“Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” breast badge together with seven other decorations for railroaders was instituted on September 22, 1943 by Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the highest legislative body of the Soviet Union, “as a reward for the most distinguished ranks and commanding personnel of the railway transport”. The right to award “Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” badge was granted to the People’s Commissar of Transportation; heads of chief and central directorates of the People’s Commissariat of Transportation (NKPS); heads of railways; heads of military reconstruction departments of fronts; railway services heads. Statute and appearance of the badge remained unchanged after NKPS was renamed Ministry of Transportation (MPS) in 1946.
Statute of the Badge stipulated that it was “an award for the most distinguished workers of the railway transport steam locomotive service”. Thus, сriteria for decoration with the badge were as follows.
- Exemplary military discipline, excellent execution of operational regulations and one’s own official duty;
- Excellent maintenance of steam locomotives;
- Overfulfillment of operating and service speed rates, uninterrupted delivery of steam locomotives to move trains, skilful and trouble-free operation of steam locomotives;
- Operation of steam locomotives strictly on schedule;
- Competent maintenance of steam locomotive fleet and high-quality repairs of steam locomotives.
“Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” Badge was also awarded for important invention and rationalization proposals aimed at higher labour productivity.
Decoration with the badge was put into effect according to orders of the day and was entered into service records. Repeated decorations of the same person with an “Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” badge were allowed provided outstanding achievements had been displayed.
The very first presentation of badges took place on October 29, 1943 in conjunction with the 25th jubilee of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League (VLKSM, or Komsomol). It was then that 825 particularly distinguished young railroaders were awarded with recently instituted NKPS decorations, including the one in question. One week later, on November 07, 1943 the first mass decoration with the Badge was held, thus marking the 26th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution.
“Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” breast badge had a shape of the vertical oval that symbolized angularly placed driving wheel of a steam locomotive. It was flanked with fir branches that stood for the harsh conditions that kind of transport was generally used. The wheel rested upon a fragment of a ruby red-enameled rail. Narrow flying ruby red-enameled flag was superimposed on the upper part of the badge. The flag bore an inscription “Excellent” (“Отличный”), while the rail – “Steam Locomotive Driver” (“Паровозник”). Both were executed in gilt capital letters. White enamel was applied to the inner space of the driving wheel. Upper portion of a wheel just above the hub showed a steam locomotive moving westwards with puffs of smoke leaving its chimney. Lower part of a wheel bore hub and five spokes with a superimposed image of the Soviet railways emblem introduced in 1932. The latter consisted of crossed hammer and adjustable wrench, sometimes referred to as “French key”.
While overwhelming majority of “Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” breast badges had counter relief (mirror) reverses, some rare early pieces had flat back sides with slightly pebbled surface. No serial numbers were engraved on reverses. However, some researchers believe that in the phase of introduction those badges were intended to bear engraved serial numbers on their back sides. Supporters of that theory point not only at early-pattern flat reverses, but also at a corresponding field in the award documents issued by NKPS (see below).
Due to the mass production of the decoration within fourteen years, from 1943 until 1957, many varieties of the Badge are known to exist. The most obvious variations include the following: one or two driving wheels below the cab; shape of the cab and its windows (rectangular or square ones); empty tender or the one filled with coil; absence or presence of a five-point star on a smokebox front; absence or presence of a feed cap next to a steam dome; protruding or flat shape of a central hub; design and size of the Soviet railways emblem.
“Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” breast badge measuring 28x40 mm was manufactured of bronze with application of white and ruby red enamel. It was worn on uniform or civilian attire attached by a screw soldered to the reverse and round nut. Depending on a period of manufacture, the latter bore either of the following maker marks: “Ш.М.З. Н.К.П.С.” or “Ш.М.З-Д М.П.С.”. Those abbreviations stood for “Plating and Engineering Plant of NKPS/MPS” (“Штамповочно-механический завод НКПС/МПС”). Late production pieces had vertical safety pin fixed to back sides.
The Badge was presented together with an award document, type of which depended on a period of decoration, i.e. NKPS (1943-1946) or MPS (since 1946). Dark-green or brown calico-covered certificate bore embossed image of the badge and full name of the issuing authority running in five (NKPS) or four (MPS) horizontal lines. Surname and initials of an awardee, his designation, date and number of the order were filled in by hand; no space for photo of a railroader was provided. NKPS-issued documents bore two additional fields: that for the serial number of a badge (although it had none, in fact) and that for brief grounds for decoration. The former (“No.___”) usually contained number of the order, but certain docs show it was sometimes left totally blank. Apart from these, some other rare award documents are known to exist, e.g. red calico-covered with embossed name of the issuing authority – “People’s Commissariat of Transportation” (“Народный комиссариат путей сообщения”) – running in five lines in gilt lettering on its front cover and lacking image of the badge.
Whenever award document described above was impossible to be given to an awardee, he was issued with a simplified temporary (provisional) cardboard certificate. Interesting to know that some such pieces had the name of a decoration incorrectly written as “pin” (“значок”) instead of “badge” (“знак”). Shortage of provisional certificates led local commanders and masters to issue hand-written temporary certificates with a seal of a unit attached and signature fixed on it.
Decoration with “Excellent Steam Locomotive Driver” badges of the MPS was discontinued in the autumn of 1957 according to the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR “On breast badges to reward railway transport personnel” signed on September 16, 1957. The badge in question, as well as seven other decorations mentioned at the beginning of the current article, was replaced by the general badge “High achiever of the railway transport socialist emulation” (“Отличник социалистического соревнования железнодорожного транспорта”) introduced in April 1957.