The Swiss Crocodile in this feature is Ron Brook’s 4mm scale model of an iconic electric locomotive – named after its long low snouts – modified from the Rosebud Kitmaster model. Kit 12, moulded in Raunds, Northamptonshire between 1959 and 1962, was one of many ( to British modellers of the time) exotic foreign choices such as Italian 0-6-0T number 8 and Deutsche Bundesbahn Baureihe 23 number 19 – all set among the more familiar Battle of Britain Pacifics and BR Standard Moguls. Indeed, it has been pointed out that Kitmaster might have been more successful in its foreign sales had its European and American locomotives and rolling stock been made to the H0 (1/87) scale used in the USA and on the Continent rather than the 00 (1/76) familiar in Britain.
The instruction sheet began:
Swiss Federal Railways “Crocodile” Series Be 6/8
The locomotives of this series had been specially constructed for the hauling of heavy freight trains over the steep gradients of the Swiss Alps. Over the Gotthard main line, for example, southwards from the Lake of Lucerne, the line climbs roughly 2 000 feet in 18 miles, and has long stretches of 1 in 40 over which heavy passenger and goods trains have to be worked. Very powerful locomotives, therefore, in order that reasonable speeds may be maintained. The “Crocodile” locomotive is able to haul a train of 300 tons up this incline at a steady 31 mph, or to handle a train of 1 500 tons on easier gradients.
The technical details of the Series Be 6/8 locomotives are as follows:
Diameter of driving wheels 4′ 6 1/8″
Diameter of bogie wheels 3′ 1 3/8″
Service weight 130.9 tons
Friction weight 108.4 tons
Maximum tractive effort 6 000 lb
Length 65′ 9″
Continuous rating at 23 mph 2 200 bhp
Maximum speed 46 mph
With regards to the series indications, i.e. Be 6/8, it is interesting to note that the first, and capital letter, refers to speed (A=over 80 km/h, B=70-80 km/h, C=60-65/km/h) et cetera, and the second, miniscule letter “e” indicates that it is an electric traction vehicle. As to the figures given in the form of a fraction, the one before the stroke, or the numerator, indicates the number of driving axles, and the one behind the stroke, or the denominator, indicates the total number of axles; thus 6/6 = six driving axles to a total number of 6 axles i.e. all axles are driving in this case.
During the years 1926-1927, 18 locomotives of this series were built and the numbers range from 13301 to 13318. They are now being used in more level parts of the country, as the new 6 600 bhp electric locomotives ( Series Ae 6/6 numbers 11401 – 11450) which replace them on the Gotthard are being supplied.
The decals supplied with Rosebud Kit 12 representing the 1C-C1 (or 2-6-0+0-6-2) centre cab engine are for the number 13305, nowadays preserved in its post 1956 Be 6/8 condition with the yellow grab rails standardised for all Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) motive power in that year. However, Swiss Historic 13305 would have started life in 1926 with gearing for higher torque at low speed and is thus most often designated as Class Ce 6/8 III. Similarly, SBB locomotives 13301 to 13318 would have worn brown rather than green livery up to 1928.
Having received the assembled plastic model from Ron unpainted, I added missing handrails fashioned from paperclips and based the green, grey and white livery on internet images rather than the colour scheme suggested by Kitmaster which included a British style red buffer beam. The green element was created by mixing Humbrol Gloss 3 with about 30% of the matt mid grey used on the running gear.
As such – in its un-numbered unweathered straight-out-of-the-paintshop livery (without even worn pantograph contacts!) it would make a good companion for some Swiss Air Force de Havilland Venoms and Hawker Hunters on Universal Works! Until then however, the model will be stored in separate nose and cab sections, reflecting the way in which the real Be 6/8 III would have pivoted to negotiate sharp curves and setting the Swiss Crocodiles apart from many outwardly similar centre-cab electric engines in Europe and the USA with rigid superstructures and either bogies or rigid wheelbases.
Bordered by France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Lichtenstein, the Swiss Confederation with its capital at Bern was formed in 1291 and later became free of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The first railway station in Switzerland was built in 1845 at Basel at the end of the French Alsace Railway although the first purely Swiss standard gauge line opened between Baden and Zurich in 1847.
On 20 February 1898 the Swiss people agreed by referendum to the creation of a state owned railway company to take over the many private railways that had been built in Switzerland during the 19th century. Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) began operations on 1 January 1902.
From the 1920s, Swiss Federal Railways prioritized railway electrification – largely on the 15 000 volts ac overhead catenary system – in order to win back public confidence after the First World War had interrupted supplies of imported coal. Although steam was not to disappear from SBB until 1968, even major secondary lines in the landlocked mountainous country were to be electrified with hydro electric power by 1937. Indeed, when the Second World War brought shortages of both coal and the metal needed to build new electric locomotives, SBB created some “steam electric” shunting engines by replacing their boiler firetubes with heating elements energised from the overhead catenary.
Today such marvels of civil engineering as the Gotthard base tunnel have reinforced Switzerland’s position as the high speed railway crossroads of Europe, not least as they also carry many of the heavy articulated lorries banned from the roads by the traditionally neutral nation’s strict environmental protection laws.