The Hershey Train: Daydreaming of Cuban history and curiosities about the only electric train on the island

Today we are glad to present you the history of the Hershey Train: the only electric train in Cuba, which you can enjoy during a Day-Trip with Cuba Real Tours. The Hershey Train brings us one step closer to the history of Cuba, to the production of sugar, to the history of Hershey chocolates… all those delicious treats you can find and taste today, and that you surely wouldn’t think could be linked to the history of Cuba. Want to find out how? Keep reading and we will tell you! In times of Coronavirus it is necessary to keep our eye on the main game, a picture where normal life conditions are back, and travel possibilities are wider again. Daydreaming of those places we haven’t been to, it’s maybe the best way we can move on and start planning already our next holiday. Reading, making some research and mapping out are what we can actively do during these days of home-quarantine.

Hershey Train CubaCurrent Hershey Train, Cuba

Milton Hershey, an American chocolatier and businessman, arrived in Havana and settled at the Plaza Hotel. Due to the consequences of the First World War, Hershey had to deal with a shortage of sugar, which he needed for his large chocolate production. His mother suggested therefore that he buy a sugar mill in Cuba. Hershey travelled very much through the coastal area of Matanzas but was especially interested in the small port of Santa Cruz del Norte, 45 kilometres away from Havana. He thought buying surrounding fields to build a hub that would guarantee the entry and exit of his products by sea would be the most ideal way to proceed. Unfortunately, his idea did not succeed, however he continued exploring the area and reached the hill surrounding Santa Cruz del Norte, at the top of which he could observe the view on the small forest on the shores of the Atlantic, and realised that could have been the right place. Hershey bought the land and the materials to build the power plant began to arrive shortly after through the port of Santa Cruz del Norte. Soon workers started cutting down trees, removing stones, levelling the land and creating the first urbanization projects. During those months, the facilities began to be created where Mr. Hershey would have soon produced his sugar, the foundations of the houses as well as the first elements of the railway.

The construction of the Hershey train railways began in 1916, however they were not meant for electric trains but for steam trains that were used to pull cane. Hershey, in a visionary act, obtained a government concession to build a new way if he committed himself to moving passengers from Matanzas to Casablanca. This is how, in 1919, he began to request electrical equipment to the JG Brill and General Electric companies. These are said to have entered the country though a Cuban port that same year. The first official transport occurred in 1922 from Matanzas, of course on board of the electric train.  Before that, electric locomotives were used to transport workers along the constructed sections. The train carried passengers and sometimes sugar cane. Since then, the only electric train in Cuba has extended from Casablanca, Havana, to the city of Matanzas, approximately 92 kilometres (57 miles) to the east.

The Original Hershey Train The Original Hershey Train

In 1918 the plant was completed. The following year it activated its first grinding. In 1920 it ground 149 tons of cane, and in 1926 the refinery was inaugurated. It is said that Coca Cola was even supplied with Hershey surplus sugar! At the same time, the surrounding area was going under big developments to provide housing for the employees, whose construction line was maintained in the style of their native Pennsylvania. More than 200 wooden houses with two and four-slope roofs and others made of masonry covered with stones and tile roofs adorned with attractive chimneys, were dynamically built to be inhabited according to the category of the employees. In addition, masonry and stone barracks were built for single men or temporary workers of various nationalities.

Hershey SugarmillHershey Sugarmill

Hershey had the streets designed, on the sides of which trees were planted and gardens created. He built a golf field, a baseball field, a hotel, his offices, a public school, a clinic for his employees and their families, a power plant to supply the community with energy, a theatre and shopping centres as well as a pharmacy, warehouses and butcher shops that, together with the railroad as a fundamental means of transportation with more than 250 km of tracks, provided its inhabitants with the necessary facilities to live in a nice environment. The picturesque village of Hershey transcended the hills of Santa Cruz del Norte, and people began to talk about it as a sort of paradise beyond the sea. Many people from different social categories began to visit the village. Remarkable businessmen, artists and tourists stayed at its hotel and strolled around the town where they could also attend a golf course.

Hershey TownHershey Town

Hershey sold the entire company in 1943 (other sources say ‘46) to the Cuban Atlantic Sugar Company who sold it to the famous Cuban businessman Julio Lobo in the 50s. In 1959 the government decided to nationalize it. It was then that the power plant and its batey were renamed Camilo Cienfuegos, although its strong popular tradition made it famous as the “town of Hershey” for the next generations.

Hershey Town NowadaysHershey Town Nowadays

Cuba Real Tours offers you the possibility to go back in time with its “Hershey Train excursion: A nostalgic adventure on the historic train“. Riding the original 1916 train, this tour includes a rustic lunch at Hershey, a stop to visit a farm, and a live salsa band to give you the right party mood. The two cars on the current tour are JG Brill. There is a third car of the same brand, and all the others are a donation from Barcelona from the year 40. Contact us for more details of this tour.

#Stayathome now and #travellater! Hershey’s train will be waiting for you in Havana, Cuba. As well as the Cuba Real Tours Team which remains operational with a minimal staff working primarily from home. Keep in touch and let us help you organize your trip to Cuba, once it is safe to travel.

Stay in contact

To be informed about the latest news and offers.