Thursday, May 29, 2014

Per Gustaf Bork – blacksmith and narrow gauge pioneer

When the Skyllberg Iron Works planned to introduce steam power on their railroad in 1881, master mechanic Olaus Bork (see “A railroad builder in the family” ) did not have to go far for advice. Since 1875 his younger brother Per Gustaf Bork was employed as a locomotive engineer, and later master mechanic at the Hjo – Stenstorp Railroad (HSJ).

Per Gustaf was born in 1844 at Liljendal, Rämen parish, eight years younger than his brother Olaus. He is only seven when his father dies in smallpox, and their mother remarries his father´s assistant Olof Johnsson Roth. Per Gustaf starts to learn the blacksmith trade, and in 1865 he moves to Rönneshytta. This is a blast furnace which delivers pig iron to the rolling mill at nearby Skyllberg, where Olaus has just been appointed superintendent. Brother-in-law Gustaf Elg (married to Maria Sophia Bork) also moves to Rönneshytta where he is a master blacksmith.

In Rönneshytta Per Gustaf marries Amalia Persdotter, and daughter Tekla Olivia is born in 1869, the couple´s only child. In 1870 the family moves to Arboga. Per Gustaf´s profession is now listed as “machinist”, perhaps a sign that he has taken a first step from blacksmith to the new mechanical engineering industry.

In 1872 the young family moves again, this time to Karlskoga. Here Per Gustaf´s career takes a new turn. He is trained in the high technology of this new era, and next time the family moves, Per Gustaf´s profession is listed as “locomotive engineer”.

In 1872-73, the first parts of the Nora – Karlskoga railroad opens for business, and we can safely assume that it is here that Per Gustaf learns his new profession. In 1873, brother Olaus also oversees the construction of a railroad from Skyllberg to the new standard gauge mainline at Lerbäck – although his line will initially be horse-drawn.

 The boom spirit of Karlskoga is broken by a deep recession in late 1873. By 1875 Per Gustaf moves his family to Hjo, a small town in southern Sweden, located on the shore of lake Vänern, one of Sweden´s largest lakes. Here he is employed as an engineer on the new Hjo-Stenstorp railroad (HSJ.

HSJ engine at the railroad shops in Hjo.  Per Gustaf Bork in the cab. Source

HSJ was one of the first common carriers on narrow gauge rails in Sweden. The gauge, 3 Swedish feet or 35 1/12”, was the most common narrow gauge in Sweden. Like many other such projects, HSJ was built by local businessmen in Hjo, to connect a town which had been bypassed by the main trunk lines.

The pier in Hjo. An HSJ train and passenger steamer steamer ”s/s Trafik”.  Source: Swedish Railway Museum ( )  Jvm.KDAA03023:

Since 1855, Hjo also had one of the best harbors on Lake Vättern (Sweden´s second kargest lake), and while the railroad was seen as a threat to the harbor, the harbor also came to account for a fifth of the freight shipped on the railroad. Shipments included aspen wood for the matchstick factory in Tidaholm, raw liqour for a liqour factory in Hjo, and beet sugar for a sugar refinery in Lidköping.

Villa Olga, around 1900
I have not been able to uncover many details about Per Gustaf Borks career at HSJ, but he seems to have done well. His job title advances from “engineer” to “engineer foreman” and eventually “master mechanic”, and in the final years of the century he is able to purchase Villa Olga, located in a park in Hjo. Today the building is a historical landmark. Bork passed away in 1927.

Relations between the two railroading brothers were perhaps not entirely without frictions. In 1873, HSJ orders their third locomotive, “Tidaholm”, from Henry Hughes in England. Already by 1877, HSJ tries – without success – to sell the locomotive to the Lidköping – Skara – Stenstorp railroad, another 891 mm gauge line which connected to HSJ at Stenstorp. In a document dated October 1883, the locomotive is described as “totally unsuitable” and should be sold immediately. By the autumn of 1885, what appears to he the same locomotive is found on brother Olaus Bork´s Askersund – Skyllberg – Lerbäck railroad, but again meets with little enthusiasm. Among other problems, the short wheelbase makes it prone to derail, in particular when clearing snow. The Skyllberg company tries to sell the loco already in July 1891, and it is finally scrapped by ASLJ in 1903.

Villa Olga today

Location of Hjo, in southern Sweden

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