Originally know as Santa Lucia, this mill was located about 40km north-eat of Holguin on the eastern
end of the island.  Rafael Freyre Torres was born to a poor Cuban family in 1931.  He attended school
but dropped out in fourth grade .  Eventually he moved to Havana to seek work where he met
members of the revolutionary movement.  In July 1953, he and two others joined the simultaneous
attacks on the Moncada and Bayamo barracks - an action which marks the start of the Cuban
Revolution.   The attacks went wrong from the outset and government troops were quickly alerted to
the situation.  Losing the element of surprise and against overwhelming force the rebels were forced to
withdraw.  They were pursued by the army and Rafael Freyre Torres was killed in the subsequent
battle on the road near the Bayamo Barracks aged just 22 years old.  Only one picture of Rafael Freyre
is known to exist, taken before joining the rebels.   The mill and the surrounding town was renamed in
his honour in 1960
The Rafael Freyre system was an object of pilgrimage for steam enthusiasts visiting Cuba in the 1990's and into the early
2000's.  The network was operated  by a fleet of 2'6" gauge Baldwin 2-8-0 locomotives built between 1905 and 1919 and ran
through some of the most spectacular scenery on the entire island.  The system comprised of three lines - one heading from
the mill to the loading point at Purial, the port branch leading to Puerto Villa and the longest line which stretched nearly
25km to Uvilla.   Rafael Freyre seemed to produce an excellent crop of sugar cane and it was common to see these relatively
small locomotives battling up steep grades with long and heavily loaded trains.  One of the most memorable locations was
the so-called 'Five Hills' shot at Barjay where from the hillside it was possible to watch the progress of a loaded train heading
from Uvilla back towards the mill before crossing in front of the photographic vantage point.  Some enthusiasts went there
and were never lucky enough to see a train there in daylight - for others there was better fortune! (see below)
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1386 standing
at the head of a loaded train of
cane wagons at Princessa loading
No.1386 (Rafael Freyre No.4)
standing at the headed of a loaded
train at La Vega.  Here No.4 was
detatched from the train and ran
up the Hondura branch to collect
more loaded wagons from the
loading point at the end of the
Having collected five loaded
wagons, No.4 heads back along the
branch to add these wagons to its
train before heading back to Rafael
Freyre mill
Slow progress as No.1386 makes its
way up Altuna bank, one of several
heavy climbs which taxed the
capacity of these 2'6" gauge
This was the shot that brought most visitors to Rafael Freyre.  Near to the village of Barjay the line swept round a long
uphill curve and during the late afternoon the sun shone across the valley illuminating the line and lighting up the five
limestone outcrops on the skyline.  This provided a wonderful backdrop to the main action.  This really could be
Heartbreak Hill as on occasions a train seen earlier would be delayed shunting the Teche branch and the sun would
slowly sink below the horizon with no sign of any action.  However our luck was in on 29th March 1987 as Baldwin 2-8-0
No.1390 makes its way back towards the mill with a long train of loaded cane wagons.
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1388 on a
loaded cane train near Paraiso
Whilst a locomotive might be used
for shunting cane wagons at the far
loading point, at intermediate points
the movement of cane wagons was
often by means of bullock power
such as at Barjay loading point
The Teche branch was the longest of
the lines leading from the main line
with two loading points along the
route.  Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1390 brings
a train of loaded cane wagons along
the branch on 29 March 1997
Whilst a small amount of cane was
still cut by hand, most was cut by
machinery and deposited straight
into trailers hauled by Russian
tractors.  The tractors then took the
cane to the nearest loading point
where it was transferred into railway
wagons for the onward journey to
the mill
With three of the five hills forming a
backdrop, No.1390 makes its way
along the Luciano branch
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1386 fails to disturb a grazing cow as it climbs
away from Latour and heads towards the next loading point at
Baldwin 2-8-0 No.1390 puts on an impressive display of black
smoke as it gets to grips with the steep climb up the bank at
As there was no method of turning the
locomotive at Uvilla, trains comprising
empty wagons were propelled to the
end of the line from Latour.  On a
beautiful cloud free morning No.1386
takes the train down the bank to its
final destination
Once the empties had been delivered
to the far loading point it was a
waiting game - if there were already a
number of loaded wagons ready the
train might return almost immediately
- if not then the locomotive and crew
would sit and wait while more wagons
were loaded
A shot like this was guaranteed to
make the wait all seem worthwhile as
No.1386 storms away from Uvilla was
its train of loaded wagons
No.1386 rolls into Progresso with its
train steadily growing in length.  
Although the journey from Uvilla to
Rafael Freyre was only about 24km
the journey back could take many
hours as the crew waited for wagons
to be loaded, the engine was detached
from the train and headed up the
various branches and then after
returning with more wagons there was
further time spent  reassembling the
train before moving onward
To achieve this shot once was considered to be lucky but to manage it twice in the space of three days was incredible.
Slightly later than the day before, we had anxious minutes watching the sun dipping down towards the horizon before
No.1386 brought its train into sight and passed before the assembled multitudes (12 of us to be exact)
After our wonderful lunch (see
Port Branch page) we returned to
the lineside in time to catch
No.1390 bringing a train through
Paraiso towards the end of the day
No.1390 catches the last of the
evening light as it brings its train
through Barjay.  The shed to the
right of the shot bears a graffiti
legend 'Viva Fidel' - a lasting
testament to the affections still felt
towards Castro and the
revolutionaries who brought an
end to American influence in Cuba
for over 50 years
In 1997 it was impossible to predict that this wonderful little railway had less than four years to go before the mill and the
majority of the railway would be closed.  It all seemed so perfect and so timeless but the collapse in the world price for cane  
sugar and the increasing use of sugar beet in Europe meant that the Cuban zafra was no longer financially viable.  Large scale
agricultural reforms in the early years of the C21st led to an almost complete closure of the centrals and an end to the Cuban
sugar industry.  The vast numbers of steam locomotives were cast aside, some continuing a new life as tourist attractions,
either on short lines or in vast open air museum parks.  Whether any will ever return to their native USA to begin a new life on
their heritage railways will probably depend on the state of US-Cuban relations and the general state of the locomotives
themselves.  One can but hope that they have not turned their last wheels in anger