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RyPN Articles March 18, 2007
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MUCHO BUENO SABOR --- Mexicano del Pacifico
Everything you always wanted to know about the Mexican Pacific Railroad, but were afraid to ask...

Viewed from the window of my room in the fanciest hotel in town, the sugar mill in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, México called mill employees and many other locals to work six days a week at 7am and 3pm with a full minute blast of its enormous (at least a meter high) chime whistle.

I hardly know where to begin telling this story after all these years and unsuccessful efforts to get somebody to listen, and to get these pictures published. Long ago I decided to just enjoy remembering that I was there back then, and that I got to experience a sweet slice of the steam age without anybody other than senior employees interpreting it for me. Our little Mexican Pacific may not look like much, but hopefully these beat up old slides will at least prove that it really existed..... trust me, I could never make up a railroad like that one was. Let me begin by explaining that "mucho bueno sabor" is grammatically incorrect Spanish slang meaning "much good flavor" in English.... it means Mexican Pacific to us.

This is pretty much what it looked like on the occasion of my first visit, as well as the last time I looked over my shoulder after saying my last goodbye. Under the Avocado, Pomegranate, and Guayaba trees was the remains of the Kansas City, México, and Orient enginehouse then inhabited by the three active Baldwin steamers of the Mexican Pacific. Most of the time there wasn't much activity, however.

It was March of 1988, and my friend Neal Payton and I had been traveling in México on the excellent Nacionales de México passenger trains of the time. As the final part of our journey, we wanted to experience riding along the coastline north of Mazatlan on the Ferrocarril Pacifico, and also to see the Mexican Pacific, a steam shortline serving the sugar mill in Los Mochis. This town is well known as the western terminus for the famous Copper Canyon passenger trains operated at that time by the Chihuahua al Pacifico, but not too many people were aware of the MdelP. I might add that Los Mochis is justifiably known for it's excellent fresh seafood, smooth Tequila, extremely pretty women, and good living generally. Much as all of us loved the railroad and the steam engines, we really thought that the guys working in some of those shoe stores that only sold high heels to women wearing miniskirts had the best jobs around.

As we walked by the enginehouse, we heard a chorus of Spanish catcalls, whistling, and kissing noises. Since we both worked for BN, this didn't bother us too much, and NP took it fairly calmly when I explained that the enginehouse workers were threatening to sexually assault us. We laughed, then we heard them laughing inside the shop, and soon enough everybody became friends.

Not wanting to be raped, robbed, and murdered, our initial strategy was to find the engine, check the steam and water, and wait by it, since it was obviously going to be used that day. It just so happened that there were some well worn, good sized rocks positioned around a little table under a shade tree next to the track, and we made ourselves at home. The first guy to talk to us was Manuel Montiel, shown here at the moment of our first meeting, as he tied up his track gang and Fairmont speeder for lunch. We were camped out in their spot, but were accommodated cheerfully. Eventually Manuel told me a lot of the anecdotes that I have included here, or else he helped me find somebody else in the MdelP family who did. Manuel is a thoroughly steam experienced third generation MdelP employee, who grew up playing on the engines in the roundhouse, and is around 40 years old today. Anybody needing help restoring or operating a steam engine in México would do well to look him up.
The original enginehouse for the KC, M, & O sure was getting ratty, but it still had a pit, air compressor, tools, blueprints, spares, Orient tonnage chart, lockers, drinking water, and a radio playing Ranchero music.
During one of my visits, a sizeable oak beam fell out of the ceiling after being shaken one time too many by an engine's exhaust. Nobody was injured, as two guys happened to be on number 4's cab roof and tender. They were wearing gloves, saw it coming, caught it, and eased it down to the ground. Of course nobody was too surprised when the whole thing fell in a few years ago. (That's not quite true. A lot of us were surprised it hadn't collapsed sooner.)
It took several hours to fill the oil bunker, and it was vital that somebody stand guard to avoid overfilling and overflowing the boiling fuel. This job was boring, but considered by the employees to be better than replacing ties or raising sunken rail joints in the broiling sun.
Technically the MdelP engines were oil burners, but the reality is that they used asphalt by the tankcar full, heated up by burning an old tire under it during the fueling operation. This is a cheap, inconsistent, and dirty fuel, which tends to go out or smoke excessively in locomotive service, but it burns nice and hot.

One afternoon I was fortunate enough to meet the first Master Mechanic of the MdelP, Sr. José Diaz Ramirez, who held that position from 1917 through 1978. He told me that during the Mexican Revolution, MdelP engines used tank cars of oil and water connected to the engines by long hoses, rather than conventional locomotive tenders. This arrangement increased fuel and water capacity, which permitted the engines to stay in service longer in the event their passage back to Los Mochis was delayed by the hostilities. Sometimes it would take a week or two for a round trip to the furthest loading points..

The steel water tank was built by United Sugar Co, supported on uprights made from old rail. (In the background was an Erie hopper car which somehow or another never got returned to the Erie Railroad. If anybody out there is still looking for it, now you know what happened....)
Even though there was plenty of potable water for the sugar mill, and a drinking fountain in the roundhouse, the locomotives were operated using muddy, alkaline water from the irrigation canal. Of course this screwed up the boilers in no time, and cost a fortune in extra repairs and wasted fuel. When I pointed this out to the roundhouse workers, they all just rolled their eyes with the greatest of frustration and answered that they had been trying to explain this to the higher ups since before anybody could remember. Working for the BN railroad myself, I just shook my head along with them, and never mentioned it again. I'm used to it. I have gotten the same kind of answer to the same type of "why do you guys do something so dumb" question asked of railroaders working in the USA, Europe, Latin America, and China.....
Number 6's Vanderbilt tender was a real kidney buster for crews riding the rough and ragged 65 pound rails of the MdelP. They still didn't want diesels, even though a loaner had been offered by the big railroad long ago.
Probably the best known of the MdelP roster, 2-6-2 #6 was built by Baldwin in 1920 for the California Western as their #21. Her smokebox originally carried the headlight in the center on a graceful Baldwin door and bracket, but one night she rear-ended #5, an Alco 2-6-2, hard enough to fold her tender tank up double. #6 was rebuilt with a flat smokebox front and high headlight mounting. #5 got a leaky old tender from a scrapped 4-4-0, but she was never the same after that, so she was sold to another mill in Vera Cruz State. #5's crumpled tank took root among the mesquites and salt cedars behind the enginehouse, and served for many years as an unofficial employee break area after being furnished with cooking utensils, playing cards, checkerboard, ashtrays, and suitable reading material.
There were 14 employees on the MdelP, and jobs were awarded by seniority. Not surprisingly, the number one slot was occupied by locomotive engineer Rosario Guzmán Castañeda, shown here running his favorite of the MdelP engines, #6. He liked her because of the power reverse, and because her running gear was the most flexible of the fleet, allowing faster switching while causing less track damage.
They let me switch the mill one day, and here's what it looked like from the seatbox. That little white spec down about eight cars deep is the conductor passing signs from the field man as we doubled over to the loading dock.
This is what was happening on the ground during the same move (different day) as Joel Beltran Chon rode the point around the corner into the dark shadowy sidings between the sugar mill and warehouse.
Once the train was made up, it was time to make the daily trip to the CHP (we say Chepe) interchange just west of the passenger station in Los Mochis. The fellas liked to ride, but there was more goofing off and less work than usual during my visits, most generally. When there were no cameras around, the guys hit it a lot harder.
I guess our little railroad didn't look too impressive to most tourists or the general public, but all who knew the Mexicano del Pacifico loved it dearly. What I'd give to creep over these three dusty miles one more time, as the tender thrashed from side to side, and the fire kept trying to go out.
This field inside the curved connection track to the Chepe was planted in Zinnias, used as an additive for commercial chicken feed because it makes the egg yolks nice and yellow. It was also the closest thing we had to a scenic location along the MdelP.
The last North American frontier between steam territory and the diesels of the outside world was protected by an MdelP Adlake switchlock. It was a high honor to be issued a key for it, and they made me swear on my Grandmother's grave that I would never open that switch and let a diesel in.
We weren't supposed to take the steam engine down to the Chepe depot, but one day we sneaked her in there anyway when there were way too many cars for the interchange tracks to hold. No, I don't have a picture, but it's OK to talk about it now. In case I haven't mentioned it lately, these rail travel stories of mine always leave out some pretty juicy stuff.....
Usually the Chepe brought us the interchange cars with an orange EMD. Don't get me wrong. All of us like and respect diesels, especially EMD diesels, but we just don't think they belong on Mexican Pacific Railroad tracks.
Some days we ran light one direction or the other, and one day we made two round trips. We never knew what the Chepe had for us until we saw the interchange track. Usually we did our switching before lunch and went to Los Mochis in early afternoon, but if you wanted to get in on the action it was best to show up early and spend the day with us.
Here was the typical scene swapping loads and empties with the Chepe at the old cane grower's campsite of Viente de Noviembre. There once was a field crane at this siding used for loading cane from mule carts into the standard gauge jaulas or cane cars of the MdelP. South of the Chepe crossing were another 17 km of United Sugar Co lines extending to similar loading points at Primero de Mayo, Campo 14 y 15, and Carreterra Internaciónal.
Los Mochis station is behind our tank, and the road to the mill to our left as #6 heads for home again. By the mid sixties, cane gathering had switched entirely to the highways and this one track to the mill was all that remained of the MdelP main line.
Cane gathering roads parallel the entire length of the MdelP, and the grade was buried in cane stalks and tumbleweeds the whole way. Some employees lived alongside the MdelP in a pretty nice neighborhood just south of the mill. Most of them walked to and from work unless they got a chance to hitch a ride on the train.
One of the notable landmarks was the pig pen located on the left in this picture, and one of life's simple pleasures for us was watching the pigs run from the locomotive whistle. On the other side of the track was the repair yard and parking area for the cañeros, or tractors, cane wagons, and cane trucks. One of life's simple pleasures for their drivers was seeing how close they could get to us without being hit.
Since the sludge we fired with liked to woof itself out, the firing valve was frequently opened a bit too wide as a hedge for that. When you see this kind of flashback in the cab, you will see dirty black smoke at the stack. By the way, MdelP also used that asphalt sludge as lubricant instead of the proper journal oil or valve oil!!!! How much money could have been saved by using good water in the engines instead of this pitiful economy measure ??? Anyway, I swore I wouldn't say anything.... it never does any good.
No specific dates for these pictures are being given, even though I could figure it out. It would serve no purpose, because it was all one day on the MdelP, 18 years ago. Mucho Bueno Sabor.
Again, I can well imagine that visitors from the outside might not appreciate this little loncheria just behind the back gate of the mill, but we were awful glad to see it swing into view on a slow moving, hot, dusty, kidney busting day. Nothing here was overpriced, the service was fast and friendly, and they had everything we needed.
The center track in the mill yard was a runaround for switching. The cars in the distant background were equipped with pillows and blankets in their trucks, and I even observed a guy curled up under one of them with his head over the rail next to the wheel, sound asleep. I thought I knew something about railroading up until then, but it was obvious that I didn't even know that freight cars were for sleeping under. When I got back home, I tried unsuccessfully to explain about this to my buddies at work in the BN Denver Terminal.
Just the reverse of the morning switching got the empties spotted for loading the next day. Until the 60s there was a goat on duty here, all three shifts, every day during cane season. A car puller replaced it, which was out of service by the 90s, and the mill by that time had cut back to only two shifts, six days a week.
This was the last rusty string of ACF cane cars behind the mill in 1988. A 1951 roster lists 116 steel cane cars with up to 30 ton capacity, 3 flatcars, 11 tank cars, 3 drop bottom hoppers for ash disposal, and one wooden boxcar. Most of them were still around except for the cane cars. In 1918 the MdelP aquired a wooden coach from the Sud Pacifico de México for mixed train service, and a steel private car named Inez in 1922 from NdeM. Both were gone by the mid 40s.
We were just a bunch of dumb railroaders, so we thought that preserving the MdelP as an operating steam attraction was a good idea since it was already next door to the Copper Canyon tourist operation. As part of that, I suggested saving those last few cane cars. Here's what remained of them in 1989.
Baldwin 2-8-2 #4 was the only power ever bought new for the MdelP. In the early 50s her original wood rack tender was equipped with the oil tank seen here, but it was still a bit too long for playing chicken with the cañeros
in the mill yard. When #2 was retired, her tender went to #4 and this long one was dumped by the enginehouse. I bet it's gone now, too.
This was the north leg of the wye, actually it was the main line once upon a time, and these permanently parked MdelP freight cars were used as a sort of dormitory at siesta time. It was also pretty close to our unofficial employee break area.
It had been a long time since the MdelP could turn engines or anything else, ever since money got tight and the frog to this switch was needed somewhere else. Besides that, this spot was significant because it was the location of kilometer zero.

These last few lengths of rail isolated about a hundred yards north of the frogless wye switch were all that remained of the United Sugar Co lines north and east of Los Mochis, and this was all that remained of the last one of twenty 3 ton American Hoist portable field cranes once used in cane gathering along the MdelP. This standard gauge network was fed by a two foot gauge railroad powered by six Brookville diesels using 111 four wheel flatcars, as well as a fleet of two hundred forty 4 ton mule carts.

North of the mill was a line extending first to a junction two kilometers north of the wye switch, then to the cane grower's camp and loading point of Aguila Azteca at km 24. The northernmost end of line was the camp and team track of Estación Florida at km 29. Reaching 17 km east from the junction point at kilometer 2 was another branch to the cranes at Esperimental and Mochisahui.

The worst accident in MdelP history occurred on the morning of Feb 2, 1953 shortly after midnight as an empty cane train pulled by engine #6 was crossing the Canal Esperimental. For reasons never determined, the first car derailed just as they started over the low wooden trestle, then the tender derailed, then the engine derailed and fell on her right side in the irrigation ditch. MdelP Superintendent Augustin Jiminez Chavez, number two on the seniority roster, was just starting his railroad career as an extra board brakeman on this trip. He was riding the cars, and felt them bouncing along the ties, and waved a frantic washout to the engine crew. Everybody jumped in time. Augustin had the only injury of anybody that night, a small scar on his left elbow of which he is quite proud. Everybody still talks about the wreck like it was yesterday. Photo courtesy of Jose Diaz Ramirez.
One of the big problems with using wood for locomotive fuel was the scarcity of good firewood in the Los Mochis area. This resulted in it's guaranteed disappearance at outlying fueling points before the next train showed up to take on fuel. Baldwin provided new smokestacks for the MdelP when they converted to oil, and three of these were applied to engines #4, #5, and #7, leaving one extra out behind the shop.
This is #7's original stack, while #4's cabbage stack went to former SP de México 4-6-0 #2 when she was put on display. Cane waste was never used as locomotive fuel, but was recycled through the mill's boilers.
We think that #1 and #3 were 4-4-0s, and this driving wheel was from one or the other. Not only that, but it must have been haunted, because it almost seemed like it was trying to tell us something. You know there had to be quite a rip roaring story behind it, but nobody now living knows what it was.
During the time I visited, #7 would run, but everybody said that her flues were leaky and she smoked unbearably as a result of that. She was eventually retubed, and I'm told that she ran over the causeway to Topolobampo and back in honor of the Chepe railroad's centennial. Back in the late 80s, we wanted to get a coach so the MdelP could attempt to survive by hauling tourists from Los Mochis to the seafood restaurants in Topolobampo, but they only got to make the trip once so far as I know.
The most recent motive power acquisition was #7, another 2-6-2 built in 1920 by Baldwin, originally owned by the Calcasieu Long Leaf Lumber Company of Louisiana. She carried road number 68 and burned wood when new.
While her size made her harder on the track, #4 was the general favorite because she could do the most work in the fewest moves. Her whistle sounded nicest, and listening to the echoes of her switching cars in the concrete canyon between the mill buildings, while riding on top of her tender, sitting on a nice, new, clean piece of cardboard, was as luxurious to us as the lounge deck of one of those fancy cruise ships in the Gulf of California.
Good feelings toward #4 went back to her first days on the MdelP in 1922, just after the hard times of the revolution. All the engines at that time were too small and too worn out, so brand new, husky power was something that would never be forgotten, as long as there was an MdelP.
#4 could handle a good 45 loads, but she had one problem in common with the other MdelP engines --- the air pumps were so worn out that they ran constantly just to make enough pressure to work the engine brakes. There was no possible way to air up even one single car. You can be sure the guys were used to not having air on anything, and were masters at kicking and dropping cars from years of shuffling long strings of mixed loads and empties on the few short tracks available.
A few weeks after #4 went back into service in 1989, after an 11 year rebuild, I noticed a fresh gouge on her tender, and I accused the guys of cornering a cut of cars somewhere. They proudly assured me that it wasn't their fault, but rather an inattentive driver cruising the cane fields with the AC blasting and the music likewise. Score: #4, one, Monte Carlo, nada.
Everybody made sure I understood that it wasn't some little compact like a Datsun or Toyota or VW, but it was a MONTE CARLO, and they demolished it, too. They were running tender first with 40 loaded cars, and whistled as loud as they could when they saw the car. Rosario had applied the air, but even though they weren't going very fast, there was no way to stop with only independent brakes, and they dragged that car about a quarter mile. So, they made sure the guy in it was OK, gave him ten minutes to get his stuff out, backed up a train length, hit it again, and then kept going. Too bad I missed it.
Half the MdelP workers I knew 18 years ago are gone now, including longtime fireman Gilberto Valenzuela Feliciano shown above on #4, and Conductor Jaimie Andador Guayacán. These guys not only showed me what a steam shortline really was, but they also taught me to always screw the cap back on a bottle of Tequila immediately after taking a shot, so the alcohol won't evaporate as you're passing it to the next guy. It is the greatest privilege to have known them.
Yes, this picture looks a bit like some of the others of #4. Maybe our scenery wasn't as spectacular as the Copper Canyon, but this view from the Chepe interchange track never ceased to thrill us. I sure wish I could go back there and experience the same thing over again just one more time.
In early 1991, the employees of the MdelP voted to accept buyouts of their railroad seniority along with new jobs in the sugar mill. Everybody hated to do it, but the MdelP had been on shaky ground for a long time, the sugar company was losing money big time , and everybody had families to think about. It looked as though the end had finally arrived for the Mexican Pacific.
At least one reprieve came, in 1994, when the management and employees both agreed that a Whitig Trackmobile was a mighty sorry stand in for any of the MdelP Baldwins, and decided to again use steam for moving the mill traffic. It is unfortunate that this arrangement could not last forever, and that now the Mexican Pacific is gone forever. There are no more railroads where that one came from.
The second Master Mechanic of the MdelP, the late Manuel Mayor, along with every other employee, kept the MdelP going on pride and love alone for decades after the world sugar market and economic realities had failed it. Of course I am saddened by it's passing, but everybody did their very best, and at least I was there back then. MUCHO BUENO SABOR.
In addition to the railroad employees proper, credit must go to the management of Azucarera de Los Mochis, SA and General Manager Licenciado Jóse Gustavo Cásillas B not only for preparation of this article, but for doing everything possible to keep the MdelP alive as long as possible. Also, I must credit my good friend, the late Sergio Coello, for telling me about the MdelP and convincing me to go see it, and Dr. John Kirchner for sharing some of his comprehensive Latin American railroad database with me.