Back on the rails again!

How the life of an antiquated steam locomotive has been saved

Back on the rails again!

'Schnaufi' is the name borne by a steam locomotive constructed over 100 years ago that found a home in the Engelsberger Hof playground in Solingen in 1971. This former Puffing Billy has since provided generations of children with a platform for fun and games where they can play engine driver or even climb up the chimney. And over all the years Schnaufi had never been the cause of a serious accident. However, in our age of increasingly stringent health and safety regulations, the authorities began to worry and in 2004 they introduced the first measures designed to prevent potential mishaps. A grating was mounted on the loco to prevent children climbing beneath it that also made surmounting the engine much more difficult. By late 2012, it looked like poor old Schnaufi was destined for the breaker's yard. The TÜV Rheinland regulatory body had concluded that such an extensive range of improvements was necessary that the local authority decided unanimously that their only option was to dismantle the playground train.

But in no time at all there was a corresponding backlash among local residents. A 'Save Schnaufi' citizens' action group soon attracted more than 1000 members through its online Facebook page. Now the objective was to work in close collaboration with Solingen local authority to find a way to keep Schnaufi 'up and running'.

Plans to rescue the old loco began to take the right track when contact was made with Berliner Seilfabrik, the play equipment manufacturer. Paul Hollmann of Tapper & Hollmann GmbH, Berliner Seilfabrik's local distributor, was absolutely convinced: "If there is anyone who can save Schnaufi, then it's these guys from Berlin!" After all, they have a reputation for coming up with individual and creative play equipment solutions.

The designers at Berliner Seilfabrik "began brainstorming in order to find options to ensure compliance with the stipulations of play equipment standard DIN EN 1176," reports Klaus Muth, Head of Engineering at Berliner Seilfabrik. "The main challenge was to minimise the potential fall height from the top and around the locomotive and, at the same time, retain its function as a piece of climbing equipment," is how Michael Ernst, Head of Production Planning summarises the situation. A further problem was the fact that there were no suitable existing technical designs for the locomotive because it had not been originally constructed as a piece of play equipment. So its dimensions had to be carefully determined to obtain a detailed overview of its structure.

The solution that finally found favour was the construction of a framework of nets with different mesh sizes in horizontal, vertical and inclined alignments. In order to be able to fasten the nets to the body of the locomotive, the necessary screw latches were attached to a steel strip at intervals conforming to the relevant mesh size and this strip was then welded to the locomotive body. The nets were spanned using 12 steel posts anchored in the ground around the locomotive. The external corners of the nets were attached to these with height- and positioning-adjustable aluminium clamps to ensure that the tension of the nets could be adapted if and when necessary.

As can be imagined, all this complex design and construction work did not come cheap, but that did not put off Solingen's residents one bit. The local authority assumed half the costs, while the 'Save Schnaufi' group managed to collect the rest of the money in the form of donations and through special events on the Engelsberger Hof playground.   

And there is no doubt that the result is well worth all the effort and expense. Once the TÜV Rheinland had set its signals to green it was clear that a more than 100-year-old railway engine had been successfully converted into a piece of play equipment that met all the stipulations of the latest safety requirements. Artur Pach of the local authority, who was in charge of awarding the contract, is also impressed: "There are two things I particularly like about the outcome here," he says. "Firstly that we were able to preserve the locomotive as a special feature of the Engelsberger Hof playground and secondly that Schnaufi has retained its original form but has been provided with new options for use in play."

By means of an ingenious tailor-made concept, Berliner Seilfabrik has ensured that the old locomotive will be staying on track for generations of children to come.

 

Image: Berliner Seilfabrik

 

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