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 Chapter 23


Heissen, December 27, 1937

Klaus had hoped to hear something by Christmas, but there hadn't been a word. It was beginning to look as if Hitler hadn't taken them seriously.

In some ways Klaus wasn't so sorry. He certainly had never intended to help the Nazis conquer Russia. True, it might save England, and perhaps France. But the price could be that of making Nazi Germany the most powerful country in the world. He and Charlotte had discussed these matters almost continuously since his return from Berlin. Their conclusion had been that, if they did manufacture Challengers, there must be so much wrong with them that they could never be used effectively, even in Russia.

One of their immediate objectives was the promotion of incompetent younger personnel over more experienced and abler men. The first and best prospect in this connection was Walter Bock, the husband of a member of Charlotte's group, the rather sad little Margarethe Bock.

Klaus had originally learned about Bock from Franz Kaler. A young accountant, he didn't seem to be fitting in terribly well. With an obvious desire to impress, he tried to complete work as quickly as possible, often missing the point. When given instructions, he would claim to have a better and quicker way of going about the task.

As Bock's alternative method seldom bore fruit, his superior in the finance office, Herr Fritsch, made his instructions increasingly precise. Moreover, he often required Bock to go back and do things over again. The latter then pouted, and complained to his peers. From them, however, he received scant sympathy. They regarded him as obnoxious, self-serving, and affected.

Charlotte had a different perspective on Bock, tempered as it was by the personality of his wife. According to Charlotte, her last meeting with Margarethe had been quite productive.

"Janice took Annaliese and Margarethe shopping, and then back here for one of those clothes-trying-on sessions they love so much. They mostly involve my wardrobe. In truth, it's more varied and interesting than things that can be bought here. Besides, I often give the girls dresses."

Klaus was amused.

"I can see that wearing one of your dresses must by now be a distinct sign of status around here. Will you have to go to Paris to replenish?"

"Not just yet. I came well supplied. Anyhow, in this group, Margarethe is very much a distant third. Janice and Annaliese know how good looking they are, and play slightly cruel games with Margarethe. After a bit of this, I took her off to have drinks in the lounge, and got her a little tipsy while the others remained upstairs."

In the course of this conversation, carefully guided by Charlotte, a great deal had come out about Walter. He didn't mind Margarethe's relative absence of mammary development, and occasionally called her his little rabbit. Sometimes, in the throes of passion, he also called her his little whore, but in a nice way.

While Margarethe hadn't much impressed Janice or Annaliese, or, for that matter, Charlotte, Walter seemed to regard her in a quite different way. According to Charlotte,

"He's one of those men who makes his wife into a goddess. She may be his little whore-rabbit in bed, but, before things reach that stage, he has her dress up in her most elegant clothes and jewelry. She then walks around the house like a visiting princess. She also pretends to rebuff him while he practically grovels on the floor. Then, when she allows herself to be taken, all the time protesting, he goes wild."

Klaus was uncomfortable about being told this sort of detail. He pointed out,

"Can you imagine how Bock would feel if he knew his wife went around talking this way?"

Charlotte laughed and gestured gaily,

"It's what's called the "all girls together phenomenon," dear. Since you don't do what Walter does, I make up similar stories about you. After all, I have to keep up my end of the conversation."

Klaus gestured mock-resignedly, and Charlotte came back to the point.

"What was most interesting in this connection is that Walter seems to lie to Margarethe about his professional progress in the company."

Charlotte had several examples of stories Walter had told his wife about his exploits as an accountant. On a number of occasions, Herr Fritsch had been forced to admit that Walter's methods were superior to his own. As Charlotte had suspected, Klaus was able to testify to the unlikelihood of these boasts. Charlotte then expanded,

"There was something even more interesting that came out later. Annaliese and Janice had rejoined us, wearing my dresses. As I'm sure they expected, I complimented them and gave them the dresses. They had also brought one down for Margarethe. By this time, I had her ego built up a bit, and she tried it on without objection. While they might well have brought her down something calculated to make her look foolish, the dress actually suited her well. I insisted that she keep it, and everyone said flattering things. It was, I suppose, the first time she had ever had so much praise. She was practically on air, and had another glass of wine.

Somehow the conversation shifted, and Annaliese began talking, in that mixture of English and German she uses with Janice, about a friend of theirs who had lost his job in Berlin. It seemed that he'd been fired for stealing from the company."

Charlotte paused to help herself to a portion of the Christmas cake that still remained. She then took up her account.

"I didn't think much about it at first. I suppose that I had expected the others to remark how unfortunate it was, or to suggest that he might have been wrongly accused. In fact, I was about to make some such remark when I picked up something odd. These three young women don't have the standard Anglo- Saxon, or I thought Teutonic, reaction to financial dishonesty. They talked as if anyone might steal from the company, and this in the presence of the boss' wife. I was quite puzzled."

Klaus replied slowly,

"Janice is a mystery to me in this area, as in others. But I could venture a suggestion about the young German ladies. It is not, I might claim with reasonable modesty, a German characteristic to steal. Kaler, for example, has had all the opportunity anyone could want, and has never taken a penny. But the Nazis have changed some things. Stealing from a Jew would be almost a virtue. These people are so ideological that ordinary virtues and vices have to be redefined in political terms. A rising young Nazi might be justified in stealing from a number of sources other than the government or a party comrade."

Charlotte replied,

"No one gave that justification, but Annaliese did make it sound as if her friend could do no wrong. Anyway, she got a lot of sympathy for him when she said he couldn't get another job because of the bad recommendations."

Charlotte tapped Klaus on the hand, as if he might have been bored by what seemed a digression. She then spoke emphatically,

"It was then that the interesting thing happened. Little Margarethe spoke up very uncharacteristically. Granted, she had been built up, but I've never seen her so sure of herself. She told Annaliese to tell her friend to write false recommendations from a place where he had never worked. She went into some detail. She said that the new employer would never bother to check."

"So you think that's what Walter did when he came here?"

"I'd bet anything on it. If you fired Herr Fritsch and appointed Walter in his place, you'd get someone who's both incompetent and a cheat. Probably a thief as well. If you fixed it so he could get away with stealing, I'm sure he would. Margarethe's expectations are rising fast, and she's going to be very expensive to support. If Walter gets a promotion, she'll also become very obnoxious to everyone left at a lower station. The mousy kind always does."

Klaus mopped his forehead. Even though he was committed to wrecking the company, actions like these, effective as they might be, filled him with horror. The injustice to Fritsch, for example, was unconscionable. He would have to be given some very lucrative retirement somewhere far away. Klaus also wondered how he could ever explain it to Kaler. Of course, it was just possible that Kaler would catch on and see the drift. But how would Kaler then react?

Heissen, December 29, 1937

The call was a personal one from Herr Reinhardt, and came in the evening. It was congratulatory in tone.

"You made a good impression on everyone, even Balck. Your orders will filter down eventually through the bureaucracy, but they amount to this. For the next six months, you'll go on producing locomotives of standard design for the State Railways. However, you can start designing your own engines and then go over to the production of them. Three fourths of these engines must be suitable for the existing rail network, and they must be judged acceptable for those purposes. The final fourth will consist of super-power locomotives."

As Klaus assured Reinhardt that they would begin preparations immediately, the latter added something else.

"There was one final query, which is characteristic of the Fuhrer. I'm almost certain that it comes directly from him. It asks whether it would be possible to give us locomotives that are even more powerful than the Challenger."

Klaus, for a moment, didn't know what to say. He knew that the UP and the American Locomotive Works did have on the drawing board an enlarged version of the Challenger with sixteen driving wheels instead of twelve. It quickly occurred to him that it would be easier to introduce error into a new design than one that had already proved itself an extraordinary success. He therefore replied cautiously.

"I think so, sir. We probably can add two more pairs of driving wheels and sacrifice only a little speed, perhaps none at all."

After he got off the telephone, Klaus announced the news to Charlotte. Almost as he did so, several additional ways of ensuring that the new engines would be badly adapted to the German environment occurred to him.

Heissen, March 6, 1938

Standing beside the engine were Klaus, Franz Kaler, and the engine-driver. The Pacific looming above them wasn't, to Klaus' way of thinking, a terribly big engine. But, except for its buffers and the tender, it didn't look very German. Almost all its components were American, even down to the Timken roller bearings on all the axles.

There was a flurry of activity at the arrival of Herr Wilhelm Strauss, the regional locomotive superintendant. Klaus greeted him elaborately. Herr Strauss responded with a wan smile and a critical look at the locomotive. Strauss must be wondering, Klaus thought, how much effort it would take to produce identical engines in Heissen.

Klaus had also known from the beginning that the railwaymen would resent not being consulted before he was given a free hand in the design of so many new locomotives. He had tried to mitigate this feeling by asking for their suggestions as far as possible. However, the locomotive designers and superintendants had, for the most part, been rather sceptical. They were interested in making small improvements and modifications on existing designs, and hardly knew what to suggest when faced with such different ones.

With four men in the cab, things were rather crowded. However, since the firebox didn't have to be manually stoked, Klaus and his guest were able to stand on the middle of the footplate, just back of the firebox door. There wasn't much to hang on to, but a sliding sheet of steel reassuringly covered the gap between engine and tender. Still, even if there was no danger, a sudden jerk could send them sprawling in any number of painful and undignified ways. Since Strauss' temper wasn't terribly good to begin with, Klaus hoped that his physical equilibrium wouldn't be unduly disturbed.

It had been arranged for the engine to run light at first, and then back down on the train. The start was as gentle as a whisper. The roller bearings allowed the engine to run more quietly and smoothly than any Strauss would be likely to have encountered. Once they were coupled to a train with the usual European bearings, the advantage would be negligible. In any case, this engine had been built with loving care. It felt as if it were the work of a watchmaker on a giant scale as it rolled effortlessly down the track. Klaus stole a glance at Herr Strauss. He looked a little surprised and remarked rather unpleasantly,

"A demonstration engine is one thing. The production ones will probably rattle and bounce off the tracks."

Klaus, always avoiding a direct lie whenever possible, replied,

"The bearings and suspension systems will all be the same, sir."

Strauss, a tall squarely built man, replied only by tugging his felt hat further down on his forehead.

The demonstration train was a passenger one, a little longer and heavier than most. In the dynamometer car, right behind the engine, were seated a number of railway officials, waiting to check the performance of this first of the new engines. The first test was to set the brakes of the train, but not the engine, and measure the amount of force the engine could exert before its drivers slipped on the rails. The crafty Kaler, knowing where the demonstration train would be spotted, had had men out for several nights working on the track. They had begun by shifting the rails almost imperceptibly nearer together. This would cause each set of drivers to be almost wedged between the rails with the flanges in contact with the inside of each rail. The rails had then been roughened with files and pitted with tiny drops of acid.

Since the engines were intended for freight as well as passenger traffic, they should really have had at least eight drivers instead of six. Even though there was a lot of weight on each of the driving wheels, they would slip more easily than eight or ten coupled drivers. There might then be difficulty in starting some of the German freight trains ordinarily pulled by the workhorse 2-10-0 engines.

Klaus thus held his breath as the engineer opened the throttle. They moved a few inches to take up the slack, and the engine then strained against the train. Klaus, expecting to feel the drivers slip and spin uselessly on the rails, was caught unprepared. Indeed, he and Strauss were both knocked down as there was a great jerk.

Delighted, Klaus turned to Strauss as the sounds of explosive exhausts filled his ears. The appalling screeches from the rear indicated that the engine was actually dragging the train, with wheels locked, along the track. Klaus quickly signalled to the engineer to stop before they got off the specially prepared track. He then helped Herr Strauss up with great solicitude. Having captured his guest's hat before it rolled out of the cab, he dusted it off before returning it. As far as effective tractive force was concerned, they were off the scale.

When Kaler came trotting up and offered to repeat the test, Klaus realized that they must still be on his doctored track. Strauss refused rather bleakly, still rubbing his rear end. Klaus therefore asked Kaler to have the brake hoses hooked up to the train in preparation for their run.

Hearing Strauss, behind him, muttering something about a tricky little devil, Klaus looked closely at Kaler. The latter didn't look smug or conniving, or as if he were about to wink. On the contrary, Kaler looked as if he had just made a substantial contribution to an extremely worthy charity. There was, his look said, no reason why everyone shouldn't share his happiness. Strauss evidently knew Kaler well enough to suspect that something was wrong, but he seemed not to have guessed the true explanation.

The second part of the demonstration consisted in a simulated passenger run of some fifty kilometers with an intermediate stop. There was, of course, a schedule to be maintained. The start this time was much smoother, and the engine accelerated impressively as it clanked over the switches and crossovers to the main line.

They were soon on a long gently rising grade which curved to follow the river. The engine was at its best in this setting. It really did have plenty of power, and, once started, there was no danger of the drivers slipping. Strauss had his eye fixed firmly on the boiler pressure gauge, evidently expecting it to drop as the engine approached the summit. Klaus was gratified to see it hold steady, even as they accelerated to a satisfactory 90 kilometers per hour.

Here, again, Kaler had been at work. Two men had spent the last week picking over the coal to be used, and had even knocked the discolored spots out of the large chunks with a chisel. They had also squirted a little oil into the coal, which had soaked it up quickly.

Once they were over the summit, the engine driver grabbed the brake handle and opened the valve slightly. Under ordinary circumstances, he could have let the train pick up speed on the moderate downgrade before braking. However, in their previous private demonstration, the engine was a little over-matched at 110 kph, a speed often reached by ordinary German passenger trains.

Nothing terrible had happened, but the relatively small drivers were turning awfully fast to the detriment of both running gear and track. That was just as Klaus had intended, but they wouldn't go over 95 kph unless Strauss demanded it. Fortunately, the curves and grades were just severe enough so that it would have been presumptuous to have pressed the engine driver to go faster than he thought wise.

They arrived thirty seconds early at the intermediate station. Their good performance on the rising grades had made up for their caution on the down grades. Again, as they left the country station with the safety valve popping, their good acceleration gave them a little time to play with. There was then a fairly long flat straight stretch, but, providentially, they caught a warning distant signal for which they had to slow down. When they again reached a clear block, they were back in the hills, and the engine performed even better than it had before. They were only a few seconds late at the destination, which, considering the delay, was quite good.

As everyone piled out of the dynamometer car on to the platform, Klaus was glad to see Kaler. He hadn't planned to come, but had apparently hopped aboard at the last minute. As it happened, Kaler's presence solved a problem.

The plan was for an engine waiting at the station to couple on to the demonstration train and take it, and the dozen visitors, to Munich. Klaus, and now Kaler, would return aboard their own Pacific. But, before the separation, it was obviously appropriate for Klaus to take the visiting firemen to lunch at the station inn.

Klaus was a reasonably accomplished host when Charlotte was there to be the hostess. Without her he was somewhat uncomfortable. Moreover, many of these men had risen from engine drivers or switchmen to yardmasters or engine-house superintendants, and now to railway officials. There was still a working-class atmosphere about them, and, in their world, nothing was free. They had done their inspection, and they now expected something to eat and drink before volunteering their thoughts. The man who could march up, throw his arms over some shoulders, and shout loudly for beer all around would be the man of the moment. Klaus couldn't even imagine doing anything of the sort.

Kaler wasn't quite the hearty type either, but, at a nod from Klaus, he took things in hand. The tone he set wasn't that of the local bar after work in the yards, but something equally, or even more, suitable. It was of a group of businessmen who were out of town and beyond the reach of gossip that might reach their wives or employers. The lunch would be a festive one. Drinks without number would appear on the least provocation. It even seemed conceivable that there might be other forms of entertainment. It was at this point that Kaler became positively sly and insinuating.

It was forgotten that he was known as one of the cleverest men in railway circles, and not above a trick here and there. Or, if not forgotten, the assumption was that the trickster was now on the right side. For all anyone knew, he might pull a beautiful prostitute out of his vest pocket.

In the event, no woman, beautiful or otherwise, popped out of vest pockets, cakes, or anything else. But the party was an unqualified success.

Klaus found himself largely ignored at one end of the table. Speaking and smiling enough not to seem standoffish to anyone who happened to look, he let matters proceed happily. After a short time, the conversation turned to the test of the locomotive. The attitudes of the visitors seemed to be somewhat ambivalent.

They had been knocked flat in the dynamometer car when its brakes had been overcome. They had evidently responded to the overly exuberant American engine much as they would to a braggart of an American tourist who lit his cigars with European bank notes. But, then, they were also professionals capable of swallowing a little pride. In the end, they all agreed that the engine would fill a gap in freight traffic. Much faster than the standard 2-10-0, it could haul a much heavier train than any of the other, lighter, freight locomotives in the system. There was also agreement that it was well suited for passenger traffic in the hills of southern Germany. As for the rest, there were many shrugged shoulders.

Klaus noticed that Kaler made no attempt to argue with anyone, and confined himself to supervising the food and drink. He evidently knew what he was doing. There was a gradual, but perceptible, change in the attitudes of the guests toward the locomotive that had just pulled them.

It wasn't a matter of detailed judgments. No one, for example, denied that the engine would get lost on the plains of Prussia, trying to keep schedule with an express. But that fact seemed to diminish in importance. There would, after all, be other engines that could do that. No one pointed out that it wasn't just expresses, but the majority of passenger trains, that were expected to sometimes hit 120 kph. Someone did say that, today, they had been ahead of schedule when they encountered the warning signal. Kaler nodded appreciatively and suggested some cognac. One of the toasts that followed was addressed to the new locomotive.

Herr Strauss, who was sitting next to Klaus, wasn't affected as much as the others by the general mood. Toward the end, he addressed Klaus, not enthusiastically, but pleasantly enough.

"As you know, Herr Seydlitz, we don't always have a great deal to say about locomotive procurement. I'd prefer larger drivers, but I dare say your engine will do well enough."

It was as much as they had any right to expect. Actually, Klaus felt, a bit more. As he thanked Strauss and suggested that they might later produce a model with larger drivers, he gave Kaler a meaningful look. It was time to quit while they were ahead.

On the way back, Klaus told Kaler that it was time to proceed full blast with retooling for the Pacific. With Hitler's general directive at one level and Strauss' somewhat reluctant consent at another, no one would try to stop them. Harold would have the designs for the big engines ready in six weeks. They would then begin on the difficult task of re- tooling the works to produce new engines while still producing the old in diminishing quantities.

There was only one thing that Klaus didn't mention to Kaler. It was, of course, common knowledge to both that any steam locomotive damaged the track. The weight of the rods connecting the driving wheels to each other, and to the cylinders, hit the track with what amounted to sledge hammer blows each time they descended. The weight of the rods was balanced by the counter-weights cast into the driving wheels, but, then, the counter-weights hit the track with another blow each time they descended. Each blow loosened the track components an imperceptible amount. Little fractures would develop in the ties and the hardware connecting the rails to them. Even the steel rail would suffer those little fractures, and would eventually have to be replaced.

Kaler probably didn't realize how much more track maintenance was needed on an American railway with its larger engines, but there was something else he didn't know.

The engine that was presently running so smoothly had side-rods made from a special alloy a trifle lighter than the usual one. When it was copied in Heissen, and the same steel used in the rest of the engine was used for the side-rods, they would be a trifle too heavy to balance the counter- weights.

Frank Scrutt had already done experiments with rods of different weight on the C, L, and N, and had discovered the right discrepancy. The difference wouldn't be noticeable at low or even medium speeds, but would lead to an unpleasant vibration at higher speeds. It would also considerably magnify the damage done to track and roadbed.

It was fortunate that damage to track was hard to trace. All sorts of locomotives would have passed over any given stretch of the track. It would take elaborate statistical measures with records that might not exist, applied over a considerable period of time, to discover the culprits.

When the trouble was eventually traced to Klaus' engines, the blame would probably be placed on the small drivers spinning faster than on any other engine in the system. The design would then be examined, and the counterweights in the wheels would be re-calculated. They would be found to be correct. Klaus wondered how long it would take them to remove the rods and weigh them to discover that the figures in the design didn't quite match reality. Even then, they'd have to manufacture new rods and begin the onerous process of replacing the rods on each engine.

Apart from the damage to track and roadbed, Klaus' plan depended on the psychology of the average engineer of the average passenger train. His old engine having been retired, he would find himself with one of Klaus' engines. He would have no trouble starting the train. A touch on the throttle and there would be a jerk which would send people in the aisles reeling. He would quickly accelerate up to the engine's natural speed of some 75 kilometers an hour. However, he was used to running at 90 with bursts over a hundred, and had to do so to keep to schedule.

The fireman, meantime, would be pleased with the new- fangled automatic stoker. It would work well and keep the fire burning hotter than in the old engines. He would inform the engineer that they had plenty of steam, and the latter would open the throttle some more. At eighty to eighty five there would be an unpleasant drumming sound, but still no shortage of steam. At ninety, the motion of the locomotive would be unpleasant.

The engineer, perhaps unconsciously, would slow down a little, to the low eighties. They would be a little late, and they might tell everyone who would listen that they didn't like the engine. But their superiors would probably put it down to the American origin of the engines, and say that it was too late to do anything about it.

The matter of scheduling would actually be rather serious. Two or three minutes here and there might not seem much, but the system very often had trains crossing each other's paths. A delay of two minutes could easily cause another train to stop. That, in turn, could cause problems elsewhere, and so on. Various exigencies, particularly in wartime, would cause engines to be sent hither and yon over the whole system. It would, in practice, be impossible to confine the new engines to one district.

Although the disease would begin by attacking the passenger system, the freight and military trains would get caught up in it, and the new Hudsons and Challengers would often find themselves stopped for red signals. Ultimately, in the face of an increasing number of delays and foul-ups, it would be necessary to re-schedule the whole system. But that would involve slowing down the present fast trains by a good five to ten kilometers an hour. Thus, if Klaus could provide engines fast enough to be initially acceptable, but slow enough to have these effects, he could materially damage the German railway system.

This, in turn, was part of a grander design. Germany had many fewer motor vehicles than England or France, not to mention America. Horses were still used to a large extent for the movement of goods, but, by and large, the transport system came down to the railways. There was a vast network of local lines, village passenger and freight stations, and frequent trains even in the most obscure places. If anything went seriously wrong with the railway system, there wasn't much to back it up.

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