A Railroad of Times Past
By John Waymire with much help from Pedro Ruiz Campo

For nearly thirty-five years Iquitos had a narrowgage railroad that operated in the city. Visitors to the city’s 28th of July Plaza can see the last remnant of this railroad—a tiny steam locomotive. Often overlooked as a toy train in a kid’s park, the locomotive, now mounted on a concrete pedestal, was one of four engines that carried people and cargo throughout the city. Then in 1905 the first train was brought over from Europe during the height of the rubber boom and was operated by the Booth Company of London, England. Track was soon laid along Prospero Street to the docks at the foot of Loreto and Yavari Streets. A spur turned to the river at Plaza de Armas (the street at Ari’s Burgers) then returned up river along the Malecon traveling along the river promenade with its odd mix of warehouses and fine hotels. At Palma Street the line turned right and reconnected a block away with the tracks on Prospero. This loop mute carried cargo during the week, but on Sundays and holidays wooden seats were added to the carriages and the train carried passengers for Sunday outings. Old photographs show skimmer-hatted men and parasol-shaded women crowding onto the train at Plaza de Armas in front of the Iron House. The size of the crowds attest to the train’s popularity. In fact, the train was so popular, that wealthy Loretanos (Iquitos folks) demanded their heavenly remains be transported by rail to their final resting place at the city cemetery. To that end, a spur was built along San Martin Street to the cemetery located at the present 28th of July Plaza. Soon the spur was given its own name—the Cemetery Line. Now one could visit the cemetery either setting up (or otherwise) aboard a fine steam train. Buy trains always have commercial interests at heart, so an additional track was laid from Prospero and Sargento Lores Streets to the bustling port of Morona Cocha three kilometers west. Morona Cocha, located on the Rio Nanay, was fast becoming a substantial port collecting timber floated down from the vast forests along Nanay. Trains returning from Morona Cocha were laden with timber destined for construction in booming Iquitos, or for fuel in the new electrical plant on Yavari Street. Loretanos being a sporting lot, though, insisted
the Morona Cocha Line swing past the athletic field. The constructor obliged and the line was designated the Morona Cocha/Stadium Line. At its height, Iquitos had four train lines—the line to the docks, the loop line past the big shot’s digs on the Malecon, The graveyard line, and the Morona Cocha line with its stadium dogleg. But, all good things must come to and end—the rubber boom burst, the skimmer hated men came and went, rolling stock as hearse lost its luster, and by 1939 the last railroad line in Iquitos folded. Although the railroads are gone, the intrepid visitor can stroll where the old trains once rolled, A good place to start is the Municipal Library at the Plaza de Armas, Napo 216. On the west wall, the library has a nice collection of photographs of old Iquitos including the railroad. From the library you can walk down Napo Street past Ari’s Burgers to the River. Turn right and stroll along the Malecon past the grand old buildings beginning at Putumayo Street. Notice the inlayed tiles. Walk about 6 blocks to San Martin Street near the Department of Fisheries. Turn right on San Martin and walk three blocks to the 28th of July Plaza and see the last steam locomotive. Return on San Martin Street to Prospero, Iquitos’s main commercial street. Stroll down Prospero and back to the Plaza de Armas.

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