Camagüey City,- True or unlikely stories are enriched every generation by means of popular legends whose protagonists (afraid of revenge) almost always take their secrets away with them. The burying of a locomotive at the old Senado Sugar Mill is no longer a secret but a historical research challenge.
The discovery of the “infernal machine” or “technological relic” seasoned with several popular versions has opened a path for the historians of the province.
When Bernabé Sánchez Adán founded Senado Sugar Mill S.A. in 1882, the railroad had already being set -36 years ago- from Número Uno, in Nuevitas, all the way to Camagüey City.
There are two versions regarding the probable date of the burying of the locomotive: one places it in the ´30s and the other in the ´40s. Both, according to specialists Antonio Reyes Caballero, are consistent with the technological and productive developments of the old Senado Sugar Mill, but there are no written references concerning railroad transportation until 1957, when it is a fact that the mill had 13 Baldwind brand locomotives, three of them for wide tracks and the rest for narrow ones.
People, truth and fiction
Ricardo Ramírez Sifontes, though was born and raised in Senado, is not known at all in town by his own name; however, if you ask for Physical Education teacher Ex (X) everyone is acquainted with him. Despite his 52 years, he still does not know why his father started calling him like that.
“There are many versions about the burying: the most spread in the community is that the owners of the mill, Bernabé Sánchez and his son were at the brink of bankruptcy and visited Santeria priest Pedro Velázquez to help them out. He advised both, father and son, to bury a locomotive facing the mill”.
The other story tells that the locomotive was too heavy for the narrow tracks surrounding a swampy area around the mill and was derailed most of the time; it turned a very dangerous issue and everyone refused to ride it so eventually it sunk into the dirt in the area near the forge and the carpentry”.
Ex (X) affirms that he interviewed the late Ernesto Rivero Matos, known as Mito (Myth) a decade ago when the latter was ninety years old. Rivero Matos used to work at the saw mill where locomotives brought lumber and asserted that the buried locomotive was a common topic in the community already in 1939.
“What surprises me is that when Arabel Ramírez accidentally discovered the first iron piece and his co-workers from the forge took the locomotive to the surface, it was facing the sugar mill, as told in the first version”.
-Then you think that is indeed Locomotive No.1?
- Probably, because No.2 is placed at the entrance of the old sugar mill and No.3 was taken to the west part of the country.
“I drove the 11”
Pie de foto: Oliverio, the engine driver, in the front: behind remains Locomotive 11, used in the construction works at the Panama Channel.
Oliverio Ortiz Águila is the son and grandson of engine drivers as well as the nephew of famed baseball players Oliverio and Roberto Ortiz. He assures that more than 45 years ago he drove Locomotive 11, used in the construction of the Panama Channel.
“Yes, when Emilio Sánchez bought it and brought here, I drove it to transport sugar cane and railroad beams. I also drove the number 20, whose crew caused an accident in San Serapio. The locomotives worked with charcoal but were adapted for oil”.
- And what do you know about the buried locomotive?
My grandparent and my dad told me it was cursed, that it was mostly off the rails and nobody wanted to drive it, the owners of the mill decided to bury it in this place which was a swamp at the time, nobody ever knew the exact spot and everyone figure out their own story until it was found.
The stealing of the locomotive
Diosdado Pérez García is as respected in Senado as in the whole sugar cane industry in the province. He was a party and union leader and chief of the forge for 20 years.
- How many times did you step on the locomotive bellow your path?
- I could not tell. I worked at the forge for 40 years and the locomotive remained buried in the patio.
“I have another version, the one told by the elders in town: they affirmed that the Sánchez family, it is not clear if it was the old Bernabé or his sons: Emilio or Jorge…got the locomotive out of some illegal activity and that is why they bury it. Yes, because at that time stealing was quite frequent”.
Bernabé, after the death of his wife Florinda Batista, married again and had more children with Elizabet Laurent, whose descendants, Jorge and Emilio, both married American girls, one of them the millionaire daughter of the owner of Baldwind locomotives.
It is also demonstrated that Bernabé Sánchez Adán, tried to hamper the development of the Independence War. Even José Martí regarded him an enemy of the Revolution in a letter he sent to Máximo Gómez where he unmasked the real intention of Sánchez by trying of “carrying out harvest at all cost” by planning to delay the re-starting of the war in Camagüey.
Translated by Luis Viamontes for Adelante online