Review by John Menges/Photos by Shane T. Mason
In the late steam era, the practice of converting coal-fired steam locomotives to burn oil was an international phenomenon. While conversions to oil firing tended to occur in the 1940s in North America, many European steam locomotives saw these conversions in the 1950s and 1960s. It was during this time German Federal Railways (Deutsche Bundesbahn or DB) rebuilt several of its Class (Baureihe or Br) 44 2-10-0 steam locomotives to burn Bunker C fuel oil. These oil-fired Br 44s gained notoriety as the last steam locomotives in service with DB, where they saw use in heavy ore train service. Recently, Trix paid tribute to these erstwhile oil burners with an all-new HO-scale model of the Br 44, along with matching ore car sets, to re-create these memorable trains that kept German steel mills humming during the late steam era after the conclusion of World War II.
The long history of German Rail-ways’ Br 44 began in the 1920s when the various provincial railroads (Länderbahnen) were merged together to form the German State Railroad Company (Deutsche Reichsbahn Gesellschaft or DRG). A committee was established to develop standard design (Einheits) locomotives that could be used throughout DRG’s network. One of the committee’s proposals called for a 2-10-0 Decapod that could haul 1,200-ton freight trains on lines in the central German highlands at 70 kph (43 mph).The committee directed that two groups of nearly-identical looking 2-10-0s be built and tested; the first was a two-cylinder locomotive classified as a Br 43 and the second was a three-cylinder locomotive classified as a Br44. In 1926, locomo-tive builders Henschel und Söhne, Schwartzkopff, and Maschinenfabrik Esslingen delivered 10 examples of the three-cylinder Br 44s to Reichsbahn, and the following year Henschel and Schwartzkopff delivered two-cylinder Br 43s. The 20 locomotives were initially stationed at Rothenkirchen (Bavaria), Saalfeld (Thuringia), and Weissenfels (Saxony-Anhalt), where they were tested extensively on the hilly lines of Thuringia and northern Bavaria. The evaluations showed the Br 44 was a faster engine than the Br 43 and it was more fuel efficient at higher horsepower levels, but it was also a more complicated machine than its competitor, which consumed less coal and water and was easier for shop forces to maintain.
These findings led the economy-minded DRG to order 25 more copies of the two-cylinder Br 43 and no further copies of the steam-hungry Br 44. But the seeming demise of the Br 44 was short-lived. By the mid-1930s, as economic conditions improved, Reichs-bahn needed locomotives that could handle the increased tonnage more quickly than the Br 43, and the Br 44 fit the bill. (One must bear in mind that Reichsbahn only had forty-fi ve 2-10-0 Einheits locomotives on the roster in 1934.)
The Reich Transport Ministry decided to order new Br 44s, which went into production starting in 1937. The fi rst batch of 52 examples of the Br 44s was rated for 80 kph (50 mph) and achieved 1,910 horsepower. They were followed in 1938 by the so-called “Standard Version 44s,” which were distinguished from their predecessors by large Wagner-style smoke deflectors and welded T’34 tenders. The Standard 44s were produced in large numbers by the three original firms that built the 10 prototype locomotives as well as Borsig, Krauss-Maffei, Krupp, Schichau, and Vienna Locomotive Works Floridsdorf.
With the outbreak of World War II, Br 44s were also produced by occupied Polish and French locomotive factories. The Standard 44 continued in produc-tion until sometime in 1943, by which time the Übergangskriegslokomotive (War Austerity Version or ÜK for short) Br 44 had superseded the Standard Version. The War Austerity Version was a simplified design that conserved steel and featured blanked-out forward cab windows, no smoke deflectors, no front aprons, no padded cab seats, no circular smokebox lock, and solid rather than spoked wheels for the lead truck. By 1944, a total of 1,753 Br 44s had been built for Deutsche Reichsbahn; most of those during the war years. From 1944 until 1946, 226 locomotives ordered by DR were delivered directly to French National Railways (SNCF) as its Class 150 X. Ten more Br 44s were built in East Germany in 1948 and 1949, bringing the total number of Br 44s constructed to 1989.
The Br 44s initially served as heavy freight locomotives in the Thuringia area until the mid-1930s when some migrated to other parts of the German railroad network. As more Br 44s became available, numerous other Reichsbahndirektion (RBD, or rail-way divisions) employed Br 44s; particularly the Kassel and Nürnberg divisions. During the early years of World War II, the bulk of the Br 44s stayed in central Germany. They did also see use on other lines of DRG and in German-occupied countries like Poland, where they hauled coal trains out of Silesia. The end of the war found Br 44s scattered throughout Germany, with significant numbers in Poland, France, and several other countries, with 1,242 remaining in the Western zone. Within eight years, the fleet was reduced by half as DB retired war-damaged locomotives and sent others to France as reparations.
During the mid-1950s, DB made several cosmetic changes to its Br 44 fleet. The most noticeable was the replacement of the large Wagner smoke deflectors with smaller Witte deflectors and the addition of a third headlight to the top of the smokebox door. As well, the circular lock in the middle of the smokebox was removed and replaced by a number plate. Last, the air and feed pumps were moved from the smokebox to the middle of both running boards. A handful of Br 44s received significant mechanical modifications. Five Br 44s received automatic stokers in the early 1950s. While conversion to stoker firing made things easier on the firemen, the rebuilt engines actually used more coal than if hand-fired, so DB did not equip any further units with stokers.
Several years later, locomotive 44 475 was modified by Henschel to burn fuel oil. The DB found that oil firing was more economical than coal fi ring not only due to decreased oil prices, but the fire could be managed better in all situations. This led to a rebuilding program that commenced in 1958 and saw 36 of the Br 44s converted to oil firing. Among them was our review model, engine 44 1264. The locomotives themselves received minor modifications to their boilers and fireboxes. The more noticeable changes were to their tenders. The coal bunkers were replaced by 129-square-foot oil tanks with preheater elements and piping that ran along the tops and ends. These conversions resulted in an increased horsepower rating of 2,100 per locomotive.
All 36 of the new oil-fired Br 44s were stationed at Bebra Locomotive Depot until 1962, when they were reassigned to other locomotive depots in the Kassel district. With the progressive electrification of DB’s main lines in central West Germany, many “Jumbos” (as they had been nicknamed by their crews) were transferred to the flatlands of northern West Germany to haul heavy iron ore trains from the North Sea to steel making centers in the Ruhr and the Saarland. A 2,000-ton ore train was usually hauled by a single Br 44 and a 4,000-ton train was handled by two Br 44s. In 1968, the oil-fired Jumbos were reclassified as Br 043s under a new computer renumbering scheme. This was possible as all the original Br 43 locomotives remained in East Germany following the war.
As DB retired more classes of steam locomotives in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Br 044s and Br 043s held on, continuing to do the jobs for which they were built. The BR 043s gained fame among German railfans for hauling Der Langer Heinrich (“The Long Henry”) 4,000-ton ore train on the Emsland line from the Port of Emden to Rheine. The train was so-named because of the capital “H” that the large ore hoppers were lettered with, denoting their rating that permitted them to be used in 4,000-ton trains. By the end of 1975, the number of Br 044 and Br 043 Jumbos on DB’s roster had fallen to 84, and by 1977 they were DB’s last active steam locomotive class. In May 1977, the last Br 044s were retired and on October 26, 1977, the last Br 043 Jumbo was retired after hauling an ore train out of Emden. With that, the steam era ended on West German rails. More than 40 examples of Br 44/043s have been saved from the scrapper’s torch and exist in various conditions in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, but only two are currently operational.
Trix’s HO Br 44
Trix’s Br 44 is the most recent HO-scale reproduction of a Br 44 to be offered by a major European firm. Following its 1997 merger with parent company Märklin, Trix has offered 2-rail versions of Märklin Br 44s every few years, but this marks the fi rst time that Trix has offered a Br 44 as both an oil-burner and a ÜK War Austerity locomotive. Our sample model (44 1264) is a replica of the locomotive as it appeared in the early 1960s, when it was assigned to the Kassel district and before it was renumbered in 1968 to 043 264-1. This places it in mid-to-late era III, according to European railroad time periods. The 44 1264 was built in 1942 by Borsig Locomotive Works at Hennigsdorf, Germany, and began life as a DRG unit. In 1949, it became a DB locomotive, and in 1958 was rebuilt as an oil burner. Nearly two years after its renumbering, the 043 264-1 was retired at Kassel and in 1970 sold for scrap.
The model arrives in a traditional Trix cardboard box containing a plastic clamshell and sleeve that hold the locomotive and tender securely in place. A 39-page owner’s manual with an English-language section accompanies the model along with a small spare parts bag. On removing the model from its plastic cradle, the first thing that struck me was the model’s die-cast metal construction. Both the locomotive and tender bodies along with the locomotive drive wheels are cast metal, with the cab and the oil bunker being the only major plastic parts of the unit.
The detail is very good, particularly in the cab interior and on the crossheads and drive rods. Paint application was uniform and reflected the satin black finish of a locomotive that had recently been shopped. All lettering was crisp and legible under magnification; with nothing missing for a DB era III Jumbo. All the major dimensions of the model were in-spec, save the slightly-higher-than-should-be buffer beam (pilot) height, which looked about a foot too high. This is a compromise Märklin/Trix engineer into their HO steam locomotive models in order to accommodate their close coupler mechanisms and claw couplers that are standard on Märklin/Trix HO-scale releases. As part of this compromise, the lead truck of the Br 44 is slightly smaller in diameter than it should be, to allow clearance of the coupler mechanism. These compromises are acceptable though, as they are not particularly noticeable except to the trained eye of a dedicated German model train connoisseur.
Märklin/Trix advertise their Br 44 as completely new tooling, which is always welcome as usually new models are mechanical upgrades from previous offerings and feature better detail. Such is the case with the Br 44. Older Märklin and Trix models, going all the way back to Märklin’s first HO-scale Br 44 in 1950, had oversized components and many had exposed gearing in the chassis. Over the decades, the Br 44 has been refined to what it is today, and it is an outstanding model that is both reliable and rugged yet does not lack in detail or look toy-like.
When looking at the overall appearance of Trix’s Br 44, the word that comes to mind is “thick,” because of its beefy appearance compared to other German Einheits locomotive classes. (It wasn’t called “the Jumbo” for nothing!) In addition to the cab housing and oil bunker cover, numerous other plastic details round out Trix’s Br 44. With the exception of the cylinder rod sleeves that are a user-applied part to be used on layouts with 20-inch radius curves or wider and the plastic dummy couplers, the engine and tender are ready to run right out of the box. Trix recommends installing a Märklin 7226 smoke generator for smoke operation, which you simply insert into the smokestack until contact is made with the base plate. No crew figures are supplied but Preiser, Faller, and Noch make era III steam crew figure sets perfect for the Br 44.
Setting the locomotive and tender on the programming track, I found they were semi-permanently connected by an adjustable drawbar that allows a wider spacing between the engine and tender for track radius down to 14 3/16 inches, or a closer spacing (my choice) for track radius of more than 20 inches. Cables run between the decoder and speaker in the tender to the 5-pole can motor with flywheel in the locomotive firebox.
I greatly appreciate that Trix has chosen to locate the motor inside the locomotive rather than putting it in the tender as other manufacturers sometimes do. In previous Br 44s I have owned, the motor was located in the tender and the locomotive drive wheels were not powered which leads to the drivers binding on curved sections, even though the drivers had side play in them. In Trix’s Br 44, the motor drives a worm gear that powers the fourth coupled set of drivers, which in turn powers the other drivers through the side rods. The first and fourth drive axles are rigid in the frame but the second, third, and fifth drive axles have a certain amount of side play to negotiate curves. This design, along with traction tires and the model’s 1-pound 3/8-ounce weight, make for excellent traction capable of pulling dozens of cars on level track.
As the Br 44 is a three-cylinder locomotive, you may ask if the internal third cylinder actually powers the second axle. On the Märklin/Trix Br 44 it does not, but there is a dummy cylinder rod that rests on the frame of the locomotive between the second driver and the internal cylinder. It is really not noticeable on the model or even on a working prototype because it is so concealed by the motion work on the outside of the locomotive, but I have seen before where a functioning third cylinder was built into an HO Br 44 by a brass locomotive manufacturer.
After giving the Trix Br 44 an ad-dress on my programming track and re-assigning some function icons with my PIKO Smart Control system, I put the model through its paces on Kato Unitrack with 31-inch radius curves. The Br 44s deeper European flanges posed no problem on the Code 83 rail, but I would not suggest running it on anything lighter as they would likely bump along the spike heads. The locomotive started out at a crawl on step 1 of both 28 and 128 speed steps and continued to run fl awlessly through the highest settings of 28 and 128 speed steps. There was faint motor noise in non-sound mode and no motor noise detectable in sound mode. The mfx-format decoder allows the model to be run on both digital and analog layouts, but only certain sound functions are available in analog mode. The mfx decoder, which is specific to Märklin products, is capable of up to 32 functions, but the Br 44 had only 24 functions programmed into it; most were sound functions.
The warm white LED headlights are directional dependent, and a cab light function is also included. As I mentioned previously, Trix recommends installa-tion of a Märklin 7226 smoke generator, which I did purchase separately and was rewarded with high-quality smoke output. The speaker is set to a fairly loud overall volume, and I determined that each individual sound did not have selectable volume. There are two whistle functions; the first is a normal blast on the progressive three-tone whistle used for grade crossings and station departures, and the other is a single short blast used for switching. I would like to see the main whistle function have different blast sequences, and for that matter, be “playable” like some whistle functions on North American steam locomotive models.
The other sound functions were a bit loud for my liking, but they are not as noticeable when randomly activated while the locomotive is working. The chuff is sufficiently loud, and yes, it is a three-cylinder chuff; making the staccato exhaust sound a bit different than what we are used to hearing in North America. The Br 44 has a brake squeal function that is a bit of a challenge to activate. I found the only way to make it work was to run the locomotive at a high rate of speed and immediately dial back to zero in about a half second. At that, the sound was not all that convincing and did not last as long as it should. Maybe this will be improved on future releases. As well, the rail clank function was only audible when I had the main sound function deactivated.
Despite my qualms with the sound functions and the higher-than-should-be buffer beams, I remain impressed with Trix’s HO-scale Br 44 oil-fired steam locomotive. It is a great looking era III model that, like the Brawa Br 57 reviewed in February 2019 MRN, is a must for an era III Deutsche Bundes-bahn layout.
Märklin/Trix build rugged and reliable model trains for long-lasting operation, and at the same time they are nicely detailed. The Trix oil-fired Br 44 is the perfect locomotive for their OOtz 41 12-car ore train set. Märklin offers an additional 24-car matching OOtz 41 set that can be converted to 2-rail DC operation simply by asking your dealer for the exchange wheelsets. If you find your Trix DB Br 44 having trouble hauling that many loaded ore cars, no need to worry, Trix offers an additional oil-fired DB Br 44 with road number 44 176 (22983).
German Federal Railroads
Class 44 steam locomotive 22981
P.O. Box 2649
Lake Ozark, MO 65049