sábado, 17 de abril de 2021


Interview and Pictures : José Manuel Serrano Esparza 


Pedro Cuadro Calvente, one of the last living railwaymen from the halcyon days of classic trains driven by steam locomotives in Spain and a man featuring a vast experience in the scope of Spanish railroads, with which he worked all over that European country, gave kindly the following interview. 

- When and where were you born ?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

I was born on October 2, 1925 in Marchena (Seville). My parents were Santiago Cuadro Macías and María Calvente Espinosa. Both of them were born in Castellar de la Frontera (Cádiz).

- Which sides would you highlight regarding your family background?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente :

I hail from a humble and numerous family. We were six brothers : Alfonso, Santiago, Isabel (wife of Bruno, founder of Bar Bruno in Cerro Muriano), Francisca, María and me.

On the other hand, my mother spoke and wrote fluent English, because she grew up and worked in Gibraltar with a British family until she married my father. 

- When did your passion for the railway world start?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

Since I was a child, because my father Santiago Cuadro Macías was a railwayman of the Ferrocarriles Andaluces and I was constantly in contact with trains, steam locomotives, tracks and train stations as far back as I can remember in 1930, when I was five years old.

Three years later, in 1933, my father was promoted to railway foreman and my family moved to El Chorro Train Station (Málaga), where we stayed for a year.

In 1934, my father was transferred again to Fuentes de Andalucía (Seville), where he was three years, until May of 1937.

On March 5, 1937, we moved to Cerro Muriano (Córdoba), in the heat of Spanish Civil War, with my father working at the level crossing of the Córdoba-Almorchón Railway near the area where Restaurant Los Pinares is located. 

- How was your stage as a child and teenager in Cerro Muriano? 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

Very happy, in spite of the widespread economical shortages at the time.

When I was 11 years and 6 months old I began working as a shepherd, keeping goats and pigs.

I walked daily a very long trek of approximately 30 km, in a round trip encompassing the estates Armentia Baja, Fontanar de los Pinares and Virgen de Linares, so I came back home in the evening.

Every day, at 8:00 h in the morning, before going out to herd, I caught a passenger train driven by a steam locomotive going from Cerro Muriano to the Alhondiguilla Station, where railways crossed, and once there, I sold to travellers milk that I took in an eight litre pitcher, returning to Cerro Muriano at 10:00 h, subsequently getting the herd out of the pen. 

- Did you witness any combat during the Spanish Civil War when you were a boy and worked as a shepherd between Cerro Muriano and the Obejo Old Train Station ?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

Yes, in 1937. It was in the Ronquillo Bajo area, beside a stretch of the Córdoba-Almorchón Railway.

I was twelve years old and was with my goats together with my friend Juan, who was also a shepherd. 

Suddenly, there was a rifle and machine gun exchange of shots between Republican soldiers and Moroccan troops from Francoist tabors of regulares.

On hearing the shots, we concealed quickly, but we saw some men die from the place where both of us had hidden.

- When did your working period as a shepherd finish ?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

I was a shepherd during six years, from 1937 to 1943, when being eighteen years old I started to work at a stone quarry, hanging from a large rope for eight hours a day with a ten kg mallet, between El Vacar Train Station and La Solana.

It was an exceedingly hard toil, I finished exhausted every day, and in addition, I had to daily walk 24 km back and forth.

- How was your military service ? 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

I was 20 years old when in 1945 I joined to the Real Maestranza de Sevilla as a recruit. 

 Some months later I was posted to El Vacar (Córdoba) ammunition dump, being assigned carpenter´s tasks, because that had been my other great hobby along with trains since I was a child, so I had got a flair for it.

I had developed remarkable manual skill at the time and was ordered to build the wooden barracks for the storage of munition. 

- When did you begin your professional career as a railwayman and which ones were the main milestones in it ? 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

It was in 1947, as a railway porter at Cercadillas Station (Córdoba Province).

My family was always been linked to the train world, because my father had been a railwayman, first in Ferrocarriles Andaluces and then in RENFE, for many decades, working as a foreman of tracks and works, while my mother was the level-crossing keeper beside the small house where we lived.

Ten years later, in 1957, I was risen to railway station specialist and moved to El Cobujón Station (Huelva Province) in the Huelva-Zafra railway. 

On April 14, 1959 I was destined to the Obejo Train Station (Córdoba) of the Córdoba-Almorchón Railway, where I stayed until 1974, year in which it was closed for the transport of passengers (its activity would also cease for the conveyance of goods, with the exception of the La Alhondiguilla-Almorchón stretch, which kept on being used for the transport of coal to the thermal power plant of Puente Nuevo, Espiel), though it went on being used for transport of military trains until 1992.

After my stage at the Old Obejo Train Station, in 1974 I was sent to San Sebastián in service commission, initially to stay a month, but I was there for five years and it was a great experience.

Then, I came back to Córdoba in 1979, working as an all-rounder railwayman in a number of stations of the Córdoba-Madrid and Córdoba-Seville railroads until 1987, year in which I retired. 

- Which were the main assignments you fulfilled throughout your professional career as a railwayman?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

It was a time in which tasks weren´t as specific as currently, so you had to do a raft of different things, particularly : 

- To receive trains.

- To perform manoeuvers with trains if necessary. 

- The cleaning, maintenance and keeping of the different departments of the station.

- To daily walk 1 km, depending on the turn in both directions and to switch the entrance disc on.

- To attend the passengers.

- To load and unload goods. 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente in the surroundings of the Obejo Old Train Station in which he worked as a railroadman for many years in the heyday of steam locomotives.  

- How was the RENFE railway staff at the Obejo Old Train Station during the fifteen years in which you worked there between 1959 and 1974?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

We were five people : the station master (twelve hours during the day), the station factor (twelve hours during the night) and three specialists in railway station in rotating shifts of 12 hours. 

Consuelo Romero Rubio (on the right of the image), wife of Pedro Cuadro Calvente, with a friend of hers on the platform of the Obejo Old Train Station (Córdoba), belonging to the Córdoba-Almorchón Railway, one of the most beautiful all over Europe, in mid sixties. © Pedro Cuadro Calvente 

It is a very old railway station, because it was founded in 1873, made up a part of the Córdoba-Almorchón railroad and had always a great influx of passengers and railway personnel until 1974. 

- The increasing upgrading of the railway has resulted in the disappearance of some jobs that were indispensable at the time of the steam trains. Which ones of these railwaymen modalities would you stand out ? 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

There were a lot of occupations around the train :

- The porter, who moved the passengers´ cases and luggages up to the train or the station exit.

- The train manager, who supervised every activity made in the railway while it was under way. He was the person shouting the famous order Passengers to the Train ! 

- The switchman, who was the person in charge of handling the switch rails changing the trains of track to take them in the adequate direction. These men used a railway lantern and a pennant to make the suitable signals to the train workers, in addition to fulfilling the maintenance and oiling of the switch rails. 

- The stoker, who had to feed the fire of the steam locomotive and also grease it. Before starting its march, he lit the fire and heated the water inside the boiler, striving after it had the necessary pressure to be able to move the train.

- The night watcher, whose mission was to walk the tracks along when there wasn´t any light and to check that they were in good condition, as well as cleaning the way of obstacles and call the repairmen when it was necessary.

- The brakeman, who was inside a train cabin and had to brake and unbrake it according to the instructions given to him by the engineer by means of the steam locomotive whistle.

- The visitor, who hit the trains wheels with a hammer when they stopped at the stations, to discern through the sound generated by them if there was any breakage or crack, in addition to often changing the brake shoes. 

- The foreman, who carried out the the loading and unloading of goods, as well as leading the railway labourers in the tasks of classifying and setting up the trains, coupling locomotives and wagons. 

The keeper, whose mission was to control the level crossings, raising and lowering the barriers, as well as preventing anybody from jumping them and avoid the making of large queues during the waitings. This was by far the most important work from the security viewpoint, and was accomplished by a lot of women who proved to be highly efficient in this aspect, excelling in accuracy.

- The track operator, who had to keep them in perfect condition, replacing the defective ones, cleaning ditches, etc, all of it with the aim of reducing to the utmost the risk of any train derailment. 

- Which were in your opinion the fundamental traits of the railway epoch of trains driven by steam locomotives that you lived firsthand ? 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

It was a very nice and legendary stage in the History of Railways, whose epicenter were the wonderful steam locomotives boasting unmatched beauty and top-notch connecting rod-crank mechanism, with direct output from the expansion cylinders.

They were machines built like a tank, enduring many years of hard use in which the perfection of the thermodynamic cycle and the obliteration of improductive consumptions were key factors to be able to work at temperatures beyond 450º C inside the boilers and increase the performance. 

The plume of smoke spawn by these exceedingly beautiful steam locomotives, visible from a far distance, and its characteristic whistling, became a significant part of the cultural identity of many generations throughout XIX and XX centuries. 

I could see at the Obejo Old Train Station the last eight years of activity of trains driven by steam locomotives belonging to the Córdoba-Almorchón Railway between 1959 and 1967, year in which they were replaced by energetically more efficient diesel trains. 

Nevertheless, from a historical and railway standpoint, there hasn´t been and there won´t ever be anything comparable to the unforgettable steam locomotives regarding impressive beauty, charm, appeal, personality, mythical character and genesis of strong emotions and admiration on beholding them, something that also happens with the elements of railway engineering at their highest level existing in the train stations of the old railroads used by steam locomotives.

That´s why the labour carried out by Álvaro Olivares (President of ACAF), Antonio Lara Ríos (Secretary of ACAF), Ángel Caballero Muñoz (President of the Extremadura Association of Railway Friends) and Juan J. Ramos Vicente, who have strenuously fought to preserve the memory and great cultural heritage of the marvellous Córdoba-Almorchón Railway, has been very praiseworthy. 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente holding between his hands an old original railway oil lantern made of forged iron from late fifties that he frequently used during his professional career. A whole life devoted to railway.

On the other hand, it was also a hugely touching stage from a social viewpoint, since railwaymen made up a great family whose members lived in little house coterminous with the old train stations.

Therefore, a remarkable friendship was born in which top priority was the common welfare, so social relationships were very warmhearted and the arrival of each train with its steam locomotive was quite an event, something magical for all of us. 

Throughout the whole XX century the railways with trains driven by steam locomotives brought about the proliferation of railway villages all over Spain having available supermarkets, schools for children, church, all kind of workshops, chemist´s, groceries and so forth. 

Because of this, Spain was always visited during XX century and also in the XXI one by the best train photographers in the world like Iain Turnbull, Brian Stephenson, Jeremy Wiseman, Christian Schnabel, Lawrence G. Marshall, Francisco Wais and others, who got pictures of many steam locomotives still existing in old Spanish railways and that had mostly been manufactured in countries like Belgium, France, England, Germany and United States. 

- Can you foresee the future of railways as a passengers means of transport ? 

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

I am optimistic, because the steadily evolving technology has hugely improved the trains performance as to their speed, energetic efficiency and reduction in pollution levels.

In this sense, the first revolution were the diesel trains featuring two stroke internal combustion engines, which replaced the steam locomotives between mid fifties and late sixties, though in Spain a number of steam locomotives went on working until late seventies. 

Thereafter, already in the scope of the electrified railway lines, high speed trains have meant to all intents and purposes a quantum leap enabling the passengers to make their travels in record times and with extraordinary comfort conditions. 

High speed trains are at a very advanced stage nowadays, because they are the evolutive pinnacle of 47 years of development since the first Japanese Shinkansen Hikari bullet trains of the Tokyo-Osaka railway started their march in 1964, reaching speeds of 210 km/h and reducing the transport time between both cities from seven to four hours, something impressive for the time.

And in 1990 they managed to reach 275 km/h with the high speed trains of the Joetsu Shinkansen connecting Tokyo with Niigata. 

From 1992 onwards, the Spanish high speed AVE train also turned into one of the best in the world, progressively increasing its speed until being able to currently reach 310 km/h, approaching very much to the 320 km/h that the Japanese high speed train Tohoku Shinkansen Series E5  linking Tokyo with Aomori has been able to attain since 2013.

Simultaneously, some different technologies are unfolding within the frame of magnetic levitation Maglev trains, id est, lacking wheels and being even faster, more silent and working more smoothly than the most advanced conventional high speed trains. 

In this regard, trains like the Maglev Shanghai reaching 429 km/h and connecting the Shanghai Pudong International Airport with the Lonyang Subway Station (at a distance of 30,5 km) in that city in only seven minutes, or the Fuxing Hao CR400 AF/BF running at 400 km/h and linking the south of Beijing with the Shanghai Hongqiao Station in five hours (instead of the ten hours previously needed using conventional trains with wheels) have already proved their efficiency and highly advanced aerodynamics. 

Even six years ago, the Japanese managed to achieve 603 km/h with their Maglev train during tests made in a 42.8 km special line in Yamanashi, central area of the country.

But I do believe that conventional wheeled trains, both standard and particularly the high speed ones, will keep on holding sway over the train market, because in my viewpoint they offer a far better quality/price/balance/top speed ratio. 

Manufactured with a special and very light aluminium alloy significantly reducing the energy consumption in symbiosis with a state-of-the-art aerodynamic design, the AVE Series 112 built by Talgo and Bombardier is presently one of the best high speed trains on earth. © RENFE

A good example of it is the superb High Speed Series 112 Train of RENFE, made between 2008-2010 by Talgo / Bombardier, which goes on operative and is able to reach 330 km/h. It´s a very light train featuring an extraordinary power / weight ratio, so the consumption is very low, in addition to likewise standing out in its incredibly agile acceleration. 

Besides, the infrastructure of tracks, electronic systems, energetic consumption and prices of the tickets of Maglev trains is inevitably much higher, along with the risks inherent to so hugely fast speeds. 

- In 1987, after forty years of service as a RENFE railwayman all over Spain, in railroads with steam and diesel locomotives, your retirement arrived. What have you been doing since then ?

Pedro Cuadro Calvente

In 1987 I founded a carpenter´s workshop in Córdoba with my son Alfonso Cuadro Romero.

I had liked carpentry very much since my childhood, and having this attelier was what I had always dreamed, so they were very happy years that I shared with my son, who is a great carpenter, able to do different things at an outstanding level. 

I was working twenty years as a carpenter, until in 2010, when I was 84 years old, I left my active occupation as a carpenter, though I have been doing a lot of things with wood, as well as being as much aware as possible on the technological breakthroughs in trains, which has always been my other great passion.