The International Steam Pages

Those were the days... (Zafra narrow gauge sugar steam 1996 - 2001)

The first visitors in numbers to Cuba for steam went in the early 1980s, although the actual first trip was in 1979 run by Jimmy Hutzler of Rail Study Tours of Virginia. There was never any chance I would be one of them, I could never have afforded it and in any case my school teaching job precluded it as I had only a short half term break during the Zafra season. Visits to Cuba only became possible after I walked out of my last school in 1995 and I remain eternally grateful to Chris Walker (together with Steve Mourton and Simon Bowden) for allowing me to tag along with his car load in 1996 and learn the ropes from an expert. With the benefit of hindsight, the late 90s were the best time for visitors with the island opening up but with old fashioned values still holding. Chris has never suffered fools gladly but he tactfully dealt with my idiot questions in such a way that when I made the error of booking with a self-styled group of photographic experts the next year who expected me to race around in their dust cloud,  I was able to opt out of most of the group's activities in favour of a mainly DIY trip. I went with Chris again in 1998 on a 'balanced trip' with less emphasis on action photography. By now, the Zafra experience was badly tainted with gricers enthusiastically flashing their wallets at loco crews who had learned to perform to order, indeed, they often refused to perform at all if they had not been offered the prospect of a reward for doing their badly paid job properly. I went with Roland Beier in 2000 and we agreed to have no part of such nonsense and, by being extremely careful, we had a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying visit. My last visit in 2001 was with a couple of Cuba virgins, it was not a patch on 2000 and after that I never went back.

What is linked from this page is no substitute for our Zafra CD-ROM which covers the full 'Zafra' era including many mills and locomotives I never recorded.

Click here for reports on the closing years of Cuba real steam.

Narrow gauge mills

Rob Dickinson