The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Ma-Ao Sugar Central, Negros, Philippines, 1982

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.


Ma-Ao Sugar Central had a reputation of being one of the most ramshackle and decrepit of the sugar mills in the Philippines. In January 1982 it turned out to be all that and more.

I arrived just after 9; security gave me an ID to wear and sent me off to the transport supervisor. He said ‘go as I like’ and sent me to the loco foreman where I was told no steam as yet today but possibly at noon. Two hours spent in a shady spot and then back just before noon to find two steamers would be going out shortly. Found a photo possie then just after 1 the first train appeared. The shunters were riding on the first wagon and on seeing me started making signals to the engine which as it got closer slowed down. I was given a big cheery come-on wave from the fireman so needing no second bidding headed for the cab and a ride to somewhere, not knowing nor caring where we were going or for how long. 

# 5 returned soon after after dark so I suppose we were away for about 5 to 6 hours. The fireman was busy the entire trip breaking up the bagasse and throwing it into the firebox. He also had a tin, about an 825g size, attached to a stick which was regularly refilled with some sort of waste/fuel oil out of a drum. The oil was then drizzled down the front of the firebox to be sucked into the fire. I suppose this gave a bit of an oomph to the locos steaming qualities! The outbound trip was enough to empty the tender of bagasse so hence the loaded wagons. The tender was refilled at the furthest siding. 

Wilson wrote to his parents: "Came back to the mill stopping at sidings along the way, pulling the empties out, adding the loaded to the train then pushing the empties back in again. The brakes are on the downhill trains all the time so the engine has to work quite hard to pull the train and that way everything is kept nicely under control. Back in Ma-Ao shortly after dark to discover that although country jeepneys start well before dawn they don't run after dusk. This was a bit of an issue as my hotel was in Bacolod City which is about 25km from Ma-Ao. Someone suggested I ride a BM - whatever that was - out to the main road and then catch a bus. A BM turned out to be a company tanker truck which left me at a very dark crossroads where it took 2 bus rides and a taxi to get me back to Bacolod. A great day out but later I found that the bagasse had not only got all over my clothes but also you just wouldn't believe the places in the camera it’s managed to get into!"

I returned to Ma-Ao a few days later, he added:

"Checked up on movements and just made it to a good bridge outside the factory before an incoming steamer arrived and then settled down to wait for one that was due to leave shortly.....after 4 hours gave it up as a bad job and headed for home. Still a pleasant time as the local kids came to check me out, two farmers' daughters who spoke good English spent some time with me and someone's mum sent out some fried bananas!"

(For the record these are Alcos nominally built in 1921 (#1) and 1924 (#5) although massive cannibalisation would have made full identification meaningless. RD)


There's a mountain of bagasse on the first few wagons, which will be replaced with sugar cane by the time the train returns.

Riding on the top of the tender:

For most of the journey #5 propelled its train towards the mountains in the distance, naturally this added to the hazards of operation here.

At a convenient siding, the bagasse wagons were shunted so that the tender could be refilled.

A couple of days later, the weather was not as kind, this is sister #1 returning from the fields and below #5 outside the shed.


Rob Dickinson

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