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The Atlantic coast of Santa Cruz province

Puerto Santa Cruz
The Armour company had a freezer factory near here, on the north side of the Río Santa Cruz. A visit in May 2011 found the plant to be in a derelict and largely stripped state, but with evidence of a comprehensive 60cm gauge network, and a surviving wider gauge steam crane on track leading from one of the two muelles.

FrigArmour1

First a view from the edge of the escarpment, showing the plant's location on the point between the Río Santa Cruz on the right and the Río Chico to the left. The open sea is ahead.

Next a view within the confines of the frigorífico. By 2011 all portable items such as wagons and loose rails had been removed for scrap but any track embedded in concrete remained in situ.

 

FrigArmour2

Finally, the full size Grafton steam crane (probably broad gauge, but see Pto. San Julián below), with the remains of one of the two muelles behind.

.FrigArmour3

Puerto San Julián
The Argentine branch of the Swift company, the Cia. Swift de la Plata S. A., had a frigorifico here from 1912 onwards. This too is now derelict, having been superceded like others by the spread of road transport and by more modern competitors located more conveniently.

Like other similar facilities, this frigorífico was located with a view to the raw materials arriving on their own four feet and the finished product being shipped northwards by sea in moderate sized vessels well able to load from a small private jetty or 'muelle'. As such sites might be a long way from any town a workers' barracks (left of picture) was an essential part of the whole.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ1

On first inspection (May 2011) the internal tracks and those to a nearby loading point appeared to be of 60cm gauge. This track below now leads over a cliff edge but almost certainly this was to one of two muelles.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ4

Like most other abandoned locations all easily moved metalwork has been stripped out. However, this skip wagon body would appear to have been missed by the scrappers. Its metalwork looks perhaps to have been galvanised, maybe a pragmatic feature in a meat freezing plant, unless this is just the result of life in a semi-desert climate.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ5

Opportunistic scrap merchants sometimes balked at stripping out heavy plant, especially when it had been concreted into place. This Scotch boiler has thus survived.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ3

Having seen 60 cm gauge tracks, this metre gauge trackwork (below) leading from a wool compressor or weighbridge shed prompted a quick reassessment. Perhaps the route along the clifftop to the main muelle had used larger wagons.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ2

Strangely, it appears that the trackwork to the main muelle was in fact of three-rail mixed gauge. This location is a couple of hundred yards from the main buildings and on a steady gradient. Haulage uphill, albeit of empty wagons, would seem to have needed more than merely man-power.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ6

Compounding the surprises, this Grafton steam crane, now sadly very incomplete, is of standard gauge, and on bullhead rail, a distict rarity in the Argentine! The muelle on which it ran was probably more like a short platform constructed to level out the clifftop, for there is deep water close inshore and a conventional facility built out over the water may not have been necessary.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ7

In a sheltered tidal bay, closer to the main buildings, there still lies the frigorífico's own tug. The scrap merchants have not omitted to recycle the bronze propellor.

FrigSwiftPtoSJ8

Puerto Deseado
Puerto Deseado is an important fishing port towards the north of Santa Cruz province. It was also the terminus of the broad-gauge railway to Las Heras, which was originally to have gone further north all the way to Bariloche.

The big frigorífico was built in the late 1920s by the Soc. Coop. Frigorífica de Puerto Deseado which was a Braun-Menéndez company, but was operated for many years by CAP, the Corporación Argentina de Productores de Carnes. Unusually it seems not to have had its own muelle, all produce being taken back through town to the main port facilities. This may be because the factory, whilst on the shore, faces a wide area of shallow reefs. More recently it has been taken over by CARSA and now functions primarily as a freezer plant for seafood, rather than as an abattoir and meat freezer.

However, this new use has resulted in the preservation of most of the 1920s equipment, albeit now disused. The upper floors still contain the carcass-processing production line and the rendering boilers for the production of tallow. More to the point, a large Robey tandem compound stationary engine survives on the ground floor, superficially well cared for though not in working order. This may be the last frigorífico in Patagonia containing early 20th century equipment; all others from that period having closed and been stripped of their fittings.

The Robey compound engine was directly connected to a pump for the refrigeration system. This is the blue item behind the left of the fly-wheel.

CARSARobeyengine

As far as railway operations are concerned, there are still 60cm gauge tracks in the old fleece drying yard, and the tail end of a broad gauge siding for much of this frigorífico's raw material arrived by rail.

CARSA60cmtrack

The wooden racks between which the 60cm gauge tracks remain (above), held wires on which the fleeces were dried before compressing into bales. In the photo below (courtesy of CARSA staff) the drying yard is full of fleeces and the narrow gauge tracks can be seen to the right.

CARSAdryingyard

The broad gauge siding led directly off the main FCE yard at Puerto Deseado station. Whilst most has been lifted, the tail end and buffer stop remain.

CARSAbufferstop

When first in Comodoro Rivadavia in 1975 I was told that there had been a narrow-gauge steam-worked line at Puerto Deseado as late as 1972. However, the CARSA staff in 2011 were emphatic that their rail system had used only man-power.

Further north
No trace of frigoríficos further north has been found, possibly because the shorter sea or land journey to the 'Capital Federal' made it more practicable to transport livestock on the hoof. Any evidence to the contrary would be received with thanks.

References:
1 Drawing copied by kind permission of David Kent.
2 Visit in May 2011.

Graftoncranead

9-11-16

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Río Grande

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Río Gallegos

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Chapter 8

The big estancias and 'frigoríficos'

Glossary

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