In August 1936, Polish government commissioned an experimental class of two Pacific (4-6-2) locomotives.
The decision to build a locomotive of the future was made by Polish authorities to celebrate 20 years of independent Polish State Railways (PKP), created right after the Armistice from parts of Austro-Hungarian, Prussian, Saxonian and Russian railways, - and also to prove the domestic industry's capability to supply world-class quality products.
To prove the capacity of Polish designers, the railway authorities decided to develop a prototype locomotive capable of reach superior speeds (over 130 km/h). The project was entrusted to Warsaw Technical University and Engineer Kazimierz Zembrzuski, who developed the model of an aerodynamic train in 1934.
Construction started on September 1, 1936 (exactly three years before the start of WWII). Next spring the machines were ready for tests. The first prototype, Pm36-1, was fitted with streamline shrouding, the other had a rather conventional appearance and weighed 92,7 ton (2,7 ton less than its elegant "brother').
The idea was to test both engines in parallel to compare top speed, acceleration, coal and water consumption etc.
The Pm36-1 won a gold medal at the 1937 International Exposition of Art and Technology in Paris. It exceeded the expectations of designers on the return journey from France, reaching a speed of 150 km/h on a special route of German Railways.
The Pm36-1 was damaged and later scrapped during World War II (in 1942 according to Polish sources; German and some Russian sources insist that it was captured by Red Army in 1944 and worked on Soviet railways until mid-1950s). The non-streamline Pm36-2 survived and worked for the PKP until 1965, when it was given to the Warsaw Railway Museum. During wartime, the machine was listed under the German State Railways number 18 602. In 1995, the Pm36-2, called Beautiful Helen (pl. Piękna Helena), went through a major overhaul and currently it runs on a tourist route in Wolsztyn, a city hosting the only operational network for steam locomotives in Europe.
Beautiful Helen in 1970s. (Photo by w. + h. brutzer @ Flickr)
Back to the Pm36-1.
A postage stamp:
Artist's impression (by Michał Głowacz):