Push Gathers Steam to Restore a Historic Loco
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Rare Arnott's biscuit van restored
In the mid 1990's Venezuela was a top destination for gold exploration and I worked in the El Callao region of Estado Bolivar on and off from 1994 until 1999 when I last visited the country. Generally I was busy crashing around the jungle trying to avoid snakes, killer bees and tropical diseases. The airport in Ciudad Guyana (we called it Puerto Ordaz) was our flight destination after first flying from Miami to Caracas and then onto Puerto Ordaz, generally flying on a wing and a prayer with Aeropostale (it was an airline before it was a clothing line) or one of the other more dodgy airlines. The more dangerous part of the trip was from Puerto Ordaz to Guasipati and El Callao where our housing and work sites were. Venezuela at the time was (and likely still is) where old cars went to die. It was amazing to see the ancient gas guzzlers still running there (fuel was around $0.05 per liter at the time, heavily subsidized by the government), seemingly held together by wire, twine and whatever patron saint was perched on the dash of the car. It seemed as long as the engine ran and the car had whatever stickers that were required in the window to get through the Guardia Nacional checkpoints it ran on the road. A "favourite" memory was riding in a taxi that seemed to have every body panel rattling loosely like it was about to fly off, crabbing down the road due to a bent frame with rebar handles to crank the windows down. Another car I saw had flashlights taped to the hood for driving at night. Accidents were rampant as no one seemed to really care about rules or common sense. The expats always said that we didn't want to end up on the back page of the local paper as it always had graphic photos of the road carnage and seemingly frequent shootings on the back page. Fortunately we never made the paper. But I digress from the main subject of this post: the CVG Ferrominera Orinoco railway operations out of Puerto Ordaz. Ferrominera is a large iron ore mining operation in Estado Bolivar, Venezuela. Originally US Steel built and operated the mines and railway starting in the 1940's. but the operations were nationalized in the 1975 by the Venezuelan government. Originally the railway had Baldwin switchers, SD9 road engines and other oddities. Later on SD38 and SD38-2 took over road trains with the SD9 relegated to switching duties. After I left GE Dash 8 and Dash 9 units and SD70ACE units showed up, some appearing to be former Union Pacific locomotives. Some historic photos are seen here. A search on YouTube will find a few videos of the SD70ACE units in action, most looking worse for wear given the sanctions on Venezuela and the ever present corruption there. Over the years I was there I did manage to catch a few trains around Puerto Ordaz, and I made it to Ciudad Piar as well. I never was able to talk my way into the mines or locomotive shops so had to be satisfied with whatever I could get from outside the fences. A few photos from my time there are seen below with comments on specific photos. SD9 1017 with rebuilt cab running light
I always seemed to have the tropical sun working against me... and you do not want to try running across a 3 lane highway in Venezuela.
One way to beat traffic is to drive an SD38
Shop switcher (Talleres) 1094, an SW1200 with flexicoil trucks and dynamic brakes. Dynamic brakes on these units was rare.
If I stumble across other photos from my time in Venezuela I'll add them to this post.
This article first appeared on ageologistchasingtrains.blogspot.com
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