A unique club of voluntary members is working tirelessly to restore historic Rhaetian Railway vehicles for over 20 years.
What comes into your mind when anyone says ‘Heidi’? Well most often we tend to remember Swiss author Johanna Spyri’s best-selling book on children’s fiction by the same name. However this also happens to be the name of a delightful steam locomotive that dates back to 1902. Incidentally Heidi made its appearance in the eponymous film. And the best part is that this locomotive has been restored to its original glory and can be seen at Samedan depot. And this is all thanks to Club 1889, whose members have been restoring historic Rhaetian Railway vehicles. These include the oldest carriage of the former 1889 Landquart-Davos Railway to the 1928 Bernina Crocodile. In all 13 exemplary restored vehicles have already been integrated into the large rolling Graubunden railway heritage making it among the most versatile, self-contained and complete railway vehicle collections of all time.
The club was founded in 1996 and its name was chosen as 1889 after the first passenger car, C 2012 which was rebuilt by the association after it started. Club President Fredy Pfister’s passion for trains is infectious. “Twenty years ago the Rhaetian Railway wanted to scrap its very first railway wagon built in 1889, railway employees and craftsmen from the Graubünden village of Samedan joined forces to preserve it and restore it to its original state. The work succeeded in three years and the C 2012 could be reconstructed down to the smallest detail, preserving as much of the original substance as possible. This know-how for the restoration of valuable rail vehicles became the association’s logo says ‘we are preserving historic vehicles of the Rhaetian Railway’. Today, the Club has around 580 members. Many of them come from Samedan, Chur region and Swiss Middleland as well as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the USA. Around 40 members are actively involved in projects and other activities and we are united by the big club general meeting once a year, where we meet with special trains alternating at another place in the canton Graubünden and share and exchange our goals and interests.”
Restore and Reuse
The activities of the Club are primarily revolved around restoring historic RhB vehicles. Currently three restoration projects are in progress. In addition the Club organizes beautiful steam trips, take care of the preservation of historical images, the digitalization of documents and run catering in their bistro cars ‘La Bucunada’ and ‘Filisuer-Stübli’. “The restoration of the Bernina crocodile is a miracle as no one believed it could move again as it was massively destroyed and vandalised. Thanks to the experience of our older members and the support of an engineer from the industry, it has been possible to completely rebuild it. We attach great importance to the authenticity of the cars. Wherever possible, we therefore try to restore missing parts and building materials in accordance with monument conservation aspects. Whether benches, windows, fabrics, lamps – everything is replicated according to existing patterns, pictures or plans. This often costs a lot of money, but it is our ambition to be able to present the railway vehicles to the public in their old beauty, sometimes also simplicity,” explains Pfister. Every completed restoration project is naturally a big success. The commitment to preserve as many interesting vehicles as possible for the future and to use them for tourism has paid off. “We are proud to have made a central contribution to the preservation of this extremely valuable historic railway collection. This week the Bündner government announced through the media that it wants to promote the historic RhB trains. Twenty years ago, we would never have dared to dream about something like this,” says Pfister. The Club certainly needs no better testament than this and after all ensuring that the past remains relevant in the future is something that is as commendable as it is praise worthy.
- G 3/4 11 Heidi (1902)
- Ge 4/4 182 Coccodrillo del Bernina (1928)
- C2012 Il Samedrin (1889)
- B 2138 Filisurer-Stübli (1903)
- BC 110 Ul Mesolcines (1909)
- C 114 La Bucunada (1910)
- F 4004 Doris und Calvin (1896)
- Z 26 Bahnpostwagen (1913)
- D2 4052 II Rätia-Stübli (1913)
- N 1513/1520 Langholzwagen (1906)
- K1 5615 Il Grischun (1913)
- L3 6603 Hochbordwagen (1911)
- Gbk-v 5563 25 Jahre Dampffreunde (1913)
- Best time to visit Samedan is January to March.
- Samedan can be reached by train from Pontresina, St. Moritz or Chur.
- Restored coaches are in Samedan and Pontresina stations and you can request for a guided tour in advance that will be addressed based on staff availability.
- Coaches that are being restored are in nearby Landquart.
- Check out the Engadine art of living, church tower La Tuor, The Planta House museum of living culture and majestic Muottas Muragl peak when you are here.
- For more details: https://www.engadin.stmoritz.ch/winter/de/samedan/
This story first appeared in The New Indian Express, Sunday Magazine here: