Lokomotiv

He started with a pick and shovel, planting the heavy crossbeams that support the train lines.  His father had also been a railroad worker, and an uncle even managed to drive the freight cars, loaded with cane, up to the plant.  I was very young and already his life was connected to the journey of a locomotive, with its file of loud, packed cars.  Some years passed, he managed to have, finally, the controls between his hands and to drive the metal serpent through the Cuban countryside.  My father became an engineer, fulfilling a long family lineage, which had been joined to the railroad for decades.

More than once, I myself drove one of those machines along a quiet stretch, while he supervised my movements and taught me to sound the horn.  “We had trains before Spain,” my paternal grandfather said, whenever anyone asked about his work.  So I grew up, smelling the metal of the brakes that screeched at every stop and pulling the rope of my toy train, surrounded by plastic trees and miniature cows.

The collapse of socialism in Europe derailed the family profession.  Many engines stopped for lack of parts, the trips became more widely spaced and the delays habitual.  Leaving Havana headed to Santiago could be delayed twenty hours or three days.  In some small towns the cars were attacked by needy peasants who would steal some of the goods being transported.  The loudspeakers in the central station repeated endlessly, “The departure of the train to… has been cancelled.”  My father was left without a job and his colleagues began to make a living through a variety of illegal work.

The railroad in Cuba hasn’t recovered from this crash.  Aging rail lines, long lines to buy a ticket and the fall from grace of an entire profession, has given this mode of transport the worst reputation.  “At the rate we’re going, we’ll stop having railroads before the Peninsula*…” my father says sarcastically.  His gaze is not fixed on the wheel that he begins to dismount—in his new profession as bicycle repairman—but at a point further away, to the mass of iron that he guided along this long and narrow Island.

Translator’s notes
“Lokomotiv” refers to a Soviet Era locomotive
“The Peninsula” is how Cubans often refer to Spain

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19 thoughts on “Lokomotiv

  1. Come to Birmingham (UK), LOrion! At our Railway Museum – http://www.vintagetrains.co.uk/brm.htm – you can learn all the tasks associated with running a railway. The one-day “taster” course, which gives a supervised introduction to locomotive driving, is a popular birthday or Christmas present. I was more than ready for a pint (or two) of “Steam” ale afterwards!

  2. OH! OH! My G**…You drove a locomotive! That is the one very thing I have always wanted to do! I love knowing someone who did.

  3. Michael… you hit the nail on the head. Perfect refrain! “You ain’t the boss of me!” Too bad Cubans can’t say that to the Castro Brothers, Inc.

  4. Patricio, you better take your meds, or better yet, some ron. Whose telling you what to do? Certainly not me. Wasn’t aware that this site was just limited to “preaching to the choir.” If Yoani tells me, or her translators, I’ll be glad to buzz off. Otherwise, as They Might Be Giants sing, “You ain’t the boss of me!”

  5. Eh, Miguel, por que no te quedaste en Cuba para siempre si estuviste alla ayudando las comunistas? Eso no entiendo, man. Por que viene y va? Piensas que es “cool” o algo? Que pasa?

    I don’t know why you preach here. Personally, I HATE communists and socialists who want to tell me how to live and/or what to do/think. Sorry man. I feel nothing but hostility for people like you. Just being honest.

  6. Carbo Servia,
    You gotta be kidding! In my travels around Cuba I seldom go on organized tours. I do my own thing. I’m not “minded” by anyone, nor followed around by anyone. Your comments indicate that you’re really out of the loop, and haven’t been to Cuba lately. Even in 1969-70, when I cut cane 60 miles east of Habana for three months, although I went on many supervised tours with the rest of the Brigade, on many weekends I passed up the official tours, opting instead to go into Habana on my own, using the local guagua, often standing all the way in/back (about two hours) in a bus packed as tightly as a can of sardines. While not being able yet to take the train, I did take the “camelos” out to the ‘burbs, and I was the only estranjero on the “Toonerville Trolley” (Tren Hershey) the day I took it from Casa Blanco to Matanzas and return. Though I could have bused it to Matanzas faster, still, the trip was worth it for the fotos I took, and the friend–not “fren”–I made. In Santiago a couple of years ago I went to the station and attempted to buy a tic for the “Tren Frances,” but was told to come back the following day. When I did, I was told the tren would be leaving on a day which would require me to stick around Santiago for another couple of days, so I opted for ViAzul. I don’t take Astro because I know that I’d be bumping someone off who maybe signed up days, if not weeks, in advance, whereas ViAzul are paid for in CUC’s, and are mostly for tourists, or those Cubans who have CUC’s through work or family abroad.

  7. Returning to railways, it is a sadness to see those of Argentina, for example, in such a sorry state. Particularly as we British built much of them (TeeHee – some cause confusion by running on the “correct” as opposed to “Napoleonic” side of the track :-)) back when, as I’ve said, our population wasn’t much larger than that of Cuba today. However, the worldwide decline in the popularity rail travel is usually prompted by prosperity, which has lead to the use of cars for short trips and aircraft for longer. Railways are, in principle, unable to compete with private transport but in regions like Europe, they have been preserved through massive subsidies. In Cuba, as has been mentioned, competition has declined drastically since the revolution and the decay of the railways is merely a reflection of that of the economy in general.

  8. av2ts dice: 28 Enero 2009 a las 23:47
    0000000000000000000000000000000

    …………Human Development – Last time I checked, Cuba ranked #2 in the world in terms of their “human development”

    Why then lies Cuba among the firs countries in the word because its suicide rate?
    Why then lies Cuba among the first countries in the word because infantile prostitution?
    Why then hounded of thousand of cubans prefer to lost their lives in the see trying to reach US coasts? ……. are all cubans crazy???

    …………before the Revolution most peasants could only find work for half of the year. The other half, there was nothing but hunger

    It is other of the fantasies the people that apologizes the dictatorship try to spread around. Before revolution most peasant had own land or rented land and they grown sugar cane half of the year and grown other things the rest of the year making Cuba a food self sufficient country…… today Cuba has to import everything from USA because the government took the land from the peasants.

    ……….Cuba has next to zero unemployment (2%), rebounding very strongly since the troubles in the 1990s….

    Ohh yes, everybody can find a job in Cuba and earn 0.50 dollar a day….or…… 71 dollar a year……. with this splendid salary you can buy half a coke daily….. then you have to find a real job outside the regimen’s offer for surviving. Don’t be silly!!!

    ………Immigration-emigration balance – Cuba is not significantly different than any other country in Latin America

    In 1959, the cuban consulate in Rome received 11.000 applications of Italians that wanted to emigrate to Cuba
    In 1959, the cuban consulate in Madrid received 35.000 applications of Spaniards that wanted to emigrate to Cuba
    Thousands of Haitians, Jamaicans, Dominicans and Puertoricans emigrated to Cuba and conformed the cuban ethnicity as well as thousands of gringos!!!!
    But today we have 3 millions cubans spread around the world…..What happen, buddy????? …….. Got the world crazy?????

    …………Freedom, human rights – you must be joking. The “freedom” to oppose the Government in 1959 included lynchings, torture and on the spot executions.

    You are the one that are joking………… What the hell have to do with today world something that happened half a century ago….. those people paid for what they did….. but after theyCastro killed more than 16.000 people , put in jail more than 300.000 people, half of them pacific dissidents, and still is killing people , jailing journalists, sinking boats full of children and shooting down civil planes!!!!

    ………Cubans may be lacking a lot of things, but they certainly were given their national pride back by the Revolution.

    How can be a people be pride of it self if they have the following records:
    – 50 years of dictatorship
    – Were one of the richest country in the hemisphere and now is one poorest
    – Today is one of the preferred destination for world’s pedophiles because the high rates of infantile prostitution.
    – Cuba have one nation and two governments, the dictatorship decide over 5 millions cubans, the US government decides over 8 millions of cuban……………. you better don’t ask me to explain those figures!!!!!

  9. English Translator to Carbo Servia dice: 28 Enero 2009 a las 22:19

    THE FOLLOWING LINK IS POSTED ON BEHALF OF CARBO SERVIO who has been trying to post it, but it keeps getting caught in the spam catcher — let’s see if I can post it for him/her:
    0000000000000000000000000

    Thanks a lot Translator for taking your time and help us.

    About my gender…. it is not relevant….. what I believe is relevant is the meaning of my nick:

    Carbo Servia is the name of a special department of Mazorra’s Psychiatric Hospital outside Havana City where political prisoners, dissidents, formers supporters of the Castro’s family that changed theirs mind and all communist party members cheater wife were interned and goes trough psychiatric medication without need it and got electroshock in a regular basis without need it.

  10. Michael N. Landis dice: 28 Enero 2009 a las 21:50
    Many Latin American countries have discontinued their rail services
    Tren Frances and the, other, err, not-so-luxurious or dependable trains, but found the process to obtain tickets to be truly baroque, nay, even rococo. Having better things to do with my limited time in Cuba, I gave up and found other modes of transportation.
    00000 0000000000000000000000

    Jajajajajajaja…….jajajajajajaja….. O my good….you really make me hilarious…. jajajajaja

    Mr. Landis, now I call you Mr because now I know you are not a comrade…… you are only a political tourist that have been traveling Cuba all this years under the supervision of the dictatorship looking at what they want you to see and seeing only what you want to see. (and, of course, believing what you want to believe). You maybe found to hard take a train in Cuba and you give us your weaker reasons. But the true is that those trains you refuse to take are the daily transport of hundred of thousands of cubans that have no other options….. the true is that you found it maybe too stinky or too hot or too full, or maybe it were to hard for you to travel several miles standing and surrounded of colored people….. well mister better for you to know that the most of us, cuban people, are colored and hate the dictatorship you love!!!
    You make me remember Nikita Jruschev that in a visit to USA suspected the US government tried to deceive him in the same way communist countries used to deceive foreign visitors, I mean, showing the visitors strictly what they wants visitors to see. Nikita believed the chauffeur had a preplanned trip because the nice neighborhoods they found on their way to the destination of the day. Then Nikita decided to “abort” the plan and commanded the chauffeur to change the route. Nikita spent 2 hours traveling a random trip, then said to the chauffeur stop beside a house, he went to the house and ringed the bell hoping find that the owner of this fine house with 2 cars parked outside was a minister or a high ranked army officer…….. the owner of the house was a electrician but Nikita left the house convinced that the electrician was part of the plan!!!!

  11. Carbo: The only things he inherited from democracy but couldn’t maintain were human development, strong economy, full employment, immigration-emigration balance, freedom, human rights, national pride, etc, etc, etc…

    Human Development – Last time I checked, Cuba ranked #2 in the world in terms of their “human development” per GDP/capita according to the UN’s human development reort. This takes into account dozens of individual deveopment metrics.

    Full employment – as I think you know Carbo, before the Revolution most peasants could only find work for half of the year. The other half, there was nothing but hunger. The official unemployment rate was 18% in 1952 (the only year I could find). Today, Cuba has next to zero unemployment (2%), rebounding very strongly since the troubles in the 1990s. Anyone who wants a job can generally find one, no matter where they live.

    Immigration-emigration balance – Cuba is not significantly different than any other country in Latin America in this regard. Cuba’s situation is affected by the special benefts only Cuban migrants to the US receive, and the fact that the US is only 90 miles away in a straight jet stream.

    Freedom, human rights – you must be joking. The “freedom” to oppose the Government in 1959 included lynchings, torture and on the spot executions.

    National pride – again you must be joking. Cubans may be lacking a lot of things, but they certainly were given their national pride back by the Revolution.

  12. Yes! That’s right! The “Dictatorship of the English Translator” has reached you!

    No — just joking — SO FAR I have never censured a real comment on this blog. And I hope to keep it that way. Basically, we only try to eliminate all the “comments” that are selling medicines (Viagra! Cheap!) and pornography (Come to MY sex site! See all kinds of Movies! Watch a loaf of bread have sex with a computer! Exclusive!)

    I will see if I can find your video link (if it’s still in the spam catcher) and if I can I’ll try to post it.

    If I can’t post it, I’ll try to post terms people can search on to find it themselves.

    Your At-Your-Service English Translator

    THE FOLLOWING LINK IS POSTED ON BEHALF OF CARBO SERVIO who has been trying to post it, but it keeps getting caught in the spam catcher — let’s see if I can post it for him/her:

  13. Many Latin American countries have discontinued their rail services (e.g. Mexico during the last decade), or are operating on utterly antiquated equipment (e.g. the same steam-engine on the line from the Argentine border to (one of the) Bolivian capital(s) is the same one that was held up by (the real) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the 1890’s!!! At least part of the problem was that in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s General Motors had a policy of purchasing engine and train-car manufacturing companies, then closing them down. This was especially true of street railway companies. It is a wonder the Tren Hershey, between Casa Blanca and Matanzas, is still running. Having taken it recently, I give kudos to the mechanics and engineers who keep it running. Twice on the trip to Mantanzas, and once on the way back, they got up on the roof, banged things around a bit, and we were once again on our way! Incidentally, I ‘ve also learned that in the past two decades G.M. was quietly buying up many auto junk-yards here in the U.S.A., and closing them. Why? To prevent do-it-yourself mechanics from keeping their old cars alive! Fortunately, trains are now making a comeback; new manufacturers are once again producing rail-cars and engines. As a real train afficionado, I hope they make a comeback in Cuba, too. During my last several trips I TRIED to get a ticket on both the Tren Frances and the, other, err, not-so-luxurious or dependable trains, but found the process to obtain tickets to be truly baroque, nay, even rococo. Having better things to do with my limited time in Cuba, I gave up and found other modes of transportation. Still, I really would like to take ACTUALLY take a train in Cuba (not just vicariously, watching Miguel del Morales/”El Gallo’s” adventures in the documentary, CUBA FELIZ, or the train scene from LISTA de ESPERA, etc.

  14. Wow–Yoani Sanchez can drive a train–a computer should be really easy by comparison. Socialism seems to provide a much worse economy for people than capitalism does. Free the Cuban economy.

    Que sopresa–Yoani Sanchez puede manajar un tren–una computadora debia ser muy facil en comparison. Socialismo parece dar una economia mas mala por la gente que da capitalismo. Da libertad a la economia Cubana.

  15. English Translator to Carbo Servia dice:

    My deep apologies but a number of your comments are “stuck” in the ’spam catcher’ ,……………….
    00000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    Thanks God !!!!!
    I was thinking the dictatorship censure had reach me ;)

    It seem the spam catcher don’t let go forward some links. Since yesterday I am taring to post a link that shows a film of Cuba before Castro and I can’t.
    Regards

  16. av2ts dice: 28 Enero 2009 a las 08:01

    Statistics can be played both ways. There is no doubt individual Cubans lacks many “things” – cars, telephones, computers, etc. But Cubans also rank amongst the highest in health, education and human development amongst all developing countries and the Western Hemisphere
    000000000000000000000000000000

    It always been so. It is not a thing made by the dictatorship. Cuba has always been over the other latinamerican countries in public health, education and sports. Even over several european countries!!!
    Castro only inherited it from the democracy before Batista. The only things he inherited from democracy but couldn’t maintain were human development, strong economy, full employment, immigration-emigration balance, freedom, human rights, national pride, etc, etc, etc……..

  17. The lack of motivation has created a “locomotive”. Got it?
    The repressive apparatus is more concerned with creating new daily restrictions about what you can or cannot do and empty slogans like “El Pueblo Unido, ¡Jamás será vencido!
    All BS.

  18. Good grief! A population of 12 million and nobody can cobble-together a few parts for a crude, soviet-era locomotive?! According to the first modern census in 1801, Britain kicked-off the industrial revolution with 8.3 million! What does the government have you doing all day? Apart from spying on each other, of course?

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