Engine 52 8055 was built in 1942/1943 in Grafenstaden, in German occupied France. As a member of the 52 class it was a typical austerity-type wartime locomotive of which some 6000 examples were built in factories all across Europe during World War II and shortly thereafter. Hence, locomotives of the 52 class are commonly referred to as "Kriegslok" meaning "Wartime". 52 8055 originally had the designation number of 52 1649. It was only in the 1960s, when it was thoroughly over-hauled and re-boilered by the Deutsche Reichsbahn in East Germany, that it received the new numbering, symbolizing the fact that it was one of over 200 locomotives from the 52 class that had been upgraded and incorporated into the new East German 52 80 class. After German reunification and the dissolution of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, the engine moved to the non-profit railway association EFZ in southern Germany to become a museum engine and to haul steam heritage trains. However in 1995 the engine became superfluous to requirements, and consideration was given to using it to provide spare parts for other engines.
Fortunately destiny had better and bigger plans for the by-then historic locomotive, and when the need arose in Germany and in neighbouring Switzerland to have a clean, oil-fired steam locomotive for pulling the attractive coaches of the Orient Express on tourist specials and charter runs, it was decided to rebuild 52 8055 and to equip it with an environmentally friendly non-polluting light-oil firing system. The contract for fully modernizing the locomotive went to the famed Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works (SLM) in Winterthur, a factory which in over 125 years had built some of the world's finest and best engineered steam locomotives, and which (by the 1990s) had once again begun producing rack-drive steam locomotives to the design of Roger Waller for mountain lines in Switzerland and Austria. In 1996/7 SLM won a contract to rebuild 52 8055 by applying the modern steam technologies that they had developed for the narrow gauge rack locos to a very large standard gauge engine. Roger Waller, then chief steam engineer at SLM, worked with the assistance of Livio Dante Porta by combining their knowledge and experience into the upgrading of the locomotive with the goal of making it as efficient and powerful as possible.
The engine finally rolled out of Winterthur in 1999 after its refit, and made several trials runs and public excursions around Switzerland in 1999 and 2000. However, whilst 52 8055 was celebrating its new lease of life, Sulzer (the holding company of SLM) decided to close the famous works and cease locomotive production altogether. SLM was sold off in separate parts, from which the steam team, around Roger Waller, made a "management buy-out" of the steam locomotive section and founded their own company in order to continue the production and development of modern steam locomotives and marine engines. They named the new company DLM standing for Dampflokomotiv und Maschinenfabrik (meaning "Steam Locomotive and Machine Works" in English).
In the meantime, as a result of bureaucratic difficulties, 52 8055 was never granted a permit to operate in Germany with the result that its owners EFZ were unable to make use of it, and the engine was forced to remain inactive for almost three years. Thus it was in 2003, that the men who had rebuilt the locomotive - first and foremost Roger Waller - decided to buy back the locomotive and return it to Switzerland (where railway regulations are less restrictive), both to run again on popular excursions and with the Orient Express, but also to use the locomotive to promote "modern steam" as an attractive and environmentally friendly form of railway traction.
In mid September 2003 52 8055 returned to Switzerland travelling via Schaffhausen, the Rhinefall and Winterthur. It is currently stationed in the depot in Wil where it is cared for by DLM's staff including a group of professionals such as (mechanic) Hans Murbach and (locomotion specialist) Thomas Haller, and volunteers including three SBB loco drivers who also drive the locomotive (first and foremost Olaf Schärlinger), steam history specialist Andrew Thompson, and transport economist Markus Meisinger - the latter two being mainly entrusted with cleaning and polishing the locomotive.
The engine returned to Switzerland in very good condition thanks to the care taken of it by the Germans and by EFZ, requiring only minor repairs plus a washout of the boiler, these tasks being carried out by Roger Waller himself (who also serves as "fireman-in-chief" for the locomotive), with help from his supporting crew. In fact, the most daunting task was a thorough cleaning of the locomotive to remove the weathering that it had suffered from standing outside for over 12 months. The work took from the middle of September to late November, and the engine, having passed its second and final boiler inspection on November 7th, made its first proper run on December 2nd, steaming tender-first for 20 kilometers from Wil to Weinfelden, where several of the coaches of the Orient Express are stationed.
"The 52", as those who work on her like to call her, is without doubt a stunning-looking locomotive, its most obvious features being its Orient Express navy blue colour scheme and the big yellow stripe along its full length. In fact the paint scheme was partly inspired by (and is a tribute to) some of the superb American 4-8-4 steam locomotives of the 1930s and 1940s. An Americanized element is also found in the pointed "nose" that the engine displays in the form of a new pointed smokebox door, a styling feature incorporated during the 1998 rebuild. Another exotic feature is the steam whistle on the locomotive which comes from South Africa.
A relatively unknown but significant feature of the 52, and perhaps one of its most special aspects is its cab. Thanks to the oil-firing and heavy insulation, its working conditions are always as in the cab of any electric locomotive: normal room temperature, no sweltering heat, no black coal mess, no dripping or slippery lubrication oil, no dust particles filling the air, and no draughts because the cab is fully enclosed. Actually the cab's comfortable interior with its wooden panelled ceiling and wooden carved bench, that guests are reminded of a Swiss chalet setting.
A ride on the Orient Express behind 52 8055 on its regular run from Zurich to Schaffhausen and back via the spectacular Rhine Falls (the largest waterfall in Europe), is a steam experience that everyone should treat themselves to.
Note: Some technical information on the work that was carried out on 52 8055 was provided in the November 1999 Railway Magazine article titled "Clean Steam" which is reproduced on this website. See also DLM's website at http://www.dlm-ag.ch/index2-en.htm.
Andrew Thompson also recomments the following websites for further photos and information about 52 8055:
and the following for information about the Orient Express:
Page created 23 Sept 2004