Mal Tiempo, Espartaco and Pepito Tey
Whilst Rafael Freyre, in the Holguin region, is undoubtedly my favourite mill system in Cuba,  the line at Mal Tiempo is
a very close second.  This is a 2' 6" gauge line which is remarkable for the way in which the engines appear to create a low
frequency rumble that can actually be felt long before the engine itself can actually be heard.  Combine this with some spectacular
scenery and some very tough gradients and all the ingredients are there for a truely unforgetable experience.  The line is worked
by a fleet of Baldwin 2-8-0's that are kept well maintained at the small shed next to the mill.  The mill itself is one of the few that it is
possible to enter without official permission.  It has a fascinating system of winches and steel hawsers which are used to pull the
wagons into the mill prior to them being tipped and the cane taken away to be crushed.   The line stretches about 15 miles to the
furthest loading point at Potrerillo and most of the line is accessible by car although careful navigation of the dirt tracks is
necessary.   Immediately after leaving Potrerillo the line climbs two steep banks providing some of the best locations on the line
although the system is very attractive over its entire length.  The line also has several 'wyes' along its length meaning that tender
first running, a feature of many lines, is unecessary and thus there are even more photographic opportunities available here.  No
wonder it is so popular!
Baldwin 2-8-0's No.1320 and 1355 sit outside the
3-road shed awaiting their next turns of duty
No.1345 assembles a rake of empty wagons bound for
Potrerillo - no tender first working is needed here
No.1355 brings a long train of loaded cane wagons
up the final section just before the mill at Cruces
No.1345 brings another heavily loaded train up
the bank from the loading point at Potrerillo
No.1345 tackles the second of the gradients
leading away from the Potrerillo loading point
No.1355 on a train of empty wagons heading away
from the mill and out towards the loading points
Even in the mid-1990's there still seemed to a popular belief amongst some Cubans that visiting steam enthusiasts were controlled by
CIA and were intent on industrial spying!  Thus while access to the lineside was tolerated, many mills and engine sheds were known to
be out of bounds to visitors.  Access to Espartaco mill, just a few miles from Mal Tiempo, was usually denied by a man with a large and
well-oiled rifle but on my very first visit there it was his day off and to our astonishment we were welcomed in with open arms!   A
subsequent visit in 1997 found not only three of the 2'6" gauge Baldwin's hard at work but also the mill's two fireless 0-4-0's in action.  
More recently the mill has been closed and cane shipped to other mills.  The two fireless locomotives are awaiting overhaul, as are at
least two of the 2-8-0's, and with no work for the mill their future looks somewhat bleak.  However there are no certainties in Cuba and
it is always possible that next year could see them at work here or at some other nearby mill.
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1329 stands in the main yard.  
This is one of only two locos deemed steamable in
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1328 crosses the river bridge on the
long southern line from San Fernando to Espartaco
Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0F No.1130 shunting wagons
in the mill yard.  This engine is now awaiting repair.
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1329 brings in a heavily loaded
train from Paso de Medio on the southern line.
Baldwin0-4-0F No.1131 makes easy work of
hauling five loaded cane wagons as it shunts the
mill yard
No.1327 brings in a train of loaded cane wagons
on the much shorter, mile-long, northern line.
The third narrow gauge line in Cienfuegos is at Pepito Tey, some 20km south of Mal Tiempo and Espartaco.  This has proved to be a
difficult line to photograph as the light is from the wrong direction and trains tend to leave the mill early in the morning and return
late in the afternoon.  In recent years this mill has also been closed and the latest reports on the future of the Cuban sugar industry
suggest that this may now be permanent.
2' 6" gauge Baldwin 2-8-0's are also the mainstay of Pepito Tey mill
and in 1996 No.1236 is seen with a rake of empty wagons near the
mill   (above)

Although many mills have not been working, in most places the
workers have continued to be paid the going rate of about US$10
per month! .  However in the increasingly uncertain times facing
the country this may about to be coming to an end bringing harsh
economic reality to the lives of many, such as this loco crew at
Pepito Tey  (right)
Cuban steam index page
Antonio Sanchez, Cuidad Caracus, Primero de Mayo and Marta Abreu
Whilst Cienfuegos is probably best known for its narrow gauge systems there are several interesting mills in the region using
standard gauge locomotives.   Cuidad Caracas continues to see regular steam operation both in and around the mill and on the
mainline whenever the diesel refuses to co-operate.  Antonio Sanchez also uses steam for shunting and to the adjacent loading
point.  Primero de Mayo has been closed for the past two seasons with intermill workings handled by diesels.  This is particularly
disappointing as the line presents a number of scenic opportunities including an overbridge across the Great Cuban Freeway.   Marta
Abreu mill has also been closed for the past two seasons and cane taken to Mal Tiempo.  This has meant that there has been no work
for Baldwin 0-4-0F No.1239 which was the largest fireless locomotive in Cuba until the rebuilding of Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1664 at Noel
Fernandez mill in 2000.  It now remains to be seen whether No.1239 will be moved to another mill (Mal Tiempo?) or will continue to
languish at Marta Abreu.
ALCO 2-8-0 No.1621 on shed at Cuidad Caracus   (left)

Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1625 running light engine at Antonio Sanchez
mill in February 1998    (above)  

Baldwin 2-6-0 No.1545 leaving the shed area at Primero de Mayo
mill     (lower left)

Despite the signal No.1545 makes its way over the flat crossing
on its way out of the mill area - fortunately the  signals on both
lines seem to be permanently out of commission       (lower right)
Baldwin No.1545 assembling a long train of empty cane wagons ready to go to one of the furthest loading points    (left)

The afternoon thunderstorrns have only just ceased as an unidentified locomotive crosses the Great Cuban Freeway
with a short train of loaded cane wagons bound for Primero de Mayo.  Note the almost total absence of traffic on the
motorway - quite unlike the M25 at a similar time in the afternoon!  (right)
Fireless locomotives are one of the most remarkable of all locomotives designs.  Instead of the normal boiler the engine has a large
tank, or reservoir, and no firebox.
(above left)   The tank is charged with a mixture of steam and hot water from a stationary plant and
this effectively means that the locomotive is a gigantic thermos flask on wheels!  In the case of Marta Abreu this was by means of a
pipe leading from the mill building and in the picture No.1239 can be seen being charged
(above right).  Normally the boiler is charged
to the normal working pressure of a traditional style of locomotive but pressure is reduced before the steam enters the cylinders.  
Charging time at Marta Abreu was about 20 minutes.  Once the locomotive moves off and begins to use the available steam, the
pressure in the boiler is reduced causing the hot water to create more steam.  This continues until the pressure drops to the pont
where steam is no longer created and then the locomotive must return to its charging point.  These locomotives are remarkably safe
and easy to operate.  They were often to be found in use where there is a risk of fire or explosion, such as chemical and munition
factories, although why they should be used in Cuban sugar mills is something of a mystery unless they were surplus to  
requirements in the USA and were brought to the island prior to the revolution.  The cab of the locomotive is very simple with just a
regulator and a steam brake.  This makes it easy to operate and the locomotive can be used by relatively unskilled labourers.  There
are also low maintenance costs with very few working parts and since the locomotive is charged from the plant it does not require
time to build up pressure in the normal way, making it almost instantly available for use.
One of the many pre-1960 American cars can be seen
behind No.1239 as it shunts a single cane wagon
The Spanish colonial influence on architecture is
apparant as No.1239 goes about its daily duties