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Ultima Esperanza


Puerto Bories frigorifico
During the first years of the 20th century, a large area of cattle grazing land was opened up alongside the Ultima Esperanza sound in the area around Puerto Natales. In 1914 a frigorifico was opened to serve this region at Puerto Bories, about three miles along the shore from Puerto Natales. The owners were the Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego, known as the 'Explotadora' or SETF and by then the biggest sheep ranchers in the south. A summary history of the group published in 1943 is available online as part of Duncan Campbell's 'PatBrit' site on the British presence in Southern Patagonia (13). Click here to go directly to the SETF history page.




Whilst the frigorifico had its own jetties, one of which shows up in the picture above, it was three miles away from the source of workers at Puerto Natales. This could be difficult particularly in winter when snow covered the dirt road along the shore.

A passenger carrying railway
A metre gauge railway was therefore proposed, to run between the muelles at Puerto Bories and Puerto Natales as well as to serve the internal needs of the frigorifico. It will be noted that, unusually, passengers were to be a big part of this industrial railway's role. Whilst it is generally assumed that the railway was built at the same time as the frigorifico, ie in 1913-4, one source (1) suggests the line was built earlier in 1893 presumably for the 'graseria' or rendering plant which preceded the freezer.

The plan below, framed on the wall of a corridor at the Instituto de la Patagonia in Punta Arenas, shows the proposal. Unfortunately it is not possible to copy the whole diagram in one piece as it is a couple of yards long. The section shown has the coast as a blue line, the road as a thick grey line, and the proposed railway more faintly as a thin line just inland of the road. The frigorifico is at the extreme left and the railway travels right for a mile or so before going off this section of the plan. At the foot, faintly visible, are a number of cross-sections illustrating the alignment relative to the original ground level. The brown marks are water stains.




Along the route
The major part of the system ran just above sea level. However, as the plant was on a steep hillside some internal sidings needed to run parallel to the coast, using points and reversals within the grounds to reach the upper buildings.

A steeply graded line within the grounds of the frigorifico. The purpose of the third rail is not clear.


'Guacolda', later renamed 'Valdez Vergara', the O&K 0-4-0T, on one of the higher level sidings.


Down at beach level the frigorifico had two separate muelles as well as sidings reaching into the various warehouses. The photos immediately below come from the Carlos Foresti album of 1920.

The more northerly muelle was close to the sawmill which adjoined the frigorifico.


The other, from which the carcasses were shipped, was directly in front of the main frigorifico buildings.


This picture shows it with a train headed by the O&K loco. Note that this photo appears to show the jetty cponstructed in wood, whilst the previous photo clearly illustrates an iron muelle. It seems likely that the wooden structure was an earlier version.


A view from the other end, also with the O&K at the head of a train.


The O&K loco is here ready to depart along the mainline eastward toward Pto. Natales. Judging by the large number of men standing about, this may be at clocking-off time.


A view inside the cold store.



An impressive compound engine, built in Derby though the company name has not been deciphered. A second one is out of picture to the right.




Another view of what is probably the same pair of engines.





In the picture below a wood-framed building in course of demolition hides the head of one of the muelles.





At this level the 'mainline' set off south-eastwards along the coast.


The next picture, by Andy Kirkham of Glasgow, illustrates the old alignment clearly showing up in the grass as it runs parallel to the now surfaced road. Puerto Natales is behind the photographer, who was looking back towards Puerto Bories.



At Puerto Natales the railway connected to at least one jetty.

The photo below shows wool bales awaiting shipment probably from the short Pto. Natales muelle. (2). Whether these had been brought along the railway from Puerto Bories or had arrived from elsewhere or indeed from a shearing shed at the Puerto Natales frigorifico is not clear.




There were certainly three different locos during the lifetime of the railway, and there may have been a fourth.

The two steam locos are seen together in this view from Carlos Foresti's 1920 album Vistas del Frigorífico de Puerto Bories, published by the owners, the Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego.


An album of photos of the Puerto Bories plant produced by Carlos Forresti for the SETF around 1920 shows a small O&K 0-4-0T, bearing the name 'Guacolda' in script on cast plates (3). This loco was depicted in a number of pictures in this album, and several of these are displayed on a later page. "Guacolda' was a mythical Araucanian woman who was reputed to have been as strong as her menfolk. It is probable that this is the loco in the photo of the muelle further up the page.

The loco shown below labelled as 'Guacolda', is a 20HP O&K product, and may have been works no. 6962 of 1913, delivered via Messrs. Duncan Fox. The Pto. Bories plant was not opened until 1914, but the loco may have been purchased for use on construction trains or may have seen use elsewhere before arriving at Pto. Bories.



'Valdés Vergara'
An almost identical loco survives in Puerto Natales to this day, and is shown below (4). However, its cab currently bears plates with the name 'Valdés Vergara'. Señor Fransisco Valdés Vergara was the 'Explotadora's' chief representative in Valparaiso from 1905 onwards. This may be a second loco, or may merely be a renaming of 'Guacolda'. The nameplates are in the same script style with cut-out corners as the original ones.

The only major differences from the engine illustrated above are in the small spark arrestor, and the larger safety valves mounted on the dome. This loco has been on display in the past but in January 2001 was stored in the yard behind the town museum.




The current plate on the cabside of the surviving loco.



The largest loco was an 0-6-0T built by Avonside in 1920. The builder's no. was 1861. It is a very British-looking side tank.

A side view of the design was later displayed in the Avonside catalogues of the 1920s. It was designated the NJ class and was available for gauges between 2' and 3' 6". In working order it weighed twelve and a half tons.




The worksplate as pictured by Andy Kirkham of Glasgow in 1995.






Wilfred Simms suggests (5) that this loco was delivered via the agent Duncan Fox. (Sir) Peter/Pedro McLelland was for many years the managing director of the 'Explotadora'.


The photo below was supplied by Señor Raúl Moroni. It shows the Avonside on a train, probably at the frigorifico gates. The date is unknown.



This engine has been on a plinth in the square at Puerto Natales since the line's closure.

The photo below was taken from a postcard of the early 1970s. At present the loco is in a more sober green and black with white rods, but has suffered a little from graffiti writers.



The Ruston diesel
The line's final loco, purchased during the line's last years, was a Ruston & Hornsby diesel (class type LBT or LAT?), illustrated below in a 1960 photo (6). I suspect this to have been scrapped at the line's closure.




Rolling stock
It is worth noting the wagons in the picture above. They were grey bogie vans, but with pitched red roofs as opposed to the more common curved ones. The workmen travelled in these vans, which apparently had two rows of inward facing seats between end doors (7). There was supposedly a skylight in each roof though these are not visible here.

The view below from the 1950s shows 'Guacolda' or 'Valdes Vergara' hauling five bogie passenger vans and one smaller van along the mainline towards Puerto Natales (8). Hung on the outside of each van are sheep carcases being taken home by the workers. This was one of the 'perks' of the job!


Within the frigorífico and out along the muelles, four wheeled open wagons were used. These appear to have had slatted wooden ends to support the piles of frozen carcases. The photo below from the Forresti album shows a loco drawing three wagons out of the front of the plant possibly onto the main muelle.




Political upheavals
Patagonia has seen a lot of strong political feeling in the past, at least partly because so much of the land was owned by absentee landlords. In 1919, there was a good deal of unrest on both sides of the border, partly induced by news from Russia of the revolution. Ultima Esperanza was a focal point of disturbance, and revolutionary meetings and arson attacks there were eventually quelled by violent means. Six men died when militia men opened fire on a crowd on 23 January 1919. Bruce Chatwin in his travelogue In Patagonia (9) states that one of the casualties was a loco driver from the Puerto Bories line. However the story is extremely complicated and the subject of a whole book (10).


The railway closed in 1973 (11) and was mostly lifted by 1978, though four-wheeled wagons were still pushed by hand for the movement of carcases within the plant. Whilst there is still some slaughtering undertaken in the old frigorifico most of the site is empty and derelict. The main buildings are believed to be protected as ahistorical monument but predictably this has not prevented arson from damaging some parts. The main wooden warehouses along the sea front have as a result been dismantled.



A number of relics of the railway were visible in 2001. Above can been seen track heading for one of the muelles. Below is a wagon turntable amid the ruins of one of the warehouses. A new muelle in Puerto Natales is largely constructed from old rails, but the weight (60-70lbs per yard) of the heavier ones makes one think that they might have been shipped down from some mainline further north in Chile.




More photos
A large number of photos of the frigorífico from the Carlos Foresti album are displayed in Duncan Campbell's PatBrit website. Use the search facility to find Puerto Bories, and then click on the 'Carlos Foresti' button.

Puerto Natales frigorifico
The success of the Puerto Bories establishment prompted the rise of competition, in the shape of another frigorifico in Puerto Natales itself. In 1919 the Sociedad Frigorifico de Puerto Natales (12) opened its plant on the south side of the town. However, this site relied largely on Argentine animals driven across the hills from the Rio Turbio direction. This trade dried up during the Second world War and in 1945 (or 1947?) the whole works closed. The land has since been cleared and at least partly redeveloped. There are no remains to be seen, even the muelle having decayed away.



It is likely that there were railway tracks around the site, as in every other similar frigorifico, but I have no details of their nature, or whether they connected to the Puerto Bories line.

The photo below shows a small locomotive outside a 'galpon de esquila' or sheep shearing shed. Whilst the photo was found in the Pto. Natales museum, Duncan Campbell does not believe that it was taken at Puerto Bories, so it may show a location within the Pto. Natales frigorifico site.



1 The Railways of Chile, Volume 5 - Southern Chile. 2002. Wilfred Simms. Page 63.
Black and white photos not otherwise acknowledged are by courtesy of the Museo de la Ciudad, Puerto Natales.
3 Vistas del Frigorífico de Puerto Bories. 1920? Carlos Foresti.Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego.
4 Photo of the German 0-4-0T by David Sinclair, 1996.
The Railways of Chile, Volume 5 - Southern Chile. 2002. Wilfred Simms. Page 64.
6 Photo of the diesel loco and train by Bob Borowitz, from the book Patagonia de Ayer y de Hoy. 1980. Mateo Martinic B. Ediciones Soc. Difusora Patagonia Ltda., Punta Arenas.
7 El Tren de Puerto Bories. 1995. Article by Alfredo Frangópoulos R. in Impactos 65. Punta Arenas.
8 Photo kindly provided by Duncan Campbell of Puerto Bories.
9 In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin,
10 La Masacre en la Federación Obrera de Magallanes. 1998? Carlos Vega Delgado. Editorial Atelí, Punta Arenas.
11 Patagonia de Ayer y de Hoy, ibid. p155.
12 or the Cia. Frigorífica de Puerto Natales?
13 Sociedad Explotadora Tierra del Fuego, 1893-1943. Fernando Durán. Published by the SETF in Valparaiso.


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Rio Gallegos

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Ultima Esperanza

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Chapter 8

The big estancias and 'frigoríficos'


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