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CLC infernal combustion locos

March 20, 2017 10:40AM
Don't know where you got the photo, but it's published in "General Electric Industrial Locomotives 1924-1978" by Kerr - it may also be in a sister book by the same publisher.

The caption is "Chiriqui Land Co. - Panama No.2, 25 ton, gas-electric locomotive, built by Davenport, with G.E. electrical equipment."

This brings up some interesting questions. Which division was this engine assigned? The two divisions did NOT connect, so any transfer of locomotives between them would involve movement by sea through the canal or overland by road. Both were known as the Chiriqui Land Company, owned by United Fruit. Builder's records are often confusing, as the engines might be shown as being built for a specific subsidiary, United Fruit or the Maritrop Trading Company. Maritrop was a subsidiary of United Fruit, and I believe is still part of Chiquita Brands, that was apparently used to purchase much of the equipment for United Fruit.

We all know that Davenport was a well known steam locomotive builder, leaning more towards smaller engines. It is surprising that Davenport built this so early as they were never really associated with gas-electric designs or motorcars, and I'm not sure they built much if any traction or mining equipment. In this era, GE was a supplier of electrical equipment to a variety of traction builders (including early EMD), but after GE's industrial locomotive line was offered and they became increasing involved with Alco, other locomotive builders had to rely on Westinghouse for their electrical equipment (except EMD who began producing their own). Westinghouse discontinued its heavy traction equipment just about the time the minority builders were fading out of business, and the last Baldwin diesels actually got GE electrical equipment.

A few years ago, P.A. Copeland shared with me some of his roster information noting that often there are vague or conflicting records, also that the steam roster ispretty much a mystery. Based on his information, the Chiriqui Land Co. Southern division shows the first 5 engines (before the boxcabs arrived) as:
No 1 - 4 wheel gas-electric 20 ton built by Davenport 1928 155 hp s/n 1230; transferred to Northern division as #20
No 2 - B-B gas-electric 25 ton built by Davenport 1928 s/n 2107
No 3 - unknown
No 4 - Porter 2-6-0 33" 10x14 - from Northern division?
No 5 - Porter 2-6-0 33" 10x14 s/n 5240 - from Northern division?

Unless United Fruit bought more for another division, or as a test engine, the No 2 was apparently the only one. It is listed as surviving long enough to be renumbered to 702, so this suggests it ran into the early 1970s (likely with diesel engines) but was not on the 1979 roster.

Trying to figure out United Fruit's locomotive roster is a nightmare. The company had many banana plantations in Central America and the Caribbean, in addition they had sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean. There were some standard gauge operations in Cuba, and various 36" and 42" gauge operations elsewhere. As rail operations were discontinued due to various reasons - plant diseases, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, labor or political strife - the company would often pick up and move rail equipment to other operations. The CLC Southern Division had used equipment from several other discontinued UFC operations, some being regauged from 42" to 36". After they ceased rail operations, UFC had little use that much rail equipment but 720 might have been the only one saved because it had been re-engined with a new Caterpillar engine just a few years prior. There are a few engines that were newer, but I'm not sure if they were scrapped or transferred elsewhere. The Northern division had a variety of small switchers and light road engines purchased new, transferred from discontinued UFC operations, or even bought used (two GE 25 tons from US). Two engines (GE 50 tons) were transferred to Bandegua, but except for the six sold at the end of operations all others were apparently scrapped there after 2008, but I've never had confirmation of that.
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