The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Cuba 3
On towards Cienfuegos Part 2

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 304 Granma

One of the features of the Zafra was that Minaz diesels and steam also used FCC lines. The Granma system was one of many that used FCC tracks, my highlight was seeing a heavily loaded freight hauled by 1714 billowing clouds of smoke roll into Carlos Rojas FCC station. The engine takes water and the crew play to the camera and really get the train up to a cracking speed. The chase is on as they run on FCC tracks to Jovellinos Jn. The approach to the points was heart stopping. A crew member leaves the cab and walks along the running board as the train is in motion, he briefly steadies himself and jumps off the front, running to the points with the engine right behind he sets them just in time for the moving train to pass over them. Safe working is not a strong point. An FCC diesel was waiting with a freight that included a breakdown crane and support wagons. When the freight is gone 1714 pushes its train back to regain the mainline and makes a booming re-start.

Much later that afternoon we found the train back on the mill line, the heavy train is hard work for the 2-8-0 and it is thrashed to keep the protesting wagons on the move, the sun sets as it neared the mill…just a top afternoon for video action!

Mill 306 Cuba Libre 

This was a favourite mill with a regular afternoon trains that would return in good light. On 23rd February 1999, we found 1594 at Pedroso, the engine was on loan for the season from Victoria de Yaguajay. After collecting its load 1594 threaded its way along twisting overgrown tracks back to the station. 1594 then propelled its load of 18 fulls to Navajas junction. The train again changed direction to work funnel first to the mill. Charging out of the station in late afternoon light, it was quite a sight.

We then went out on the other line to the Tarafa LP where a Cuba Libre 2-6-0 was ready to depart, we caught up with this train in the last light as it brought its train into Navajas.

Alco 1594 takes its train back to Pedrossa station, 23rd February 1999

2-6-0 1612 approaches Navajas on a train from Tarafa, 23rd February 1999

Mill 315 Jose Smith Comas

Comas was another favourite with its clean engines, 1530 and 1415 seen on 2nd March 1997

Baldwin 2-6-0 1530 shunts its load of empties, 2nd March 1997.

1531 collects loads from Delirio, the extremity of the system, 24th February 1999

Line engines were a pair of Baldwin 2-6-0s built in 1925 and 1415 a Vulcan Works Mogul built in 1925. The mill shunter was 0-4-0T 1122, Porter built in 1909, a 90 year old that waddled off shed as we arrived. Tank engines were now rare, this would be one of the smallest still in operation. It handled heavy loaded wagons easily, until the driver only operation stuffed up. The driver was also fireman and shunter. He was working under pressure running back and fro to change points till he forgot one and de-railed a few wagons, leaving him scratching his head. 

The mill used the FCC mainline to reach its fields, the track was abysmal and we watched A Fiat railcar rolling from side to side as it reached Progresso station. 1531 then joined the FCC track and drew its empties forward. Another shot was possible here as the engine backed its loads onto a caboose (needed for trains on FCC tracks) and re-started its train.

One day we had followed a train to a LP. when two girls get out of the cab and casually ask if we would like to have sex, soliciting from an engine! Whilst funny at one level it also showed how desperate some were with little in the way of employment to alleviate poverty.

Mill 403, Mal Tiempo

Another mill visited in 1997, but I have no slides due to theft, however we had a good visit and I took plenty of video. I was eager to visit here again and remedy the lack of slides in 1999, but the mill was closed. A number of tour groups had taken to running steam charters and I was able to join one of these for a day on the line on 16th March 1999. The charter was hauled by ex-works 1322 (Baldwin 1903).

It was pleasant to ride on the open platform of the brake van, the line passed through interesting countryside; not the usual flatlands associated with cane fields. After a couple of photo-stops on the outward journey the engine fussed round the overgrown triangle at Potrerillo. The main interest for me was “the” bridge. This is inaccessible by road and with a small river and falls underneath it, this is one of the best spots in Cuba and a couple of runpasts were staged.


The bridge

Another memorable spot was a farm near the mill. I left the group to try a going away shot over a small bridge with a horse in the foreground. Never trust animals to do as you wish, this horse continued to graze unperturbed by the frantic whistling and noise from the approaching engine; then calmly walked out of shot at the last minute. 

Mill 405 Luis Arcos Bergnes

Bergnes was a regular call when we were based at Santa Clara, but in both 1997 and 1999 I seemed fated to only see shunting. I finally cracked it on my last visit here on 10th March 1999 when a late afternoon visit saw 1539 (BLW 1920) a small 2-6-0 in clean condition working a substantial load of fulls on the grade to the mill. A year later the engines were working inter mill on the FCC mainline.

Mill 409 Antonio Sanchez. 

Cuba was full of surprises, in 1997 we found 2-8-0 1623 (Baldwin 1920) storming out tender first on empties past Campina station to the LP at Guayables. Line work here had been diesel for a couple of seasons and locals told me they had not seen foreigners for some time. School was stopped for the kids to come out and talk to us and see the steam engine, a fair indication that this is usually a diesel line! The return working saw 1623 being driven to the limit again, but it had to slow through Campina station when a horse broke free and dashed along the track in front of the train. After much whistling the horse cleared the tracks and the engine was given full regulator treatment resulting in a raucous noise from the exhaust as it charged away. A bit of Cuban machismo at work, I suspect as both a locals and fans were the audience.

Rob Dickinson