The Minas Paths
The Memória Ferroviária Project field survey, to register and catalogue all steam engines in Brazil, began in the state of Minas Gerais. The team made up of Sérgio Martire, one of the most important steam engine specialists in Brazil, and renowned photographer Américo Vermelho, visited 30 cities in 20 days, registering the presence of 56 machines. When the job has been concluded, the result will be an art book produced through Rouanet Law incentives, an initiative of Notícia & Cia with the support of Revista Ferroviária and sponsorship of Usiminas Mecânica, Cia. Siderúrgica Nacional, Amsted-Maxion, Caramuru, SKF and GE along with 55 individuals.
The state of Minas has the second largest number of steam engines after São Paulo. Throughout the country, those responsible for the project estimate that today there are about 450 engines, almost all imported from England, the United States, France and Germany. A rare example of a locomotive that was manufactured in Brazil was found by the team in Divinópolis: No. 340, belonging to the Rede Mineira de Viação, proudly displaying a plaque that says” “built in Divinópolis workshops, 10-12-1942.” At the time, the Second World War made importing such equipment difficult. The kickoff to the survey began on February 21 and the first stop was made in Além Paraíba, which houses the oldest locomotive in Minas: a Baldwin 51 belonging to the EF Leopoldina, built in 1880. Anoher curiosity was finding a German-made Orenstein & Koppel from EF Perus Pirapora, on its original axles but with an additional two highway axles added. The locomotive is in working order and with the invention it is capable of running on rails or being towed off them. In Santos Dumont, the team encountered the famous Zezé Leone engine abandoned in a decommissioned warehouse own by the Rede Ferroviária. Zezé Leone was the first Miss Brazil, elected in 1922 during the country’s 150th Independence Anniversary celebration. She was also honored with the composition of a foxtrot, “Vênus”, written by Freitinhas, and a recipe for a dessert cake. The locomotive was a present from King Albert of Belgium who came to Brazil for the festivities. The engine pulled the EFCB’s Cruzeiro do Sul night express between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo for many years. It is an Alco 4-6-2, 1.60 mm-gauge engine manufactured in 1920 under serial number 63533 and registered in the railroad as No. 370. Because nobody was in charge of its care, the team was obliged to explore it alone, something that Américo Vermelho said was commonplace in the subsequent visits to other engines. “Many of the locomotives are abandoned, without any vigilance. It is even difficult to find the owners to request authorization to photograph them.” Most of the engines in the state are concentrated in São João del Rei. There are 19 locomotives, 15 of them in a single rotunda. One of the locomotives, a Henschel, was not included on the preliminary list but nevertheless was located by the team. The find seems to have been instigated by the sense of discovery of the two, who had previously unsuccessfully checked out the city of Conselheiro Lafaiete looking for a steam-operated crane. “I received information about the existence of the locomotive and went out to prove that it was true,” said Martire. “I still haven’t given up on the search.”
The team also was comforted by a certain amount of media interest after their unsuccessful search for the steam crane. Former Miss Minas Gerais Juliana Lejoto, now a reporter for TV Lafaiete, interviewed them. The interest of the press in the project was an extra chapter in the project. The TV reports announced the next stops by the investigatory team and it was not rare for Martire and Vermelho to be stopped in the streets of a new city they were visiting: “I saw you on TV!” onlookers would exclaim.
Martire admits he was surprised at the state of conservation of the Minas Gerais fleet, with nearly 80% in good shape. Most of the locomotives are under the responsibility of local city authorities. Acesita, Usiminas and Holcim (ex-Ciminas) also shelter locomotives in their facilities. One location that disappointed Martire was the historical city of Ouro Preto. “Ouro Preto is one of the main destinations in Minas, the city with the most number of tourists and where we found the engines that were least preserved. It is a paradox.” Another disappointment was to find the Mariquinha, a Baldwin 0-4-2 built in 1894, in poor condition; it was a locomotive that participated in the construction of the city of Belo Horizonte. “I think that due to its importance Mariquinha should have been treated with more consideration,” said Martire.” The machine today is at the Abílio Barreto Museum in Belo Horizonte. However, there compensations. In Corinto, the two found a large Alco, a 2-8-2, in excellent condition displayed on an elevated platform behind an RFFSA warehouse. “The height of the platform makes it difficult to gain access to the machine, serving as a protection against depredation,” Martire explained. Another surprise came one night when an enthusiastic collaborator showed up looking for them at their hotel. He was a retired railroad worker named Moacir, who had participated in the process of restoring the Alco and was now a radio announcer on a local sports program. Besides recounting many stories and valuable information, Moacir helped the photographer locate the engine’s original identification tag. “It was on the opposite side to which we had access, half hidden. Using this tip, I was able to return and photograph it,” Vermelho said.
After many cities and dozens of locomotives, the trip ended at Passa Quatro. It was there that the Mad Maria miniseries was being filmed, produced by the Globo Network, which generated unusual movement in the city. Extras – seeking the R$ 30 salary + lunch offered – circulated in the city streets dressed as Indian workers and coolies. The producers changed the Passa Quatro Station’s name to Porto Velho and also “made over” an ABPF locomotive —a Baldwin Pacific — with the initials of a EF Madeira-Mamoré, incurring an historical error. According to Martire, the Madeira-Mamoré locomotives, as well as the Noroeste do Brasil engine used at the beginning of the filming in Rondônia, “were much smaller than those used at this time.” This was a difference that the great majority of the TV viewers certainly did not take too seriously.