locomotive, Mambisista, Holguin
The useful life of this old locomotive has been extended thanks to the work of UEB Transferraz, a group committed to heritage preservation. File photo

Secrets of a locomotive nicknamed Mambisita

That one hundred and forty-two years after its first trip, this locomotive nicknamed “Mambisita” remains vigorous on the narrow gauge rails of the former Santa Lucia sugar mill (in the present-day municipality of Rafael Freyre), is a sign of the attachment and care of its crews, of the staff of the UEB Transferraz de la Unión de Ferrocarriles de Oriente, to which it belongs today, and of the people from Rafael Freyre, who hold it as one of their most precious treasures.

In the most recent National Monument Conservation and Restoration Awards of the National Council of Cultural Heritage, this locomotive E-1180 -which has the condition of National Record-, received two awards for its touristic value in a respectful way with the heritage.

Thus, La Mambisita won the special Conservation awards granted by the Azcuba Group and the International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

One of its greatest defenders, MSc. Juan Carlos Vega Fuentes, technician of Monuments of the Rafael Freyre Municipal Museum, refers that it is a small locomotive in comparison with the rest of the railway park, “but strong and symbolic from its name: Mambisa, which relates it to our first fighters, to the patriotic, to the Cuban”.

The Mambisita, according to Vega Fuentes, is generous from the technical point of view, as it does not break easily. “It was manufactured in 1882 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, in the United States. Since its arrival in these lands it became a legend, contributing decisively to the development of the sugar industry, since it has always pulled trains with the same liveliness”, explains the specialist.

He proudly assures that La Mambisita “is a unique locomotive, even in the way she whistles. Both it and Number 2 or ‘Guabajaney’, which is kept at the National Railway Museum, is a locomotive that has a strong relationship with the people and the workers of the former sugar mill. It is very much loved, especially by the children, who have a playground and direct contact with history in the yard of the sugar mill”.

In Santa Lucia, everyone is in love with La Mambisita, but no one is better than Antonio Lorenzo, its engineer and mechanic, from whom the locomotive receives care, innovation and creativity. This “doctor” is accompanied by the UEB Transferraz team and its director, Engineer José Pérez, who on many occasions has put his family and personal assets to ensure the technical availability of these railroads.

Secrets of a Mambisita

La Mambisita is directly linked to the “Huellas del Batey” Cultural Complex, founded and currently led by MSc. Juan Carlos Vega Fuentes, in which culture, heritage and tourism coexist harmoniously.

“The project’s main objective is to safeguard and preserve the railroad heritage of the former Santa Lucia sugar mill, in order to add value to tourism, the main economic sector of the municipality that makes it the third largest tourist center in the country,” said the specialist, who defends, with the same intensity, the incorporation of science in all processes, which is why his master’s degree and his thesis for the PhD. degree are linked to “Huellas del Batey”.

The initiative has counted from its beginnings with governmental support, hence it stands out among the 18 projects for foreign collaboration of the Department of Foreign Trade of the Provincial Government of Holguin, with approval of the Ministry of Foreign Trade of the Republic of Cuba.

The experience of several years allows him to affirm to this passionate cultural promoter that this market: the railway and sugar patrimony, is of much interest for the national and international tourism.

“In addition to La Mambisita, in Santa Lucia we have the Cochemotor 50 – the oldest of its kind operating in the country – but we are also nominated with the railroad bridges of the Iberia branch, which is still used to transport people,” he emphasizes. “Taking advantage of these potentialities will result in local development, finance and new jobs”.

Huellas del Batey” has won several awards: Memoria Nuestra de Romerías de Mayo and Community Culture Awards, in addition to the recognitions achieved in the Ibero-American Congress of Thought of the Ibero-American Culture Festival, the Caribbean Festival in Santiago de Cuba and the Cucalambeana Day in Las Tunas.

But no award stops Juan Carlos, he keeps working tirelessly to achieve, with speed, a greater scope of the project.

“We want to offer not only the popular canchánchara, the carretero coffee and guarapo sugar juice, but also the experience of a sugar cane mill grinding cane, colonial style. Now they are only dreams,” says Vega Fuentes, “but in the not too distant future we will achieve them.

With information by Aniel Santiesteban García

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