Caspar Honneger was born in the town of Rüti, in the Swiss Canton of Zürich, in 1804. His father, Salomon, was the proprietor of a yarn spinning factory in the town, where there had been Honeggers living for at least 200 years.
Caspar started work in his father’s factory in 1820, at the tender age of 15. By 1842, he had set up his own factory in an area of the town known as the Joweid, where he would manufacture a new type of loom that he himself had invented. Thus the Maschinenfabrik Rüti (MR) came into being.
By 1858, the railway had reached Rüti, but it was not possible to link the factory into the network because of the significant difference in level between the Joweid and the Rüti station. Only in the 1870s, with the invention of the rack railway, did a solution become available. Even then, construction was not simple. It involved the building of a long embankment, with the steep ruling gradient of 102‰ (1 in 9.8) and a minimum radius of only 80m.
The new line opened on 14th July, 1877, the steam locomotive replacing a succession of horses and carts. In the words of W Keller, writing in the MR house journal 100 years later: “The works transport master exchanged the tools of his trade, whip, linament, currycomb and muck rake, for locomotive, coal shovel and oilcan.” The “Establishment” (as the factory became known) grew rapidly and by the turn of the century the railway line was carrying over 2000 wagons each year. As Keller notes “It is hardly conceivable that the same quantity of goods could be managed using only horses and carts.”
In the early days the “Establishment” was constantly in dispute with the main line railway over fees charged by the latter for access to the station. For a while, this was resolved reasonably amicably by the State Railway (SBB) remitting the fees in exchange for the use of the factory locomotive for shunting duties at the station. However, by 1915, at the height of the First World War when coal prices has soared in less than a year from just 30 Francs per tonne to over 225 Francs per tonne, the SBB took unfair advantage of this arrangement by shutting down their own shunting locomotive at Rüti and using the MR locomotive exclusively. One driver complained that he was spending at least two-thirds of his time on shunting duties at the mainline station. Clearly, this state of affairs could not continue, and in 1918 it was agreed that the MR locomotive would enter the station area only to collect and deposit wagons to and from the factory, and a fee would once again be charged. The fee was finally abolished in 1931.
In 1955 the ramp was replaced by a new concrete viaduct. Because of limitations of space, it had the same steep gradient and tight curves of the original, necessitating the continued use of special short wheelbase locomotives.
Steam traction remained in use until a very late date. Electric traction with overhead wires was ruled out on grounds of safety within the factory complex. As early as 1917, battery electric locomotives were considered, but battery technology would not allow of sufficient power to climb the steep bank hauling a train. As for diesel locomotives, even by the 1940s when they were coming into general use elsewhere, they would have been of little use on this steep bank. As a result, No 3 was brought into service in 1951. It held the record of being the last steam locomotive built in Switzerland, until several new locomotives were built for the Brienz Rothorn Bahn in the 1990s. No 3 was eventually replaced by a diesel locomotive in 1962.
The Maschinenfabrik Rüti became part of the Sulzer group in 1982. In 1999 it was renamed Sulzer Textil, becoming Sultex in 2003, and a division of ITEMA Weaving in 2008. In an interesting example of continuity, the company has sourced gear wheels for many of its weaving machines from Hans Christen AG, who also make the toothed wheels for rack railways.
Black and white photos from the archives of Sultex AG
Colour photo by M. Simmons, courtesy of Eurovapor-Sulgen
The author wishes to express his sincere thanks
to René Koenig of Sultex AG and to Arthur Germann of Eurovapor-Sulgen
for their invaluable assistance in preparing this article,
also to Markus Giger for some recent updates.