The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Cuba 2
On towards Cienfuegos Part 1

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the Case Notes Index.

Other Cuban tales:

Mill 210 Osvaldo Sanchez

2-8-0 1364 (Baldwin 1912) in the 2ft6in gauge yard at Osvaldo Sanchez, 4th March 1997:

On 1st March 1997, within a minute of arriving at Osvaldo Sanchez we were told 'no photography permitted', we slinked around the back to the narro gauge yard where another 2-8-0 1309 (Alco, no date.) was shunting, but were again intercepted. Driving out of the mill we did get a grab shot of the diminutive 2-4-2T 1204 (Rogers 1894) which was shunting the standard gauge patio.

By 13th March 1999, two years later, the narrow gauge tracks had been ripped out or re-gauged to some nearby LPs. The mill was closed and a diesel was working inter mill trains; however active steam was seen. The curiously designed 0-4-4T 1205 a Porter built in 1906 was busy shuttling to nearby LPs. It was previously used at mill 206 Manuel Isla Perez, (another mill with a hostile reputation). The crew happily posed the engine. To see such a rare and small engine at work, when most mills were now using only their largest engines was unexpected.

Mill 211 Ruben Villena 

1502, a small Vulcan 2-8-0 passes the mill offices on 24th March 1999

I first visited here in 1997 when the tour group hastily took photos in the patio area in anticipation of being moved on by security. Instead a mill worker explained that Minaz had instructed them to permit visitors and the policy remained in place in 1999.

The patio was dominated by the large Louisiana style mill offices, with a couple of shade trees. This was a busy area as loads were rushed through and then broken up for shunting into the mill: Tiny 2-4-0T I207 (Henschel,1912) was at work along with Baldwin 2-6-2T no 1311 of 1904, both operated by a driver only, an arrangement seen elsewhere in Cuba. A seriously old style American line engine was in operation in the form of 1411, a Baldwin 2-6-0 of 1917; but looking much older. It charged past the patio whistling to alert road traffic as it heaved a load to the mill. 

Good fun in a relaxed location, this was a delight. 

1207, a 2-4-0T built by Henschel in 1912 was still gainfully employed on 27th February 1997.

1311 2-6-2T (Baldwin 1904) the heavy shunter lines up with the water tower. 27th February 1997

Mill 212 Boris Luis Santa Coloma 

It is a short drive to Boris via the junction and road crossing at Roble where the remains of a 2-6-0 1512 were dumped, both years I was to see a Villena loco working loads near here. Boris was one of the highlights for 1997 with steam on heavy loads in scenic settings, however due to theft I was left with only a video, which I came to appreciate in preference to slides.

The south line offered scenic countryside, views of distant hills, palm trees and remote rustic LPs. Loaded trains had several challenging sections to negotiate before the climax with steep grades to approach the mill that saw engines pushed hard. 

Boris was worked by large powerful engines in the 17xx and 18xx power range. In 1997 a power shortage resulted in borrowed engines. 1701 had arrived from mill 108; along with 1805 (ex-Amistad) Boris based 1606, a stocky 2-6-0 (Vulcan, 1920) was also a mainstay.

One peculiar incident in 1997 was a derailment of a Boris engine under the wires. 1806 (VIW 1918) had headed north of the mill to make its way onto the Hershey system to collect a load for an inter mill working. On the rough and lightly ballasted track the heavy engine became derailed. In late afternoon light we watched a Boris team work to rerail the loco, first attempting to drag it forward, which resulted in all the drivers on one side coming off the track with an almighty crash, causing those too near to leap back. Then began the laborious and slow work of jacking one set of wheels at a time.

In the period before mobile phones it was fascinating to see car loads of fans arrive on the scene, the old bush telegraph worked fine!

In 1998 Boris purchased diesels and when I visited in 1999 there was little steam activity. 

Boris loco 1512 dumped at Roble on 1st March 1997

Mill 303 Australia 

In 1999, 1513 was a regular performer, seen here heading towards the motorway on empties on 18th February:

Australia became a favourite, but first acquaintance was not encouraging, an afternoon visit found pilot 1607 had ceased work due to a points failure. We headed out to the fields but one of the cars failed to negotiate a safe crossing of the track and lost its exhaust. A frustrating hour was spent as some of the more ingenious guys showed their bush mechanics skills, bashing the rear axle and exhaust to get the cripple to a welder .In the midst of this we saw both the diesel and 1513 pass by on loads for the mill. Such is life!

1593 is steamed up for pilot work whilst 4-6-0 1515 is prepared for line work on 25th February 1999

My favourite morning here was in 1999 when we called in en route for Cienfuegos on 25th February 1999 and found 4-6-0 1515 on the watering point whilst Baldwin 1593 shunted the 37 class diesel to get it started. (1620 a small Henschel 2-6-0 was also used as pilot).

1515 was an ex FCC passenger locomotive and one of the few active 4-6-0s that I saw. It moved off the watering point at 08.45 and passed the mill which was also a memorial for the defence of Cuba against the abortive CIA Bay of Pigs invasion. 

All is well on the footplate, but Australia’s dusty roads could turn cars into dust baths!

Crossing the Great Cuban Highway, can you spot the flagman?

Rob Dickinson