"Gato Prêto, Brazil - 1965" by Carl Arendt

A layout based on a delightful South American prototype

Gato Prêto, in rural southern Brazil less than 100 km from Sao Paulo, was the hub of a busy two-foot gauge railway line hauling lime to the cement plants in Perús. The road was built in 1910 and lasted until 1983. Worked by steam power throughout its lifetime, the little line seems to have been designed expressly for model railroaders!

To start with, the “main line” rounded a large hill, making a 150-degree curve to enter the station–as if it had been planned to occupy one end of a layout table! Just before curving the line split into two parts. One went uphill, to become the highest of three levels serving the lime kilns of Gato Prêto; the other continued on to the yards and engine house/repair facilities at the lowest level. An intermediate level track split from the lower main near the end of the curve.

The top level at the kilns was the place where limestone was charged into the kiln from small four-wheeled wagons that were hauled in from the quarries. The next level down was the firewood level, with wood brought to the kilns on standard, eight-wheeled flat cars (you can see one in the picture of the surviving kiln that accompanies the track plan). Finished lime was loaded at ground level, to be hauled away to the cement plants on down the line.

The Perús and Pirpora Railroad was worked by steam locomotives throughout its life–beginning with two Baldwin 2-4-0s in 1910, and adding four Alco-Cooke 2-4-2 saddle tanks in 1921. The engine house and repair shop at Gato Prêto was home base for all the lokeys.

The layout presented here models the station in 1965, when it was reduced to a single lime kiln. Operations included one lime train departing each day, plus continual deliveries of limestone at the upper level and firewood at the intermediate one. In order to fit the confines of a small layout, the yard trackage has been abbreviated to a single track, and the engine house reduced from four roads to two. With more space available, the whole installation could easily be modelled.

All trains originate in the hidden fiddle yard at the rear, which represents the rest of the line. The general track arrangement at Gato Prêto is an excellent real-life example of the layout concept I call The Fork…where trains can serve two termini without requiring a passing siding or turntable at either one.

Because the layout curves are a generous 12 inches, this layout can be built as an HO/OO standard gauge line, or as an O scale narrow-gauge railway–either true two-foot gauge or 30″ gauge using standard 16.5 mm trackage. All in all, Gato Prêto is a wonderful prototype that offers lots of operation in a relatively small space!

You can read all about the P&P line and see lots of photos of Gato Prêto in Charles Small’s wonderful book, “Plus or Minus Two Footers — Brazilian Steam Album Volume I” published in 1984 by Railhead Publications, Canton, Ohio. It’s out of print but readily available on the used book market…its ISBN number is 0-912113-14-6.

Click to enlarge
Gato Prêto, Brazil - 1965 © Carl Arendt

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