably scuzzy narrow gauge Roco Feldbahn (field railway). Most of my buildings are from Kibri, Faller and Vollmer; all are lighted.
What Epoche or era did I choose? None, is the answer. I am very prejudiced to certain locomotives, freight and passenger cars and that’s what is on my layout. The era doesn’t matter. I don’t care if I mix a BR52 with a Crocodile and a Württemberg T5 with a Prussian Lok. On my layout you’ll find several variations on the BR50 theme, two Crocodiles (a green, metal Märklin and a brown Roco), a BR86, BR80, ET85, BR24, a Swiss Ae 6/6 and several others. All told there are 19 Märklins and 2 Rocos. My special issue BR44 (MA 3108 of the mid to late 80s) has been fitted with a tub tender from of BR38. Why? Because I like tub tenders. There are no diesels on my railroad. To compound this heresy further, I have severely weathered some of my freight cars and added real coal to the tenders of most of my steam locomotives. Passengers are served by Roco Thunderboxes and Märklin Prussian compartment coaches, of the type that I rode in from Wilhelmshorst to Wannsee before changing to the S-Bahn whenever we visited in Berlin. I have some of the metal 24 cm express coaches, now downgraded to Hobby status, but the station track really isn't long enough to handle more than two of these. Scenic material is probably 95 percent American Woodland Scenics. It's easily the best. So, while many may consider this lack of a specific era a hodgepodge, you'd be surprised how much fun I have.
In late '92 everything came to a screeching halt. Since I had been playing a little with building some electronic devices for my railroad, I became increasingly fascinated with things electronic. I became an amateur radio operator and played a great deal with, of all things, vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes, of course, belong to the glorious era of steam. That infatuation lasted six years and was fading rapidly by early ‘98. In the Spring of '98, we knew we'd be going to Europe for our vacation. Making a long story short, I fell in love again with my Märklins and the clincher was a trip to the shrine in Göppingen.
One of my other loves is writing and with that in mind, I continue to collect information on the Marklin Crocodiles starting with the classic tinplate Crocs of prewar times to the latest digital versions. My manuscript runs about 60 pages at the moment. I am always on the lookout for anecdotes, technical info, photographs (I could really use some of the CCS 800s) and any little tidbit I can find. I don’t have any illusions about a market for a book. The topic is much too specialized. Yes, I know there is the Stammer book but that’s on the prototypes, but I’m pursuing the history of Märklin’s model Crocodiles.
So, now that things are reasonably back to normal, train-wise that is, I’m seriously thinking about enlarging my layout. If I don’t start it during the winter, I will most certainly do so when I retire in May 2000. I have a fair amount of extra K-track and all I need is some more turnouts and Sommerfeldt catenary to do what I have in mind. As far as changing to digital operation, the answer has to be no. While 21 locomotives may be only a handful for many Märkliners, conversion to digital would be prohibitively expensive when you have two kids in college. Besides, I’ve done just fine with analog and will continue to do so.
I’m also involved in the California-based European Train Enthusiasts and have started the Great Lakes Chapter of that organization. We started and are well into building a modular layout using classic M-track. The first public appearance of this layout took place in late November at the Novi, Michigan edition of the Greenberg Show. You can see my trains on the ETE website (ete.org). Yes, I’m glad I got back to my trains because, as I near retirement, aren’t they a wonderful way to recapture one aspect of my younger years.
This article was originally printed in "Gleis Eins", the newsletter of the Great Lakes Chapter of the European Train Enthusiasts (www.ete.org) and is reprinted here with permission.
[ last updated 31st Dec 2003 ]