World’s Most Powerful Operating Steam Locomotive

Clue it is not in the USA!


When it comes to size, “it’s bigger in America”! While Texas cows may be huge, certainly the steaks are, when it comes to operational steam locomotives, is the US still leading the way?

Determining the most powerful steam locomotive is not easy, with many ways to measure this including size, length, wheel arrangement and tractive effort.

What is not in dispute is that the USA, with its super large loading gauge, has (or had) the most powerful steam locomotives ever built. Depending on where you look, quite q few claim to be the largest, for this discussion, we are looking at the most powerful still in operation.

USA Giants

The Norfolk and Western Y6a comes in at a credible 166,000 flb tractive effort making it a serious contender. One is still on display at the Virginia Museum Of Transportation.

N & W Y6a

An engine which didn’t really work that well was rated at 170,000 flbs. The Virginia Tripplex had an interesting history. This was a ridiculous 2-8-8-8-4 loco and suffered from simply using so much steam, the boiler couldn’t produce enough. Only one was ever built, and this was eventually split into two separate locos.

Virginia 2-8-8-8-4 Number 700 Source Wikimedia


A surviving locomotive thought to be the largest ever built was the Allegheney 2-6-6-6of the Virginian Railway, built in the 1940s. It was rated at 110,000 flb tractve effort. Two survive and are on plinths in museums. One is at the Henry Ford Museum near Dearborn Michigan, and the other at the B & O Railroad museum in Baltimore.

Allegheney number 902

Big Boy not the largest!

Coming down in size, we have the Union Pacific Big Boy (135,375 flb), thought by many to be the largest steam locomotive of all time. This 4-8-8-4 together with the UP Challenger 2-6-6-2 (97,352 flb) are still around in the UP workshops in Cheyenne Wyoming. 3985 (Challenger) and 4014 (Big Boy) are still classified as operating locomotives for UP. Feedback I have received is that with the current management, we will be lucky to see either of these two in steam again and 3985 hasn’t operated since 2007. Fact is that these two giants are not working at the moment. Nine years is a long time between drinks!

Big Boy in better days

There was one other massive engine in size between the two UP giants. That was the Virginia Railway Triplex. This was a ridiculous 2-8-8-8-4 loco and suffered from simply using so much steam, the boiler couldn’t produce enough. Only one was ever built, and this was eventually split into two separate locos.

Virginia 2-8-8-8-4 Number 700 Source Wikimedia


Other powerful steam locos include the 59 class Garratts of the East African Railway in Kenya, weighing in at 83,350 lbf and the South African GL class at 78,650 lbf.

East African Railways 59 Class on a freight between Nairobi and Mombassa Kenya 1974, Photo John Gaydon

Kenya is now regauging its track, meaning their steam fleet will no longer be able to operate, and the remaining GL is stored at the Outeniqua Transport Museum on George South Africa.

Europe Doesn’t Rate

When it comes to Europe, there weren’t that many articulated locos used there. Nothing really rates a mention when it comes to tractive effort.


Who would have guessed. When it was restored last year, the world’s most powerful operating locomotive at 63,490 flb tractive effort was the NSW AD60 class Garratt. 6029 now regularly runs excursions.

6029 with another 60 class on a coal train starting on a 1 in 40 grade at Fassifern NSW. Photo John Gaydon

Australia Wins!

This means that Australia and my home state now have the honour of having the world’s most powerful locomotive currently in operation!

Now, I know that this engine is nothing compared to some of the US monsters, but none of them are hauling trains right now.

Watch the video at the end of this post to see 6029 in action this weekend.

The Future

The next cab off the rank might be 1309, scheduled to run on the West Maryland Scenic Railroad this summer. This engine has a tractive effort of 98,700 flb.

1309 leads a double header back in regular steam days. Source Unknown

For now, NSW Australia has the honour. Stay tuned for news on 1309 and the UP giants. Who knows when the mantle will be handed back to the USA for the most powerful locomotive currently in operation.

The following list was taken from website.

Most Pulling Force (Articulated)



Wheel Arrangement

Tractive Effort


Jawn Henry






166,300 (compound) 199,560 (simple)




147,200 (compound) 176,600 (simple)




170,000 (simple expansion mode, with booster)
















159,330 (145,930 + 13,400 booster)








152,206 (simple expansion mode, before mid-1950 modifications)




151,000 (with Franklin trailing truck booster) 137,000 (without booster)



























The Wild West – Of Patagonia Argentina!

Where in the world is Patagonia? Well, it is in the far west of Argentina, where a wonderful railway line, the 2′ 5 1/2″ Ingeniero Jacobacci to Esquel railway runs along in front of the spectacular Andes for a distance of 402 kms.

The train, dubbed the “Patagonia Express”, travelled the distance daily hauled by either a Henschel or Baldwin 2-8-2. Sometimes it was double headed too. We travelled by train from Buenos Aires in 1976 to photograph and ride this amazing railway.

Bahia Blanca General Roca System

Unfortunately, by the time I arrived in Argentina, most of the broad gauge had ended. We heard that there was some steam in Bahia Blanca, so we headed there.

Ferrocarril Roca argentina railway steam train

Broad Gauge Tank Engine Shunting At Bahia Blanca On The Argentinian Roca Railway 1976

We had a great time in Buenos Aires. We stayed at an old hotel, the Gran Viena, reminiscent of the grand old days when Argentina was a first world country. Her fortune was made selling beef to Europe before a contamination scare brought the trade to a grinding halt. It was dangerous back then, less than 6 weeks after the military coup which finally overthrew the government of Isabel Peron. The secret police were combing the streets, arresting people at random, robbing them and then releasing them. Citizens were disappearing daily, never to be seen again, to be tortured and then dumped in quick lime. The currency had devalued by 6 times, which made it cheap for us to travel. The black market in pesos was rampant. The banks were advertising 75% interest rates, something unheard of in my country.

When we went to Argentina, we were told not to wear any jewellery, or it would be stolen. I wore no watch for that reason. On my first night in the capital, after being in sleepy Paraguay, I decided to buy a travel clock. We went into an arcade where we couldn’t be spotted to get some money out of the secret wallet. Back on the street, I noticed someone was watching. We started walking and they followed. As they approached we started running. Unfortunately, the two men caught me! I was petrified.

They asked what I was doing there, and I managed to answer them in Spanish that I had only been in the country for one day and had done nothing. Then I saw a uniformed policeman nearby and I tried to escape. One of the men pulled out a pistol and pointed it at my head. That stopped me dead in my tracks and I shat myself literally, knowing what was happening at the time. Next they showed me their credentials as the secret police. Fortunately they let me go. It was a near miss.


ferrocarile roca argentina steam train steam engine depot bahia blanca south america steam

A shot of Steam At The Bahia Blanca Loco Depot On The Roca System

After arriving in Bahia Blanca, we thought this peaceful little town would be a safe haven, but were again proven wrong. As we settled into our hotel, there was a parade in the street outside, with tanks and armoured vehicles passing by. The army was clearly on the alert in this town. We had booked into a cheap hotel which only had cold water.

At 1 am the door burst open and there were several soldiers with AK47s and full combat gear including hats with camouflage. They surrounded us, and went through the luggage. Then they left. We left town the next morning.

We Arrive At The Esquel Line

After a long train ride, we arrived at Ingeniero Jacobacci and there was the “Patagonia Express” waiting for us in totally miserable rainy weather. This was a far cry from the European Express trains. It was more like a toy train. Small carriages and narrow gauge, an amazing railway. Even today a section of the line continues as a tourist operation with steam.

The “Express” rattled and rolled at very slow speeds over the narrow tracks as it worked its long journey to Esquel, a journey of nearly 20 hours averaging 20 kph. Hardly impressive. Here is the schedule from those days. When there are trains running now, they usually only go as far as Nabuel Pan, a mere 19 kms. I am not sure if steam is still operating.


On the train it was very cold. With the damp, it was rather unpleasant with heating being supplied by open windows! Everyone was well rugged up. To keep warm, the locals drank Mate, a herbal tea which gives you energy. It is a herb called yerba which is ground and added to hot water. The locals had fancy silver straws they use to drink the mixture. A little pungent, but we had to try it.

Some way down the track we came to a grinding halt. The bad weather resulted in a landslide and a derailment. Because we were on the “Express”, they had to get the passengers through, so a train came from the other direction with a loco on either end. They attached a loco to the back of our train too, to pull us out of the section. Then the passengers swapped trains!

patagonia express la trochita argentina steam train baldwin 2-6-0 henschel 2-6-0

Two Trains Swap Passengers Who Walk Around A Derailment On The Esquel Line Argentina

It started snowing, as if we weren’t cold enough and by the time we reached Esquel it was more like blizzard conditions. Now we had to find a place to stay. We ended up in a dorm with piped water heating. Boiling hot inside and freezing outside. We were stuck there for 2 days as the snow continued to fall.

The Hire Car

Having seen the amazing scenery, we decided to go to San Carlos de Bariloche, which is a local ski resort and tourist town. They have two specialties, boxed Belgian Chocolates and hand knitted sweaters. As I only had a parker, I purchased a sweater for $1US and a kilo of chocolates for the same price. I discovered later that they used non colourfast dies, so the colour blended into the whole sweater when washed in warm water. Still it kept me warm throughout the rest of the trip and beyond. I loved that sweater.

Our idea was to fly there from Esquel. We headed for the airstrip in overcast weather and heard our plane circle overhead and then keep going. It was unsafe to land. Plan B was to catch a bus and this proved an adventure yet again. This shot is of my companions leaping across a running stream. At one stage the bus stopped and we had to clear a large tree that had fallen across the road. Fortunately there was a chainsaw on board.

Eventually, we picked up a car and headed back to Esquel. I don’t think we told the hire car company exactly where we were going, and when we went to disconnect the speedo to avoid excess kms charges we found the seal had been mended many times before! Argentinians are very cagy.

The weather had cleared, and unfortunately most of the snow melted, on our return, but the ensuing week was a feast of steam. Being front wheel drive, the car was particularly suited to the terrain. You could accelerate out of corners, and the front wheels would pull the car around behind. It was a lot of fun driving on these snow covered dirt roads, sliding all over the place. Somehow we managed not to damage this car. It was a different story in Bolivia, but that is another tale.

I remember hurtling around the dirt road with snow on either side, sliding across crossings and having a great time keeping up with the trains. On one occasion we allowed Mike to drive and he nearly lost it due to inexperience in these conditions. This was like rally driving on not so perfect gravel roads featuring some ice. There was the odd rock fall too.

This is truly Gaucho country. These are Argentina’s version of Cowboys. They are famous for their long leather leggings and operate in a very cold climate. The ranches are huge, and we were told that many are owned by the Queen of England herself, somewhat of a paradox as at that time there had been a savaging of the Argentinian economy due to contamination of beef exports to the UK, and the subsequent ban.

Beef is big in Argentina, known as the world’s largest consumers. Everywhere you go there are steaks, steaks and more steaks! I particularly liked the Milanesa Neopolitana, crumbed veal with ham, mozzarella cheese and tomato paste –yum! Anyway, Patagonia, or at least the region around Esquel, is cattle country where Gouchos reign supreme.

Back To The Gouchos

We loved this railway line, and I know it was steam for some time, so many railfans got there and captured some photos. For us, we were there in its heyday with regular steam and double headers galore. Because it was winter, the snow capped Andes provided a brilliant backdrop.

henschel 2-6-0 patagonia esquel jacobacci argentina steam loco

Double Headed Henschel 2-8-2’s On A Freight With Andes In The Background

Figure 4 Double Baldwins Pass Close By The Andes

One of the stations along the line was called Cerra Mesa (Table Mountain). We ended up here one night and had to find a place to stay. We did sleep in the car a couple of nights, and one night I slept out with my Space Blanket I bought from Australia and my sleeping bag. It was extreme cold out there.

cera mesa table top argentina esquel steam train henschel 2-6-0

Henschel 2-8-2 Passes Cera Mesa ON A Freezing Cold Morning. We Slept In Our Car The Night Before

Anyway we came across one of the Gouchos, a big man with huge arms and he invited us all to stay with his family for the night. They prepared us dinner and in the morning presented us with a bill for services! Quite the entrepreneur, he was.

There were plenty of double headers too. We managed double Baldwins and double Henschels.

el maiten 2-6-0 baldwin argentina patagonia

Double Headed Baldwin 2-8-2’s Near El Maiten IN 1976

Double Headers In All Combinations

We were fortunate enough to find this freight heading towards El Maiten one afternoon. It was the only time we managed to see double Baldwins during our stay.

esquel henschel steam locomotive argentina patagonia

Patagonia Express With enschel Leading Baldwin 2-8-2’s Head Towards Esquel

While the passenger was usually a single engine, on this occasion we managed double Henschels. Note the Andes in the background.

There are two particular shots I am very proud of taken in this area. The first one is of a Gaucho who was racing across the pampas at speed with the train running alongside. This really was like the movies where cowboys would race the trains.

goucho steam train henschel 2-6-0 patagonia argentina loco

Henshcel 2-8-2 Racing A Goucho Argentinian Cowboy In The Wild West Of Patagonia

Figure 5 Gaucho In Full Leggings Riding As The Train Catches Up

I would love to know what you think of this and invite you to leave a comment at the end of the story.

The other happened early one freezing morning. Just to give you an idea of how cold it was, here is a picture of my friends at the location. Note the telegraph pole which I climbed with gloves on to get the photo.



OK, here it is. I had this one made into a poster to hang in my office.

Esquel patagonia argentina steam train henschel 2-6--0

Henshcel 2-8-2 In Superb Light Taken From A Telegraph Pole. Gloves Were Required To Climb This As it Was Below Zero

Figure 6 In Beautiful Light And Freezing Cold A Henschel Heads South

I hope you enjoyed this story and the accompanying photos. We were truly blessed to have such wonderful weather, after the horrendous start to this part of our journey.

Now for the slide show!


Steam Trains On Top Of The World – Bolivia

This story is about my steam train adventure in Bolivia in South America

First, A Quick Quiz.

Which is the highest railway station in the world? Actually, I think that distinction now belongs to a station on the line to Lhasa in Tibet, but that line is relatively new, completed in 2006. Back in the 1070’s there were two very high railway lines. The summit of the Central Of Peru line stretching from Lima to Huancayo with its famous switchbacks was the highest point, but the honour of the highest railway station rested with Condor, on the railway line between Uyuni and Potosi in Bolivia. At 4,786.9 meters it is well above the vegetation line, and very cold at night.

condor bolivia steam train stories andes

Condor, in 1976 The Highest Railway Station In The World

TalTal Chile, Home Of The Kitson Meyer

Our journey started at Santiago in Chile. We headed north to Taltal, home of the Kitson Meyers. Regrettably none was operating at the time, but the Manager there presented me with a builders plate from Beyer Peacock 1904. This came from one of their locos that had been scrapped.

kitson meyer taltal steam engine  chile

Kitson Meyer Tal Tal Chile

I remember we stayed in a guest house in Taltal. This was a small town, and probably didn’t have a hotel. The owner had 2 gorgeous daughters and one took a liking to me. Being rather naive at the time, I refused her advances. This was like something out of a movie. We had fish soup, and from memory just about everything food wise was made from fish in this seaside town. After a pleasant stop we headed north towards Antofagasta.

No More Steam Trains In Antofagasta

The trip north was interesting as the road followed the rail line. Every now and then we would see a roundhouse full of steam locos, with none of them working due to the fact that this section had just been dieselised. Basically we missed out on steam by a few weeks.

antofagasta locomotive depot chile steam engines

Antofagasta Chile Loco Depot July 1976

Interestingly, the roundhouse at Antofagasta was dual gauge. The line south and that over the Andes to Salta, was meter gauge, while there was another line heading north that rarely saw train movements which was standard gauge.

Salta Socompa Railroad

When we approached the depot superintendent to find out if there were any steam movements scheduled, he told me “Que Lastima” which in Spanish means “What a Pity”. This triggered a decision to continue on into Argentina via the very famous Salta Socompa railroad.

salta socompa chile argentina andes crossing

The International Express From Antofagasta Chile to Salta Argentina

This trip is known as one of the great Andes crossings, rising to 4,220 meters and includes a couple of Zig Zags and spiral loops. The train was very crowded leaving Antofagasta, and we were jammed in with the locals.

Once the journey got going passengers pulled out thermos flasks of coffee, Matee and cognac which was duly poured into the coffee. One lady took pity on us and shared some of her coffee. It tasted great and helped us cope with the high altitude. At this point on the trip this was easily the highest we had reached. Apart from the diesel motive power, it was a great trip.

Salta argentina july 1976

Salta Argentina July 1976

We Arrive At Salta, Argentina

At Salta, we wanted to hire a car to photograph the line to the border. Unfortunately, none was available for 2 weeks, so we had to move on. This section had some spectacular Cactus, and was a bit like the old wild west of the USA. Hire cars were scarce back in those days. I remember walking around Salta and noticing that all the cars parked on the side of the road were touching. I wondered how anyone could get in or out of a parking space?

Soon someone came along and got into their car. They shunted the cars back and forward and drove away! In this super flat city no one left their car in gear or with a handbrake. It was very efficient.

Salta was one of 2 cities in Argentina where we stayed at really cheap dives. When I say cheap, Argentina had been a first world country back in the 1950s selling enormous quantities of beef to Europe. Then there was a food poisoning scare and Argentinian beef fell out of favour. This hotel had no hot water. While this was common in Bolivia and Peru, it was the bottom of the barrel for this country.

Late that afternoon we were raided by the secret police. These were people you didn’t mess with. Remember people were vanishing at the time and ending up in quicklime. Anyway they interrogated us and left. Not long after, I noticed a $50 note was missing from my wallet. US bank notes all look the same to us, unlike the very distinct Aussie notes. It was easy for them to slip one out without drawing attention. In any case you didn’t argue with these guys. One of the rules of safe travelling back then was to stay away from the police! You can read about my encounter with the military in another cheap hotel on the Argentina story.

Argentina was still smarting from the 1976 Military Coup, and the currency was rock bottom. One of their trademark dishes was Milanesa Neopolitana, or crumbed veal with tomato sauce and cheese. At this time you could buy a huge plate for just $1US. They also featured fine wines at ridiculous prices. The exchange rate was 205 pesos per us dollar to give you an idea of prices on this sandwich board.

milenesa napolitana salta argentina

We Ate Milanesa Neopolitana At This Restaurant

Steam Train On The Belgrano Internacionale Passenger.

Eventually, we boarded the Internacionale train, which had come all the way from Buenos Aires and was heading to La Paz in Bolivia. It was a very long journey! This line was 3′ 6″ gauge and quite a famous one due to the Andean Crossing to Antofagasta.

The final section from El Volcan to La Quiaca was steam hauled with a Belgrano Railway Henschel 2-10-2 no 1345. On our limited budget, we decided to go straight to Uyuni. I remember the border crossing well. At the time there was some sort of dispute between the two countries. Argentina had recently experienced a military coup, following the demise of Isabel Peron. Due to that, we had to walk the 3 kms to the Bolivian station at Villazon. This was a steady climb at altitude with a full backpack.

Hebschel 2-10-2 no 1345 arrives at La Quiaca on the Internacionale from Buenos Aires To La PAz

The Internacionale arrives in La Quiaca

For those of you who haven’t ventured to Bolivia, or South America for that matter, it is a very different world. In the 1970s, Bolivia was ruled by dictator Hugo Banzer and it was not uncommon for political opponents to simply disappear. Just 10 years before the Cuban hero, Chez Guevarra was executed by the Bolivian army. You needed a “Salvo Conducto” to travel outside of cities and towns. There were checkpoints at the entrance to all major towns in the country, and if you travelled by bus, soldiers frequently made everyone alight and did thorough searches for weapons. The Army was on high alert.

We had no permits to photograph trains or anything else for that matter, and we knew what happened to people who disobeyed authority in this part of the world. Mind you that didn’t stop us anywhere else either! Perhaps you can begin to understand the challenges we faced photographing trains in this part of the world.

La Paz, the capital, more than 10,000 ft above sea level was more like a peasant town than a large city. There was little industry, and not long after we were there another coup took place.

Uyuni Bolivia Steam Train Action

The trip from the Argentine border north to Uyuni in Bolivia was spectacular. For hour after hour the train winds through an incredible gorge with breathtaking scenery. It was multi-coloured indicating rich mineral deposits. The only trip to rival it in my opinion is the Copper Canyon in Mexico, but this line was dieselised years before. We gradually gained height, moving up to the Altiplano. Uyuni sits at 3,700 meters above sea level.

Uyuni Bolivia ice cream makers

Ice Cream Vendors At Uyuni Bolivia

I remember well all the women churning ice cream in the streets. From the civilized countries of Argentina and Chile, this was quite a shock. The people were extremely poor, and very colourful, but there was steam!

uyuni blivia markets

Uyuni Bolivia Markets 1976

There was an abandoned Garratt, and tank engines did the yard shunting. I managed to photograph a 2-8-4 there. As it stands, most of the steam locos in Bolivia are still rotting away close to where they once operated. I believe the Garratts are still sitting at Uyuni in a rather distraught state. Maybe one day and enterprising rich rai lfan will get one back in steam in some far flung corner of the planet. The air was getting thin again, but nothing compared to what we were about to witness.

2-8-4T No 551 steam train engine Shunting At Uyuni Bolivia

2-8-4T No 551 Shunting At Uyuni Bolivia July 1976

From Uyuni west there is a spectacular stretch of high altitude rail line to the Silver Towns of Potosi and Sucre. It is in this area that we probably managed our finest collection of South American Steam photos.

4-8-2 + 2-8-4 Garratt Uyuni Bloivia steam engine

Class Leader 901 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 at Uyuni Bolivia July 1976

Even in 1976 this was mixed between steam and diesel, with some very unique Japanese Mitusbishi 2-8-2’s providing the main motive power. Due to the extreme altitude, these engines were equipped with twin compressors, one on either side of the smoke box. It made them much more symmetrical from the front.

Steam had lingered in this part of the world due to the extreme altitude. While the Central Of Peru by this stage was 100% diesel, the line between Antofagasta in Chile and Salta in northern Argentina had just fallen after modifications to get enough air into the diesels so they could work at altitude. Some of these things would seem very strange today with great leaps in technology.

Hitachi 2-8-2 668 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

Hitachi 2-8-2 No 668 Heading away from Uyuni Bolivia July 1976

As it happens, a Mikado was rostered for the passenger to Potosi, so we were in luck. We hopped on board and traversed the high altitude desert for hour after hour. No trees at this altitude, we were now traversing one of the highest railway lines on earth, as close to the Gods as steam ever gets.

Hitachi 2-8-2 662 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

Hitachi 2-8-2 Heading Towards Potosi From Uyuni Bolivia

If you have never been at altitude before, it is an experience unlike no other. The air is incredibly thin, meaning you have to breathe more to get oxygen in your lungs. You tend to feel lethargic, and running is an effort. We would follow the trains in our Landcruiser, jump out and then get a picture. Then race back in and head off to the next spot. In a word, exhausting. I carried glucose and salt tablets with me and these helped.

Another phenomena of this part of the world were the skies. At times the sky seemed almost black due again to the thin atmosphere. It made for some great photos. They have not been touched up, only scratches and imperfections removed.

Hitachi 2-8-2 662 steam train engine bolivia south america  Potosi

Hitachi 2-8-2 No 662 In Fabulous Scenery West of Potosi Bolivia

We Arrive In Potosi

It was a great trip on the train. Once we had completed the journey there was a 1.5 km walk up a steep hill into town. No problem you might think but with a full laden backpack and being 4,000 meters above sea level, it took quite some effort.

One of our team, Lindsay Rickard, got off the train at Condor to photograph the freight following behind our train, and then went back to La Paz by rail. Mike and I travelled to La Paz by bus and then we all decided to return to Potosi and hire a car to photograph steam movements as it was such a spectacular line.

Unfortunately, there were no cars for hire in Potosi, and in any case, we wanted a 4 wheel drive after friends of ours had left their car in the desert after it broke down. Lindsay decided to go and get the car and headed off on the night bus.

Hitachi 2-8-2 668 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

Freight Heading Down The Gorge West Of Potosi

He returned a day later totally exhausted, with a near new Toyota Land Cruiser. The Bolivian roads and police checkpoints really take their toll on you. While we waited there was time to photograph a Baldwin 2-8-2 shunting the yard.

baldwin 2-8-2 655 potosi bolivia steam engine

Baldwin 2-8-2 No 655 Shunting Potosi

I did my research about this part of the world and the extreme altitude and came prepared with glucose tables for energy and salt tablets as well. We made sure we drank plenty of water too. It was very cold and we used to stop the car, race out to a photo spot, then race back into the car and take off. You have no idea how exhausting this is. The air was so thin the sky looked almost black. You could say this was the railway line closest to heaven.

We were young and crazy, or at least I was, with little fear of safety or consideration of anything going wrong, so we approached our mission with gay abandon. I remember fishtailing down the road and sliding around corners leaving behind huge dust trails. It was a lot of fun. At night we would head back to our backpackers retreat in Potosi.

Heading For Sucre

Lindsay went off to have a good sleep after bringing the car back from La Paz, while Mike and I followed a train towards Sucre. Again, this section followed some spectacular countryside, although we didn’t follow the whole section of line. It leaves the road at Betanzos and is inaccessible for most of the journey beyond there. The line climbs up an amazing escarpment, one of the best I have seen.

sucre potosi bolivia steam train 2-8-2 668

Hitachi 2-8-2 No 668 Heads Towards Sucre

Back Towards Uyuni

The top of the line was Condor, the highest railway station in the world at the time, 15,700 feet above sea level. We witnessed natives playing soccer and were amazed at their energy at this altitude. We were told that they develop larger hearts and lungs than other humans to adapt to the climate, plus of course drink plenty of coco tea. They would chew coco leaves constantly as well for energy.

Hitachi 2-8-2 668 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

No 668 At Condor

Top Of The World. Mitusbishi Mikado 668 on the Passenger Train

This was where I had my first taste of Coco tea. No, it was nothing like pure cocaine, but a mild stimulant which was really useful in this harsh environment. The locals would constantly chew the leaves to keep working in the harsh environment. It rotted their teeth as a side effect. We marvelled at the locals playing soccer at this altitude. Mike tried to join in but started puffing and panting. Turns out they have evolved larger heart and lung capacity.

Hitachi 2-8-2 668 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

668 On The Regular Passenger

On the train journey down, we had seen some spectacular scenery closer to Uyuni and wanted to get back there. The map showed a sort of goat track which more or less followed the railway line, so early one morning we headed off chasing a freight.

Hitachi 2-8-2 668 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

668 Heads Through A Gorge On A Freight

We passed a herd of Alpacas crossing a rocky creek bed. The road did get worse and worse, but with the rail line in site, we knew we were on the right track. In any case we had a 4 wheel drive which could negotiate almost any terrain. On the Bolivian road map this is listed as main route number 5!

alpacas potosi rio mulatos uyuni bolivia

Alpacas On The Main Road

At the end of the day, after the sun had set, we stopped, had something to eat and rather than drive for hours more in the dark, decided to sleep in the Land Cruiser. As it turned out we did have enough to keep us warm, but only just.

In the morning we awoke to temperatures of -20 C with ice all over the front of the car. We were camped near a creek and eventually got the windscreen wipers moving, shifting the icebergs of the glass. A train was on the way, so Lindsay hopped in the driver’s seat and away we went.

Hitachi 2-8-2 668 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

We Farewell The Passenger As It Continues On Its Journey

The train we were following was the local “Tea And Sugar” train which ran once a week with a mixed consistency and stopped at every station and halt along the way. In a minute you will realise the significance of this.

At our first stop I took what I consider one of my best photos. This was one of the Mitsubishi 2-8-2s spurting a huge plume of smoke upwards in the freezing cold, windless air early morning. A poster sized print of this bears pride of place in my office even today.

Rio Mulatos Blivia hitachi 2-8-2 steam engine

Magnificent Is The Only Way To Describe This Early Morning Shot Mid Winter In Bolivia

Lindsay then discovered he needed to change the film in his camera. It was agreed I would drive to the next spot so the train wouldn’t get away. We came over a rise only to see boulders over the road with a narrow sandy passage. I hit the brakes and nothing happened. The ice on the brake shoes had just started to melt, giving the brakes no grip whatsoever. We bounced off the first rock, slid sideways on the second and at the third, the 4wd tipped on its side. Worse than that, there was a hole in the sump sufficient to let all the oil drain out.

land cruiser rio mulatos uyuni potosi condor bolivia

Our Hired Land Cruiser Capsized And Tore A Hole In The Sump

We had to act fast. The local was on its way and there was a stop just down the track. This was the only train to stop at this station for a week and we had not passed a single vehicle on the road. We decided to ditch the car, grabbed all our possessions and headed for the station. This led to an eventful ride in a Bolivian Mixed train with locals, animals and whatever else turned up. It was a slow trip back to Potosi.

Rio Mulatos Blivia hitachi 2-8-2 steam engine

Stuck In The Desert, We Wait For The Weekly Mixed Service

Decisions needed to be made. I had seen “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and knew what happened to them in Bolivia. It was in 1967 that Cuban revolutionary hero, Che Guevarra was executed by the Bolivian army, and everywhere we went by road we encountered road blocks near towns designed to keep insurgents out. You get used to being stopped by the army in South America. In some ways we were fortunate to ride the “Tea and Sugar” train. Because it stopped and shunted all along the line, we managed to get a few shots, including this one which shows how seriously cold it was.

Hitachi 2-8-2 668 steam train engine bolivia south america Uyuni Potosi

Taking Water From A Near Frozen Water Tank AT 3 pm

We decided the best thing to do was to cut our losses and run. I am sure the huge bonds now required to hire cars in this country can be attributed to our adventures, so I am sorry if it happens to you.

Lindsay had paid the bond, mostly in unsigned travellers cheques which could be replaced, so I stuck with him and we headed for the nearest border, that of Argentina. Mike headed towards La Paz and Peru, a much longer route, but more direct. 12 hours later Lindsay and I were celebrating our escape from Bolivia. I haven’t been back since.

So ended our steam adventure to the Altiplano of Bolivia. Just think if that Land Cruiser hadn’t capsized, I would never have met my first wife. That is the subject of another story on this site. I am constantly amazed how life works in such mysterious ways, even in Bolivia South America.

South American Steam Train Escapade Pt 1 Brazil

By Easter 1976 I was fed up with living in South Africa. I had been there 1 ½ years, and spent a good deal of time photographing in the surrounding area. Considering when I left home, I expected to be away for less than a year, it was time to move on.

Since returning from Mozambique I had been hard at work. My first project was an internal telephone exchange in the African Eagle building, at that time the tallest in South Africa. The engineer in charge walked out part way through the project and I volunteered to finish it. It left me highly regarded in the company and just before Easter, the boss offered my supervisor’s job. He had gone off to fight against the Cubans in Angola on a secret mission the government kept secret.

I was working up to 100 hours a week, and in between visiting the local pub in Hillbrow and making the occasional foray to record some steam action. I sort of fixed my car, but it was still tending to crumble. I made around 1100 Rand a month.

Three of us lived in the flat in Yeoville, Martin Pemble from England, John Allerton and myself. We were part of a thriving railway group, one of whom was Greg Triplett who had ventured to Angola and got shot at, and sent to Mozambique just before I did. Greg went off to South America and came back with such wonderful photos we had to go there too!

troley bus johannesburg 1975Every Wednesday night we visited the Ambassador Hotel for a drink to reminisce and listen to an excellent band. The main song I remember was a Captain and Tenille song, “Love Will Keep Us Together.” It was a good night out and a venue for planning future trips. Hillbrow is now the Harlem of South Africa, a place where it is unsafe for white people to visit.

I travelled to work on the Trollybuses that went to Rissik street. Every afternoon in summer, just as we were about to board the bus, there would be a huge thunderstorm, and everyone got soaked.

Fond memories of my time in this now forbidden city.

We Prepare For South America

Lindsay Rickard from Melbourne, and Mike the Pom who had been with me in Mozambique decided to be part of the South American expedition, and we started planning. Even in those days there was quite a network of railfans reporting from all parts of the globe on steam movements. The book “World Of South American Steam” had just been published. This is now considered rare and very hard to obtain. The pictures made us want to go even more.

Being one who wanted to be prepared, I enrolled in Spanish lessons from an Argentinian lady who lived nearby and started learning the lingo. This was to prove very useful for a number of reasons, not the least getting around in South America. Another godsend was an amazing guide book, “The South American Handbook”, a hard cover publication with incredibly detailed information on the continent. It was a bible to us on the trip.

There were months of careful planning, mapping out all of the remaining steam lines on the continent and deciding where we should spend most of our time. Speaking of time, steam was disappearing fast, so we had to get there ASAP! When Greg returned, he told us about a couple of hire cars he had destroyed. We laughed, but found out why during our adventure. The roads were nothing short of atrocious.

The Last Great South African Steam Trek

datsun 1200 johannesburg steam train storiesBefore we left, we had planned a couple of final journeys in South Africa. The first was over the Easter weekend, when a group of us headed south. On this occasion we hired a Datsun 1200 as my car couldn’t make the distance. During the trip we were travelling on a dead straight road at around 100 kph when the driver fell asleep at the wheel. We drifted across and flew over an embankment, only to land in a creek. You can see from the photo a rail bridge just behind the car. This is where we landed. As you can see the car was not in too good condition. The front wheels were out of alignment, but we managed to drive it back to Johannesburg.

In all fairness, we were moving along the Kimberly De Aar main line where trains reach speeds of up to 100 kph.

25 class south africa steam engine condensor de aar

25 Condenser on an afternoon freight between Kimberly and De Aar makes use of available lighting

These are massive engines, with huge coolers on the tenders to reduce water consumption for the trip across the Karoo desert. In later years, many of the condensers were converted with a Vanderbuilt type tender, which looked half like a water carrier. There were 3 types of 25 class, Condenser, NC and converted.

One more indulgence before we leave this part of the world, an African sunset silhouette of a mighty 25.

25 class south africa steam engine condensor kimberley

Mighty 25 silhouetted against a typical striking African sunset in the Karoo

We nurtured our broken car back to Johannesburg, satisfied with our haul of photos, then handed it back to the hire car company. In those days it cost R10 a day with no insurance excess. How different to today’s rules. I went back to work after Easter and handed in my resignation much to my boss’s disgust. He really couldn’t understand why I had done the hard yards and was leaving just when my star was rising in the company. I could see the future for South Africa, and it didn’t look that rosy! By this stage I even had my residency papers, so I could stay if I wished. They vowed never to employ an Aussie again!

I know, I haven’t left South Africa yet. I thought this story was about South America.

Once I finished work, Lindsay and I hired a Volkswagen. We had 2 weeks before we were due to leave. First a quick trip down to the Western Cape via Lootsberg and Avontuur, then we back tracked to Rhodesia, and spent some time on the West Nicholson line. Got some great photos before returning the car to Johannesburg (intact for a change), and hopping on a plane to Rio.

14A rhodesia fort nicholson steam engine

14 Class 516 on a West Nicholson freight Rhodesia

We Arrive In South America

MY first impression of South America has never left me. In those days, South Africa was a quiet, slow paced country, where you could travel freely and feel safe. I know it is not like that anymore, but it was back then. We arrived in the evening at Rio, and I remember walking under the nose of the Concord on the way to the terminal.

Once we passed immigration and customs and hit the outside, we were besieged by Taxi Drivers, tour operators, and all sorts of scam artists offering to take us to the best or cheapest hotel in town. It was totally overwhelming.

We Get Out Of Rio As Fast As Possible

sao jao del rei cathedral churchIn the light of all of this, we decided the best thing to do was to get out of town as quickly as possible so we could adjust to the new continent. We caught a public bus to the main railway station and caught an overnight train to São João delRei. This was the terminus of a 2′ 6″ railway line somewhat similar to that at João Bello in Mozambique. The first night, we spent the most we ever did for a room, $4US! Yes, in those days, accommodation in that part of the world was very cheap. We met a group of girls who were collecting on the street, and they showed us around. We loved this little town, and the hospitality of the Brazilians.

This place was free and easy and no one minded us wandering around the loco depot and taking a few photos. So different from Rio. I was definitely starting to like Brazil.

Brazilian Narrow Gauge

sao joao del rei cab 41 steam engineOh, in those days I was young! I took the obligatory pose in the cab of one of the narrow gauge engines. The main line went from Antonio Carlos to São João Del Rei and was built in the late 1890s. The main traffic was limestone and the line was closed when this traffic stopped in 1983. Now there are still steam trains operating from São João Del Rei as a tourist railway. Of course, when we were there, it was a regular steam operation.

This line was a bit like a miniature railway. It really didn’t seem like an important rail link. The trains were very slow, the whole place was so relaxed, even the water tanks were in the middle of nowhere.

60 steam loco sao joao del rei brazil steam engine

No 60 takes on water

One of the main differences from our trip to Jao Belo in Mozambique, definitely a sister railway to this one with the same gauge and similar motive power was that it was so relaxed. We could move where we wished amongst the friendly Brazilians.

The line wound its way through the Brazilian jungle, so it was difficult to get good photo opportunities. For the most part this happened at the many stops along the way.

60 sao joao del rei campolinde steam train narrow guage 2' 6"

We pause at Campolide to pick up and set down passengers

Campolide was one of those stops. In South America, watching the activities while in the train station are often a highlight of the trip. Street vendors descend on the train plying their wares. These days, I wonder how they make a living.

60 sao joao del rei steam mixed train brazil

You can see the limestone on the first two wagons of the regular mixed

At this stage we had only spent one day of our adventure, and Lindsay had an appointment with a plane back to Australia in September, so despite our love for this little town, it was time to move on.

2-4-0 no 22 sao joao del rei brazil steam engine

2-4-0 no 22 cleaning the ash at night

That night, we obtained a few more photos at the depot. I remember chatting to a few Brazilians in a combination of Portuguese, Spanish and English on the bus back to Rio. I was really warming to these people.

42 41 60 sao joao del rei brazil steam loco

Three peas in a pod. A beautiful site at São João del-Rei loco depot

After this little adventure, we travelled back to Rio and stayed in a cheap backpackers. When I say cheap, I mean really basic. Dorm rooms and a single shower with the wonderful “live” shower head which has bare wires carrying high voltage to heat the water.

Rio, to be fair, is an incredible beautiful city, with hills, cable cars and trams.

rio de janeiro tram

A typical Rio tram climbing the hills

One of the most interesting aspects of this city was its buses. Nothing unusual about the buses, but the bus drivers were completely mad. They would brace themselves as they slid around corners at high speed. On one occasion another bus decided to overtake ours on the right. Our driver took exception to this and they proceeded to keep side swiping each other down the road for a while! They really take their job seriously.

While on the subject of buses, when we eventually headed from Rio to Sao Paulo on a coach, it made us very wary of doing bus journeys in South America as all along the freeway there were ruins of coaches which ran off the road! Totally crazy. Later in Sao Paulo, I had another hair raising experience with a Brazilian driver.

In the next South American story, I will cover the sugar mills around Campos.

John Gaydon’s Steam Romance Story

Peruvian Steam Train Romance

No series of adventures would be complete without some romance, and as it turns out, I am no exception. Nearly a year after my Mozambique adventure, I headed off to South America with Mike Grainger (who was with me on the big adventure), and Lindsay Rickard from Melbourne.

Lindsay worked as a driver of steam at Pietermaritzburg on the fabulous Natal line. He still works for the tramways in Melbourne, Australia, and is one of the contributors to

It was a well planned trip, and the subject of more fabulous photos and stories. We landed in Rio De Janeiro and I distinctly remember passing right under the nose of the “Concord” supersonic jetliner on the tarmac. I will be detailing this trip later, but Rio was totally scary after the quiet of South Africa. We were so put out, instead of booking a hotel, we headed straight out of town on the first train!

After a few fabulous weeks in Brazil we visited Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, then Bolivia, where our steam tour ended rather suddenly when I rolled our Toyota Lancruiser early one morning literally in the middle of nowhere. The plan was to return the car to La Paz, and then travel on to Lake Titicaca and Cuzco.

When we lost the car and abandoned it as a matter of survival, just as some friends did before us, Lindsay, whose name was on the rental agreement, and I decided it bets to get him out of the country before anyone realised what had happened.

Well, Mike decided it didn’t affect him and headed north, and I never saw him again until I reached England some months later. We worked out the quickest way out was to head south back into Argentina. We crossed for the second time, the rail link between Salta and Antofagasta, crossing the Andes. Only a few months before our visit this line had steam, but now the loco depot in Antofagasta was full of non working locomotives.


Next was a bus ride to Tacna where we crossed the border into Arica in Peru. Again, there were a bunch of locomotives in Arica, but alas, steam had finished on this isolated railway too. The final rid in the bus was to Arequipa, in southern Peru, where the rail link to Cuzco and Maccu Piccu commenced.

A Missed Train Changed My Life

The “Express” to Cuzco was due out at 10 pm, and we had plenty of time, except we didn’t allow for the many slow security checks in Peru. Our bus was stopped just outside the town, and boarded by soldiers. After half an hour we were released, only to be 5 minutes late for the train.

Now if you are familiar with South America, you will know that most trains run late, but this time it didn’t! We were forced to stay overnight and catch the day train next morning to Juliaca. This took all day and then there was another night waiting for the connection from Lake Titicaca to Cuzco.

I remember well the long climb from sea level to some 10,000 feet or more as we wounld our way up the Andes. At times I felt out of breath and dizzy. Certainly the slow train trip made it much easier to adjust. I pity those who fly from sea level straight into Cuzco at 3,300 meters or around 10,800 ft, not as high as we went in Bolivia, but high enough to take your breath away literally!

After a trouble free diesel ride to Juliaca, a trip to the local market to purchase an Alpaca jumper, and a good night’s rest, we boarded our train for Cuzco. There wasn’t much room, but we found a seat opposite two young women. I remember one was named Diana, and the other Luz.

We Chat To Some Girls On The Train

Back in South Africa before I journeyed to South America, I learned Spanish for a number of weeks in preparation for the trip. It was indeed useful, and I saw this situation as an opportunity to practice my Spanish. The girls wanted to practice their English too, so we had long, awkward conversations along the way. I have to admit I rather fancied Diana, however fate had different ideas for me! Conversation turned to where we would stay in Cuzco, and mouths opened aghast when I described our destination, the Hotel Procuradores.

There were a couple of recommended backpacker residences in the town. They had dorm rooms with beds and foam mattresses. You supplied all the bedding. There were hooks on the ceiling to hang any food so the rats couldn’t eat it! Cuzco was a dangerous place with frequent robberies and pickpockets. You had to keep your possessions with you at all times, and be on the watch for suspicious characters. These establishments were clearly not first class, but they cost 60c a night, so we didn’t care.

Luz was saving money, and the temptation of keeping her travel allowance (she was on a work trip) was too much, so she tagged along with us. Next morning Lindsay and I climbed the hill behind the city and took some photos of the relief train with a magnificent 2-8-0 on the front. They were to be my last photos in South America.

Figure 2 Day Train To Machu Picchu Climbs Out Of Cuzco

After a day in Cuzco we caught the evening train to Aguas Calientes, and as Luz had finished her business, she decided to join us. At this stage the romance was blossoming somewhat and we went for a walk down the track towards Machu Picchu for some privacy.

I Tip Over The Bed Late At Night!

I had a top bunk in the accommodation which was at the local railway station! It was a big dorm for the backpackers. I remember a steam train arriving during the evening. It was all very exciting.

Well, after the walk, back to the station accommodation, and getting into my top bunk, I managed to tip the whole thing over and wake everyone up! I was mortified. Yet another adventure I won’t forget.

Machu Picchu At Dawn

Next morning a large group of us left at 5am and walked up the tracks through a long tunnel to Machu Picchu station and headed up the hill. Many people have been robbed in this area, so safety in numbers was important. We were after the spectacular sunrise over Machu Picchu. Luz, Lindsay and I spent the day photographing and viewing everything. It was quite magnificent.

That night we returned to Cuzco and the Procuradores and the next morning we farewelled Luz on the bus to Lima. I thought that might be the last I saw of her, as I had plans to return to Chile and work in Valparaiso where I had a job lined up.

There are times in your life where you really wonder whether life is conspiring to move you a certain way, and this was one of them. The next day we boarded our bus to Lima. It was quite a trip.

A Long Ride

The buses were not too bad by South American standards. They had padded bench seats a ladder to the roof and plenty of luggage space on top. Cargo and animals were secured on the roof, and the same drivers were there for the whole journey. We had read of many buses sailing off the roads in the Andes, and were amused by the designation of “Piloto” and “Copiloto”, in Spanish Pilot and Co-pilot for the drivers! Clearly they were used to flying.

Remember, Cuzco was nearly 11,000 ft above sea level and our journey would end at the coast. Clearly we had a hill or two to traverse! As we set off, we would come to the top of a pass in the mountains and see the next town nestled in the valley, some distance away. For the next 6 or 7 hours, our bus would slowly negotiate mud slides, pieces of road with no road base under them, frequent crosses on the roadside representing a death each, and an occasional shrine where a bus went over the edge, And countless llamas and other herd animals. I remember at the end of the first day, we didn’t make it into town until after dark. As it turned out, the petrol station had closed and no amount of banging on the owners door could stir him into action!

The driver parked the bus and waited until morning. We lost a lot of time! Eventually we were underway again.

The Descent Into Hell

On the roof of our bus were a pig and a goat. They rode all the way to Lima. We were entertained by a group of French tourists singing songs at regular intervals.

After two days of pure torture, having already bitten our arms down to the elbows, we started the descent to the coast. The top of the pass is at Abra Huashuaccasa which is around 5300 m above sea level. The road clings to one side of a narrow gorge with loose rocks everywhere. It was dirt, dusty, and sandy in places making the bus swerve frequently.

To top it all off, we did the entire descent in “Angel Gear”, or neutral, relying on the brakes to pull us up! It was one of the most scary trips of my life. From Nazca it was a comfortable ride along a bitumen road to Lima, where we alighted in a large market area. If you have done any third world bus travel, you will know that markets at night are not the safest places.

My Cameras Stolen

I was feeling pretty good about the fact I had survived the Andes without losing anything to thieves. I was unbelievably exhausted and for a second put my camera bag down to ask directions. In a flash it was gone, complete with all my pictures of Machu Picchu. This totally ruined my plans.

We booked a room for $2 a night at the Hotel Europa, near the catacombs and Sao Francisco square. The room had no windows and was whitewashed. Basic, but adequate. Lindsay was due to catch a plane back to Australia in a few days, so we headed up the Central Of Peru Railway to Huancayo.

Figure 3 Normally I Don’t Share Diesel Photos. This One One The Central Of Peru Was Taken By Lindsay Rickard

This is a one day journey to the highest railway elevation on earth at La Cima, 4,835m above sea level. The train crosses 41 bridges, 60 tunnels and around 13 zig zags, taking approximately 8 hours up-hill to reach the Galera tunnel. It is an engineering masterpiece.

The Huancavelica 3 Foot Gauge Line

This section was diesel, and not our main aim. From Huancayo to Huancavellica, we were very fortunate to have a Baldwin 2-6-0 number 101 on this 3 foot gauge line. These days the line is converted to standard gauge, so it is no longer possible for this engine to operate, although I believe it still exists.

Figure 4 Lady collects hot water from Baldwin 2-6-0 no 101 Photo Lindsay Rickard

The line twists along a gorge for much of its journey passing through rough rock tunnels at frequent intervals. It really was like the Wild West, with box cars and a ladder leading to the roof. The carriages were open ended platform types. The engine and train would have to be one of the most aesthetic I have seen.

I spent some time riding on top of the first carriage, ducking as we approached tunnels and frequently being asked to get down by railway attendants. It really was a fun journey.

Lindsay Goes Home

Back in Lima, I said my farewells to Lindsay and changed to a single room at the hotel. I had asked my mum to send over a spare SLR camera I had left at home, so decided to stay in Lima for a week or so to wait for it to arrive.

Yes, I was a little naive in those days. I since learned that at that time cameras were a prized commodity in Lima. To get an idea, cars didn’t have windscreen wipers, because if you left them on the car they would be stolen! The camera never came. It was almost certainly acquired by some customs official. Perhaps if I had bribed the right person, it would have got there!

Stranded Without A Camera

Stuck in Lima, with nothing to do, I decided to contact Luz and say hello. We had a few picnics on the outskirts of town, and kept in touch. I ate my first avocado on one of those picnics. This food was not well known in Australia at that time.

I had some pretty amazing experiences in Lima, and as there weren’t too many foreigners visiting at that point in time, thought a bit of history might be of interest.

Lima Was Like No Other Place On Earth

Lima was a city where it hardly ever rained. That is one reason why cars had no wipers on them. It was hot and very dusty as a result. The good news was at Miraflores, a short drive away were some lovely beaches.

Travel was by minibus where people would climb no the roof and use every square inch of space, or collective. These were old cars that would move up and down main thoroughfares taking on paying passengers. As for Taxis, I saw a couple of Model T fords being used as Taxi Cabs

There was a large park in town, which had markets. I saw a sixteenth century organ grinder, complete with monkey with a little hat on, soliciting donations with a little tin cup! If you ventured out in shorts, you would be pinched on the bum. That was for gays only. I remember one person staying at the hotel went for a walk and came running back very quickly due to this! He never wore shorts again.

Lima had a raging black market for Soles. The official rate was 35 per US dollar. You could get 65 without too much trouble, but it was dangerous. If caught, Peruvian prisons were not a nice place to spend your vacation! We dealt through an Australian, Simon, who was married to a Peruvian, and had access to the wealthy, most of whom had a thirst for US dollars. We received 80 Soles per dollar and it was much safer!

It is hard to imagine this, but in 1976, there were three international hotels. The Bolivar cost $36 a night, the Sheraton was $33 a night and I can’t recall the other. Just think what top hotels charge now! There was one Escalator in the entire country, and I think a couple of sets of Traffic Lights.

The Macabre And Bizarre

I had occasion to visit the Lima Zoo. This one took the cake. In the middle there was an exhibition of the Amazon Rainforest. Complete with a resident tribe. Yes, they lived there! Imagine that in a US Zoo.

There was a midnight curfew. I would drink “emoliente” purchased from a street stall late at night. These were heated herb juices with various special herbs added- delicious. Then scurry back to my room.

One afternoon, I was resting as I had a full day. I fell asleep on the single bed. Then I felt myself rising up into the air. I looked down and saw myself asleep on the bed. It was such a shock, I was jolted out of my out of body experience and woke up. This was a very real experience for me.

Another time two Aussie girls turned up in the Hotel, and invited everyone around for Vegemite sandwiches. The few Aussies quickly descended on their room and we all had a great party.

Lima was a rather macabre place. It wasn’t just the Zoo, but a couple of very interesting attractions right near the hotel. One was the Museum Of The Inquisition, where dummies were set up to show how the various torture methods worked. They had the Garrotte, the Rack, replicas of being drawn and quartered, the whole bit. Glad I wasn’t around back in those days. It was a very well laid out display though, and captured what it would have been like.

The other was the Catacombs underneath the church of San Francisco, across the square. There are human bones from some 70,000 people buried there and it lay undiscovered until 1943. In true Peruvian style, they exhumed the bodies and laid them out in patterns!



One last place I remember well was the chapel of Santa Rosa De Lima, Peru’s only Saint. Another macabre story, she would beat herself and from the age of 20, wore a crown made of silver, with small spikes on the inside, reminiscent of the crown of thorns worn by Christ. In fairness, she was known for charity to the poor, but the self flagellation was really extreme. The whole place was very dark, and it left me in full certainty I was not interested in Catholicism or sainthood if that’s what it took!

I know I am painting a bleak picture of the place, but this is how Lima was back then. There was one bright spot, the Museum Of Archaeology, which had a large collection of Inca objects taken from such places as Machu Picchu. It was wonderful and full of Peruvian history.

Lima is definitely worth a visit. It really is a fascinating place, and I am sure the accommodation is much better now. Unfortunately, you probably won’t see the Model T taxis anymore!

Time To Leave

Well, after several weeks, I could wait no longer. I was seeing Luz regularly and going on dates to the beach, picnics up the hills behind Lima and various other outings. I was on a really tight budget. I would eat a can of tuna one day, fried rice another, and a plate of salad on the third. I ate Cebiche (a delicious meal of raw fish marinated in lemon with a touch of Chile), and fried fish off the street markets. Luz told me they would never do that and how come I wasn’t sick!

I tossed and turned at what to do, and eventually, my heart took over and I asked Luz to come with me. It wasn’t an easy decision for either of us. I had to get going and she had no money, so it would severely curtail my travels. She had an old boyfriend who was hanging around and some family. To make matters worse, the government charge a tourist tax for locals leaving the country.

Luz Travels North With Me

We headed north and at the border paid for a week in Ecuador. I don’t know if she ever went back to Peru.

On the steam side, we did travel on the famous Ecuador line from Riobamba to Guayaquil. I rode in the cab of a train as far as Alausi, which was a thrill. I didn’t see another steam loco until San Salvador in El Salvador.

To finish the story we travelled together through Central America to Mexico. She couldn’t get a US VISA, so I travelled overland to Canada and flew from Montreal to London. Luz went to Spain and flew from there. I have no idea how she managed to make it to England.

A little while later, I returned home to work and get some more money. It took a long time to get her a VISA, and it only happened after I started harassing the Immigration department here.

We parted ways in 1987, after an interesting, if sometimes stormy relationship. I guess it was meant to be!

That’s my romantic story with steam, what’s yours?


John Gaydon


Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software