Ian fills the steam engine with material.
The future steam locomotive drivers laugh happily into the camera.
Tools in the workshop.

The coveted training as a steam locomotive driver

Not only the round trip with the steam locomotive is in great demand - also the training to become a small steam locomotive driver on the Gurten is very popular.

Actually, I just wanted to take a few quick photos of the steam locomotive for marketing activities. In the process, I burst into the training of the future steam locomotive drivers. It quickly became clear that there is so much more to this than pictures can show. The passion of these young people and the ambitious play park manager drew me into the spell of the train drivers.

Vitus and Ian are waiting excitedly in front of the Ofehüsi on the playground. Today is the first day of the coveted training to become a steam locomotive driver. It is just spring break and the timing is perfect for the students. The training is conducted by the playground manager Jürg Leuthold, also known as Jüre. The play park manager greets the boys warmly by name. He has known them for several years, as they are loyal Gurten train guides. Vitus and Ian meet the requirements to become steam locomotive drivers: they are both technically skilled, like to learn new things, take responsibility and have reached the minimum age of 14. However, they also need a certain amount of ambition, because not all small railroad drivers can train to become steam locomotive drivers. Only those who prove themselves dutifully over a period of years are given the chance.

Markom manager Tatjana Schär at the east signal


Tatjana Schär

Deputy Head of Marketing
The play park manager Jürg Leuthold on the miniature railroad.

Jürg Leuthold

Jüre is the playground manager at the Gurten. Jüre has been working at the playground for about 15 years and is therefore part of the Gurten inventory. No one else knows the Kleineisenbahn and the play park as well as he does.

Ian and Vitus know their way around the workshop well, conscientiously going through the checklist point by point. The two boys are half my age and proudly explain to me - a technophobe - exactly (!) what they do and why they do it. Jüre stays in the background and lets the young adults work. He rarely has to intervene, because they know what they are doing. Every now and then he objectively questions the consequences of their actions.

Ian is a play park helper on the Gurten and is now training to be a steam locomotive driver.

Vitus started the steam locomotive training in the fall of 2021, but Molly had to stay at the Ofehüsi depot for a few months due to boiler damage. The manufacture of a new boiler was delayed due to the pandemic. As a result, Molly could not make rounds for almost a year and Vitus' training had to wait. This does not matter to the future track builder, he is happy he can steam on the Gurten again. Vitus works regularly as a play park helper on the Gurten - it's not about pocket money for him, but about the cause.

The training has no fixed duration, because it depends on the experience and regularity of the trainees. On average, steam locomotive training lasts one year. At the final exam, Jüre watches his protégé for a whole Sunday. He observes whether they properly perform what they have learned without his instruction, whether they understand the technical correlations and how they behave towards the guests. At the end, about 20 to 30 technical questions about the steam locomotive are added. So far, everyone has passed, even if it took several attempts in some cases. Jüre has trained more than 20 boys to become steam locomotive drivers in his career.

Vitus wants to be a train driver when he grows up.

Molly - the steam engine and its maintenance
A question that the play park staff often has to answer: "Yes, Molly runs on steam, there is no hidden electricity in her." Getting Molly ready for launch and depot takes about an hour each time. Twenty preparation items must be completed before the steam locomotive can be taken out of the depot and put into service. These include lubricating various parts, checking the water level and the tender in the boiler, and several visual inspections before the steam locomotive can be preheated.
Ian explains to me how he heats up by igniting two wooden igniters, putting them to the coal and thus making the coal glow. He does everything with a matter-of-factness that fascinates me. At his age, I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of regularly filling up the gas tank of my Piaggo Ciao Töffli. Ian can get a steam locomotive running, steer it, and provide passenger transportation that takes 20 guests at a time around the playground at best. I'm sure Ian has never run out of coal halfway across the track, which unfortunately is more than I can say for my Töffli's gasoline.
The steam locomotive normally runs on Sunday afternoons from 1pm - 4pm. This is due to maintenance: In addition to the time-consuming pre- and post-processing, the coal and water must be refilled after every second trip.
The impeccable condition of the locomotive is due to the careful treatment by the play park staff. This is because this means of transport is sacred to the play park employees. During the inspection week, Jüre, a trained truck mechanic, maintains and overhauls the steam locomotive Molly.  It is well worth the extensive maintenance: the new acquisition of this train cost around CHF 100,000 and devours a ton of anthracite coal every year.

The steam locomotive is a highlight and inspires the Gurten visitors and the play park workers. Neither pictures nor this blog do justice to the care and passion that goes behind such an attraction.

The play park manager Jürg Leuthold on the miniature railroad.
The wheels of the small train are oiled.
Ian fills the steam engine with material.
Coal is filled into the train.
The future steam locomotive drivers laugh happily into the camera.
Control look of the playground manager.
The instructor checks the work of his protégé.
The small railroad is a sight to see. Spectators watch the deployment.

Why the Ofehüsi is called Ofehüsi

Before the play park was built about 60 years ago, bread was baked in this little house on the Gurten. That's where the name Ofehüsi comes from.