Makee and Lihue Plantation Railroad Engineer John F. Barretto

  • John Barretto and Lei Ilima about 1945

Born in Kealia Camp, Kauai, the son of Portuguese immigrants Francisco and Francisca Barretto of Madeira, Portugal, John F. Barretto (1901-1988) ended his formal education at the eighth grade and began his 40-plus year railroad career at Makee Sugar Co. of Kealia sometime between 1915 and 1919 as a locomotive brakeman and fireman, and was promoted to engineer.

While employed by Makee Sugar Co. until 1934, when it was acquired by Lihue Plantation and its Kealia mill was disassembled and was transported to Lihue, he drove locomotives hauling cane cars loaded with sugarcane across railroad tracks through thousands of acres of cane fields in Anahola, Kealia and Wailua to the Kealia mill.

Following Makee’s closure, Barretto continued as a locomotive engineer with Lihue Plantation and participated in the replacement of steam locomotives with diesel-powered locomotives beginning in 1938, the same year that trucks were first used at Lihue Plantation for hauling sugarcane, along with rail.

In 1959, Lihue Plantation switched over completely from hauling sugar by railroad to conveying sugar with cane haul trucks and Barretto’s locomotive engineering days came to a close.

During his many years with Makee Sugar Co. and Lihue Plantation, Barretto operated numerous locomotives, including Makee’s steam-powered locomotives the Kilohana, Number 13, and the Col. Spalding, as well as the diesel-powered Lei Ilima at Lihue Plantation.

Barretto’s grandson, Hawaii railroad historian Rick Burrell of Wailua, said that his grandfather loved driving trains and wore his engineer hat without fail, and at stops along his railroad routes he would sometimes pick hibiscus and other flowers growing along track beds to be planted in his wife, Ida’s, garden.

Burrell also noted that his grandfather, like many others on Kauai during World War II, had a Victory Garden, the produce of which he shared with neighbors and friends, and he once spotted what he thought was a Japanese submarine off Kauai’s coastline during the war and reported his sighting to the U.S. military.

John F. Barretto and Ida Barretto had six children: Theresa, Mona, Dolores, Frances, Bernice, and John Jr.

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Hank Soboleski has been a resident of Kauai since the 1960s. Hank’s love of the island and its history has inspired him, in conjunction with The Garden Island Newspaper, to share the island’s history weekly. The collection of these articles can be found here: https://bit.ly/2IfbxL9 and here https://bit.ly/2STw9gi Hank can be reached at hssgms@gmail.com

1 Comments
  1. harry oyama September 29, 2019 5:03 pm Reply

    I know his son, John jr. we rented the same house in Wailua. That guy could drink and was the lady’s man. I still remember riding my bike along the Kealia haul cane tracks along the shoreline.


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