Here’s an old steam locomotive. You know the kind of thing. External combustion so you light a fire at the back, it heats up water to make steam, the steam makes pistons go up and down, wheels go round and round and the exhaust go “puff puff”. All well and good.

Here’s another. We notice something odd. It’s got a pantograph and is running under wires. So (a) somebody’s extracting the Michael or (b) this is something odd.

(b) is the case. Why? We need to go back to Switzerland before and during WW2 when we can imagine a conversation taking place between a manager at Swiss Federal Railways and young Wolfgang from the workshop.

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-well, young Wolfi, we have a problem. You know how our little steam shunters work, don’t you?

-why, yes, mein Herr. You light a fire at the back, it heats up water to make steam, the steam makes pistons go up and down, wheels go round and round and the exhaust go “puff puff”. Better still, you can pull a cord and make it go “tschu, tschu”.

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-you know that coal is getting expensive, using timber would take an inordinate amount of logs and we can’t convert to oil because that’s hard to get now as well. We haven’t the time or money to find diesel or electric locos so what do you suggest?

-well, mein Herr, we have plenty of electricity because of those dams that have been built and so we already have electric traction with overhead wires. You can get electric kettles now so maybe we could make our little locos into giant kettles. We could fit heating elements to the boiler and then we could boil water electrically with no coal und Bob is Ihr Onkel. No CO2 either which those who come after us are going to get very exercised about. Bit of a nightmare from the efficiency point of view but it should work.

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And it was done. An electric steam locomotive.

Learn much more about this and other oddities right here.