The International Steam Pages
José Smith Comas Sugar Mill, Cuba 2010/2015
I (RD) made my own fifth and last visit to Cuba in 2001 when there was still steam in some quantity. As I did in China, I met some wonderful people but again I found the system oppressive even as a visitor and, as it happens, teaming up with Yuehong meant my own personal international steam centre-of-gravity became even more firmly entrenched in South-East Asia where everything started for me in the early 1970s. Unlike me, a number of enthusiasts have returned to their old haunts and, now that the dust of the sudden closures of many mills has settled, it is time to survey what has survived. In fact, in the circumstances a remarkable amount has been 'preserved' although by general consent much has to be learned about presentation and especially operation. However, it was pleasing to note that a start has been made on giving the large collection in Central Havana a much needed tidy up.
I confess to very much having lost touch with developments and I would welcome other reports similar to the one below for other museum mills. There is a very large (maybe even growing) collection of steam locomotives at Marcelo Salado which certainly merits a report on this website if anyone has visited or plans a visit. One personal request is for pictures and information about the machinery left inside these mills - much of it was steam powered and it is almost completely undocumented.
I have included two pictures on this page taken from our CD-ROM - Zafra - check it out, it has 1500 pictures, some dating back to the 1980s.
Ken Livermore visited JCS in November 2015 and he has provided a list of locomotives recorded on site:
Keith Smith has sent me this photo report on a November 2010 visit to the mill at José Smith Comas which is less than an hour from the tourist Mecca of Varadero but whose management seems to have little idea of how to present and develop its industrial heritage. Previously, Alan Pearce and Alan Murray-Rust visited here in early 2008, not a great deal seems to have changed but this time there are some tantalising views of inside the mill itself.
Mounted at the entrance is '1249' a narrow gauge Baldwin 2-8-0 - as seen from the passing bus. The original 1249 was not recorded by visitors and would have been some way east at Sierra De Cubitas in Camaguey province. I have consulted my tame experts who tell me it is actually 1243 (sometimes mistakenly identified as 1242) which worked as #9 at Humberto Álvarez Mill which is close to Varadero. This is Nick Tondall's picture of the other side of the loco in 1987. It carried #9 at Hector Rodriguez but was originally delivered to Central Antonio as their #4.
Inside is another small standard gauge locomotive which is calculated to confuse, as it carries only 1913 - definitely not its number as the 19xx were the giants of Cuban steam. In fact it is in fact Henschel 12496/1913, Minaz 1119 from René Fraga, this is an old photograph of it at España Republica from John Adams:
The first picture shows three tender locomotives on display under cover, 1530 from José Smith Comas, 1714 from Granma (although it carries Carolina) and 1812 from (carrying España for España Republica), the latter was actually former Cuban Railroad 312. The second picture shows 1216 and 1415 with a detailed shot of 1216 in the third. 1723 and 1513 are also here, while 1122 from this mill here in 2007 is now in Havana. 1721 was reported here in 2007, but not 1723, whether the earlier report was a mis-type or the number has changed, who knows? (A 2012 report gives 1721 again, 1723 was seen derelict a long time back.). Finally, the mural shows an artist's impression of a train passing Progreso station which is next to the mill. The gauge doesn't seem quite right to me and the loco shown - 1424 - was actually a narrow gauge loco in Central Cuba!
Not all the steam locomotives are in the museum, the mill's own 1531 is 'under repair' with 1410 (together with 1614 not shown), waiting for repair.
The tourist train trip is about a mile in length partly on the Cardenas to Jovellanos branch which still sees a local service of sorts. On this occasion 1610 was in charge:
Keith was unaware of my interest in the surviving mill equipment, so took no notes. These pictures show the wagon tippler / cane carrier and some evaporation vessels:
The most intriguing exhibit is this stationary steam engine, maker unknown. It's a twin eccentric pump, one for the valve gear (alas not shown) and the other for the pump half. Most likely it's a vacuum pump given its location but it could quite easily have been a compressor. Note the electric motors in the pictures above so this was certainly not an 'all steam' mill when it closed.
I would be grateful if any future visitors could send some more pictures of the equipment displayed and, of course, similar kit from other mills would be very welcome.
Narrow gauge (2ft 6in, 762mm)
Unidentified (standard gauge)