In a country famous for mountain railroading, the Gotthard route is the greatest challenge, the one by which the Swiss Federal Railways measures its locomotives. Constructed at a cost of more than 200 lives, the Gotthard line snakes its way around spiral tunnels, across more than a thousand bridges and open passages, and through narrow mountain valleys, culminating in a 2.6% climb to the 9-mile-long Goddard Tunnel — the longest in the world when it was opened in 1882. The Gotthard was the stomping ground for the 2-10-0 “Elephants,” the largest steam engines ever used in Switzerland. But when the decision was made to electrify the route, the Elephants were replaced by Crocodiles.
To conquer the Gotthard’s tight turns and steep grades, Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works (SLM) designed a freight locomotive in three articulated sections: a double-ended center section housing two engineer’s stations, twin pantographs, and the huge high voltage transformer; and two end sections, each with two electric motors powering a single jackshaft that transmitted power to the 53” drivers, using steam-locomotive-type drive rods. The jackshaft drive was dictated by the motors available at the time, which were too large to be truck-mounted as in later designs. The nickname “crocodile” (krokodil in German) arose from the engine’s long articulated “snouts.”
In the 33 first-generation engines built in 1919–21, the powered jackshaft drove a main rod that was connected to both the first set of drivers and a second idler jackshaft. The 18 second-generation crocodiles, built in 1925–26, used a simpler arrangement with the powered jackshaft driving a main rod connected to the third set of drivers. In Swiss parlance, the two generations of engines were designated Ce 6/8II and Ce 6/8III (C for their speed range, maximum 40 mph (“A” being the fastest); e for electric; 6 indicating 6 driven axles; 8 signifying 8 axles total). Many were upgraded in the 1940s and ‘50s, raising their top speed to 47 mph and changing their class designation to Be 6/8. All crocodiles were delivered in brown paint, but many were later repainted green. Initial practice was to run with both pantographs raised, but some engines were later refitted with improved pans that allowed single-pantograph operation. The hugely successful Crocodiles ruled the Gotthard route into the 1950s, when they were displaced by newer power. Many worked into the 1970s on less strenuous routes and switching, and several have been preserved.
For American modelers, the Crocodile is perhaps the single most recognizable European locomotive, having been imported as a Märklin model in several scales since the 1930s. Like the Lionel Santa Fe F3, the Märklin HO Crocodile was a top of the line model that many boys of the 1950s and ‘60s dreamed of, but few actually owned. If you were one of those boys (or even if you weren’t), this new Premier model offers the chance to own the most detailed, smoothest running O gauge model of this iconic mountain goat ever made, available in both the original dual-jackshaft version and the later single-jackshaft style.
Did You Know:
The Gotthard Base Tunnel, currently under construction, will bore through the Alps at nearly ground level, almost 2000 feet below the existing Gotthard Tunnel. The new high-speed route will feature the world’s longest tunnel (35.4 miles) when it opens around 2018.