FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Reading the clouds

Posted in Brazil, Criciúma, Siderópolis by folkestonejack on July 14, 2013

Our final day on the territory of the EF Doña Teresa Christina took us back to Eng. Paz Ferreira and the spectacular sight of Santa Fe no. 205 doing her best impression of a volcano as she departed with around 20 loaded wagons. It was a great sight to start the day, followed soon after by a run through the road crossing we had visited a few days earlier.

Santa Fe no. 205 makes a spectacular departure from the yard at Eng. Paz Ferreira

Santa Fe no. 205 makes a spectacular departure from the yard at Eng. Paz Ferreira

Throughout the day we had the diesel following close behind to retrieve the freight train after each run through which I am sure spared us from some of the difficulties that we experienced earlier in the week. Our translator, Marcia, told us that the local children thought that the steam locomotive was broken and that the diesel was coming to rescue it. Thankfully, on this occasion, that was not the case!

In the afternoon we headed to a rather spectacular rock cutting and watched in dismay as shadow fell on the line as our steam freight passed through. Inevitably, sunlight illuminated the rocks beautifully afterwards but the question we had to grapple with was, could we get a second runpast in sunlight when clouds were closing in rapidly? We waited and waited, trying to read the wind direction and the path of small gaps in the cloud cover.

The peril of betting on the wrong gap became apparent when the sun poked through a small gap in the clouds but quickly closed up again. It was 45 minutes before a slightly larger gap in the clouds looked set to give us a slim chance and the instruction to go was urgently transmitted by radio to the waiting crew. The steam freight passed through in perfect sunlight and disappeared moments later. Incredible!

The perfect moment

The perfect moment

The long wait was worth it for the shot it produced but had come at the price of the next photospot, the tunnel mouth outside Sideropolis, which was now in shadow after a brief moment in sunlight. It is a shot that will have to wait for the next tour to come here. It looked like this was the end of the light as we trekked back from the tunnel mouth to see Sideropolis under a blanket of clouds.

Our luck held a little longer, with glorious rays of sunlight greeting the arrival of the steam freight at Rio Fiorita’s wooden loading facility and setting up the perfect finale to our tour. Large crowds of locals had gathered at the level crossing to witness this final act in the week’s events which gave the end of the tour a rather unexpectedly lovely atmosphere.

Santa Fe no. 205 arrives at Rio Fiorita

Santa Fe no. 205 arrives at Rio Fiorita

In the evening the crew, translators, railway managers, museum team and our tour organiser were deservedly the toast of the room with many a speech taking us into the night. I am sure that the crew in particular needed their sleep after a hellish week in ‘the office’ but all of could say with absolute honesty that they had delivered a magnificent spectacle.

As I headed to bed the sound of thunder, lightning and torrential rain pounding down reminded me that luck really had swung our way today!

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Three new problems and a setback

Posted in Brazil, Criciúma, Siderópolis by folkestonejack on July 11, 2013

An early morning drive down the motorway brought us to Eng. Paz Ferreira station (Criciúma, Santa Catarina) for an early start with Santa Fe no. 205. The locomotive underwent something of a transformation in the yard with the smokebox and chimney painted black to give it a more authentic look (something that we particularly appreciated after last night’s video screening showed how things looked in the 1980s).

Steaming out of Eng. Paz Ferreira

Steaming out of Eng. Paz Ferreira

There are some areas of Criciúma that are not particularly safe for tourists to wander into but it so happens that this is precisely where the line goes – cutting a path through an area that was described to us as the ‘backyards of drug dealers’! It didn’t look too threatening when we turned up but we heeded the warning not to venture in, watching as Santa Fe no. 205 steamed through.

The locomotive attracted plenty of attention, with locals coming out from their homes and workplaces to get a closer look. As the crew answered questions from their loco’s new admirers we drove on to the next position – a long abandoned loading point that looked rather splendid in its crumbling state.

Santa Fe no. 205 passes a long abandoned loading facility

Santa Fe no. 205 passes a long abandoned loading facility

The next stop, on a gradient, gave us one last magnificent burst of steam power before Rio Fiorita. The locomotive had to pass through without stopping as it needed to clear the line for the diesel freights coming out. Finally, we made it to Rio Fiorito in late morning.

The coal from the mines at Siderópolis comes in by truck and after being dumped, the coal is transferred into the loading facility by conveyor belt and deposited into the waiting wagons. At least that was the theory… but as ever, there were a few problems to overcome first! They had run out of coal to load into our wagons, our loco was short of water and there were no paths to get us out of there…

Santa Fe no. 205 at Rio Fiorita

Santa Fe no. 205 at Rio Fiorita

The midday heat made the loading facility a somewhat unforgiving location to rest, with little in the way of shade, but we had no choice but to wait it out. In the meantime, a local journalist from Radio Siderópolis turned up to gather material for the strange story of the foreign tourists visiting Siderópolis, admittedly not a well known tourist destination, in search of steam. The resulting story and photographs can be seen at Turistas visitam Siderópolis para conhecer a „Maria Fumaça“.

A water truck organised by a Brazilian railway enthusiast turned up at 1pm and solved our first problem with impressive speed. As all this was taking place the trucks continued to deliver coal and by the time we were ready there were sufficient supplies to load our train – a process that has now been captured from every conceivable angle by umpteen photographers.

Photographing coal loading at Rio Fiorita

Photographing coal loading at Rio Fiorita

The process took a while but by the end we had 14 full wagons, giving us a load of approximately 1120 tons. A path was available to us, meaning that we could finally make our escape from Rio Fiorita – heading off in our minibuses around 3pm. Our destination was a gradient on the approach to Siderópolis where we saw our freight train struggle with her load before finally stopping 800 metres from the tunnel. It might have been a different story in the days of real steam when the locos were in much better condition but today, with not enough of the good coal left, it was just too much. When asked what he would do differently next time, our tour leader said he would take 13 loaded wagons!

The end of the struggle

The end of the struggle

The crew asked for a diesel to come and assist, whilst once again an admiring crowd looked on. It was clear that our day of photography was at an end so it was time to relax a little before the long drive back. No-one needed to be told that tomorrow was likely to be problematic.

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