Seeing double, while finding the past

Being a railway modeller, means that you are kind of a history geek as well. At least, that’s the way I experience this hobby. Once I dive into a modeling subject, I will always try to find out as much as possible about the prototype. As I am quite a visual person, this means that I am always on the lookout for pictures showing real life examples.

While digging through the Voie Libre forum for information about the French sugar beet railways, I bumped into Nº 424 of La Vie du Rail. One of the forum members mentioned that this edition from December 1953 had a great picture of a sugar beet train on its cover, so I went hunting for the magazine on eBay. Fortunately, the hunt was successful and my copy arrived about a month ago.
As you can see, the cover in color really looks great.
It is mentioned in the magazine that the picture on the cover was taken by Yves Broncard in the Mitry region, close to Mesnil-Amelot and along the road from Paris to Soissons. It however does not mention when the picture was taken, but it would be safe to assume that it was taken in 1953 as well.

By chance, I bumped into the same picture on Delcampe a couple of weeks later … well, at least I thought that it was same picture. The description however mentioned that this picture was taken by Christian Schnabel in October of 1953 and it also mentioned that the 131T Alco-Cook locomotive was owned by the Sucrerie de Villeron.

The fact that both pictures were so similar, aroused my curiosity and made me want to know more about them. So, I gave them a closer look and noticed that most of the details were the same. For example, the fallen leaves next to the ‘Betteraves‘ sign, were at the exact same location on both pictures. A light wind or a passing sugar beet train would surely have blown them away, so I was sure that both pictures were taken on the same day and around the same time. This meant that Christian Schnabel and Yves Broncard were together during that day in October 1953, when they took these pictures.

The location where the pictures were taken left no doubt, as the description in the December 1953 edition of La Vie du Rail was added only a couple of months after they were taken. The subject of both pictures however needed some further digging, as I had my doubts about the description on Delcampe. It mentioned that the Sucrerie de Villeron sugar beet train was being pulled by a 131T Alco-Cooke locomotive, but as far as I was aware the sugar mill never operated such a locomotive. The only 131T Alco-Cooke locomotive which I could find close to Mesnil-Amelot, is the one being operated by the Briqueterie et Sucrerie Piot et cie in Mitry-Mory.

I realize that I am not a historian and that I am only somebody who is interested in discovering the history of the little trains he is trying to model. I will not always be right and will draw the wrong conclusions here and there, but I do enjoy this part of our hobby!