Trucks / Stories / Pictures


HS Schoch

The Cuban way of building trucks

The country cannot afford modern technology

Eric doesn’t look very happy. He’s sitting on a greasy chair in front of his house besides the main road of Alquizar. A small town in the South of the Cuban province Artemisa. Eric’s face is greasy as well, even the driveway is covered with a black carpet consisting of heavily used engine oil and diesel fuel. The street is not only a street, it’s also the garage and workshop of Eric, a typical Cuban owner operator. So no wonder that the man also spread his „tools“ on the road: tubes, old buckets, bottles, linnen, screw drivers and parts of an old engine which don’t look as if they still would be useable. And at the end of the scenery the reason for Eric’s sadness is parked: A Ford truck, built decades ago and even older than its owner. The two axle truck counts 63 years, is painted in dark red and for the moment out of duty. Which is quite obvious.

The Castro brothers Fidel and Raul allow their folks a little bit of private entrepreneurship, and whatever is private in Cuba, carries the word „particular“. There are private houses for the tourists (similar to Bed and Breakfast) and called "casa particular". Eric has painted the words „uso particular“, private use, on the doors of his old Ford. A private enterprise is a means to break out of the rigid system of same-level-wages. But one has to be careful – for sure there will be no super-limousine parked in front of the prestigeous villa of a private company owneer: the state has an eye on them, want’s to have a share and if you are too successfully, there is high chance that some restrictions are imposed on the business. So working „particular“ is more a niche in which you may find some chances ore even more comfort or individual satisfaction than in the official system. If the truck works or enough tourists enjoy the guest rooms, it may work pretty well.

It’s hard – probably even impossible – in Europe to find a 63 year old truck that has to work daily to make it's drivers living. In Cuba it’s more ore less normal: The roads are a huge open air museum with rare pieces which names are more or less forgotten. Or people from the West have forgotten, that these brands used to produce trucks in the past. Studebaker, Plymouth, Chevrolet, Fargo, Roman or DAC, once notorious in Western Europe, plus the full spectrum of the history of commercial vehicles once built in Soviet Union.

In Cuba never ever a truck has been produced – but nevertheless there are many Cuban trucks on the road. Because it’s both difficult to find original combinations of chassis, cab, engine, gear box and axles as well as trucks that are younger than ten years. The young ones have mainly been built in China, only a few came from Brazil or other countries in the region. Blending whatever still does the job is the Cuban way to "build" a truck and cope with the difficult situation. There is the ban and there is nothing of great value that the island could export in order to make money for buying modern technology. Cigars and rum are not enough to purchase trucks in big numbers from the top level manufacturers. 

A heart from Chechoslovakia is beating in Eric’s Ford. But he doesn’t know if it was built by Tatra, Liaz or any other forgotten manufacturer. To find it out it would be necessary to have a closer look – and after that one would be as greasy as Eric. If the owner operator finally will manage to repair his truck, he’ll continue to make some 300 kms a day with the oldtimer in a cab that leaves not even space for a fly when driver and codriver are sitting on the rusty chairs. 

for the whole story contact: Richard Kienberger