In January, 1990, a Swiss private cogwheel railway company went to Vietnam to purchase seven antique steam locomotives that have been abandoned in oblivion along the lost railway of Song Pha - Dalat. It has been told that those rusted, useless engines would be restored for museum display as part of Swiss heritage, since most of them had been originally made and departed from Switzerland for almost a century ago.
The story of Vietnam Hoa Xa (VHX) steam locomotives seemed to be ended nicely at the display room of some Swiss museum; but beyond expectation, they kept running again thanks to a dedicated team of all voluntary Swiss railroad servicemen. Indeed, they have been restored functionally to their glory days. The series of following photos will give you somewhat comprehensible concept of steam engine's restoration and will entice your admiration for the Swiss railroad craftsmanship; because many various non-existing spare parts have to be meticulously custom made from hand-drawn blueprint. In 2006's, Furko company has successfully restored 2 engines, DFB-1 Furkahorn (former VHX 31-201) and DFB-9 Gletschhorn (former VHX 31-204 ). In 2007's. it has begun the rework on VHX 40-308 (type HG 4/4). Once finished (scheduled in 2009 or 2010) the VHX HG 4/4 type will be the most powerful cogwheel locomotive in Europe, and will be operated in the reopening of the complete mountain line to Oberwald. So let's dedicate this humble web page to the passionate and talented Swiss railroad craftsmen, who not only brought the languished VHX engines to the magnificent piece of machinery but also literally saved them from being scavenged if they still lay in the lost time, along the abandoned railbed of Langbian plateau of Vietnam.
The Restoration of Steam Locomotive
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE STEAM LOCOMOTIVE HG 4/4
The steam locomotives HG 4/4 (four axes coupled) have been built in the workshops of the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Factory in Winterthur between 1923 and 1930. France purchased during these years seven of these engines for its colony Indochina (today Vietnam). These and other Cogwheel steam locomotives were operating in the southern part of the country, connecting the coast with Da Lat a village 5000 feet above sea level with a pleasant climate. The railroad line suffered considerably during the Vietnam war and with its end exploitation stopped. The locomotives fell into hibernation. Only in 1983 some Swiss people remembered the existence of these veterans. After several years of negotiations and thanks to a competent and enthusiastic group of the DFB " Furka Cogwheel Steam Railway" two locomotives HG 4/4 were purchased and repatriated with much publicity. The two complete locomotives and one frame were transfered to the DFB workshop in Chur where they await the complete rework. It was to our great advantage, that the railroad in Vietnam was using the same technical standard as the Furka Oberalp line (Today Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn) There should be no problem to operate these engines on the tracks of the DFB. Once operational they will be the most powerful cogwheel steam locomotives in Europe (if not the world) and will represent together with the original Locomotives of the Visp Zermattbahn and the Furka Oberalpbahn a unique testimony of Swiss engineering art and knowledge.
Delivery of locomotives was made to the "Chemin de fer de l'Indochine" (CFI) beginning 1924. (Serial 701 - 705) In 1929 the Machine factory of Esslingen in Germany supplied two more of these locomotives built under license of SLM as war indemnification with the numbers 708 and 709 (SLM No 3413 and 3414. After 1949 and now under Vietnamese administration all locomotives received new numbers with prefix VHX (Vietnam Hoa Xa) Serial 40-302 to 40-308
Construction Highlights in the development of Cogwheel Steam Locomotives.
Separated Mechanism for the cogwheel and adhesion drive "System Winterthur" The two Low pressure cylinders drive over an intermediate reduction gear the two cogwheel. These are adjustable in height and can be easily adapted to the wear of the adhesion drive wheels. The adhesion drive is as commonly used on steam engines on the outside with its respective cylinders.
Driving on the adhesion tracks only, the lower outside cylinders i.e. the High Pressure Cylinders receive the live steam. Traveling on the cogwheel sections the locomotive works in the compound action mode i.e. the live steam after expansion in the high pressure cylinders is directed to the low pressure cylinders driving the cog wheels. This allows an optimal power distribution and control.
This type of driving mechanism has been used by the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Factory with great success and was part of many export orders. (Source: Photos and text of furka-bergstrecke)
SWITZERLAND SAVED THE LAST STEAM LOCOMOTIVES OF INDOCHINA
In January 1990, Switzerland bought the two "wreckages" of steam engines # VHX 31-302 (languished at Song Pha station) and #VHX 31-304 (resting at Dalat station) and transported back home for museum restoration. A job well done for switzerland in preserving some historical pieces of "Chemin de fer de L'indochine."
Contrary to what I have been thinking, the DFB Company (Dampfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke) didn't restore those VHX "junks" to put in museum, but to repair them to full-function magnificent locomotives . Thanks to Francois B, I finally was able to track down to where about those 2 VHX HG 3/4 style steam engines and obtained some of their great looking photos (The Furka Company purchased a total of 7 antique steam engines from Hoa Xa Vietnam, including HG 3/4 and HG 4/4 style engines). Today, the engines keep serving as cogwheel locomotives which haul tourists' coaches along some 24 km beautiful passes in Alps mountain. What a great ending!
(Added 4 photos) Hoa Xa Vietnam's Steam Locomotives Before Restoration
Two year ago I tried to track down the photos of Vietnamese steam engines that were sold to switzerland and found only two pictures. Today, thanks to buddy Francois I found the "gold mine," a lot of them, before and after resotration. Looking at the way the swiss handled the antique machines in transportation, one should realize that the swiss didn't buy many pieces of junk: They were treasure! :0)
VHX ENGINES ON THE WAY TO FURKA (SWITZERLAND)
HOA XA VIETNAM 'S STEAM ENGINES' AFTER RESTORATION
Correction notes on some of the photos: The engine FO1 DFB1-Furkahorn has been restored from VHX 31-201, and The engine FO9 DFB9-Gletschhorn from VHX 31-204.
See the VHX 31-201 (DFB-1 FURKAHORN) and VHX 31-204 (DFB-9 Gletschhorn) running again