Java's Last Steam 2017 : The Salvation

From what I’ve written on my blog in 2016, I made an oath to myself that I would end my Java Sugar Mills adventure as per last year. But since I’ve been getting requests from 2 individuals to organize them a Java Sugar Mills visits, it was hard for me to say “no” and reject the mouthwatering temptations being offered on my plate. Therefore, I decided that I would give it another go, only on request basis. Notice that I have not covered all the mills unlike the previous sections. Having seen enough diesels, I think it was time for me to see the ‘unseen’. Having seen regularly worked steams way past their days, I decided to run charters on mills that have steams that I have not been ‘satisfied’ yet, or mills that have steams that I have not seen them being steamed and in action. These mills are Semboro, Rejosari, and Tasikmadu.

On the same year, I also noticed that John Raby has organized a tour to Java (possibly his last), where he organized diesel worked mills. But along the way, I noticed from his itinerary that he also ran an Olean steam charter. So I thought it wouldn’t hurt to add the extra bits to complete the puzzle.

Another report that I will also add is reports on the Central Java North Coast Mills, the mills that were once used to be the ‘steam heaven’, where more than one regular steams would be seen in action, based on the report compiled by Bernd Seiler during his Farrail visit back in 2016.

On this background, therefore, this blog will be a short comprehensive report on the last bits of steams that can still be seen on Java, going from East to West, from East Java to Central Java. Before I carry further on in the blog, do make note that having regularly worked steams ceased in 2015, thus since then, making all steams ran on charter basis. Having said enough, I have decided to call this blog Java’s Last Steam Salvation 2017.

The Narrow Gauge Steams
Semboro Sugar Mill, West of Jember, East Java
Semboro Sugar Mill is always known for its fireless steam operation. But since Steven (Jesser) came to Indonesia during the Eid holiday, nothing much they could do with the fireless steams apart from leaving them parked in the shed. But this is the ‘okay’ bit. The worse bit was the corruption. The Head of Loco Traction, called Muhammad Sunarto if I could recall, decided to charge an ‘extra overtime fee’ for asking his workers to work during the Eid Holidays, whilst the permits clearly stated that the charter fee already included the staff overtime work, including working during the Eid Holidays. I even had the bloody bastard sending me threats over the phone, stating that if I didn’t pay his ‘overtime fee’, he would have someone arriving at my house gates leaving a huge mess on me. Having that said, I was having none of it. So I ‘had to’ make another visit to the mill, but instead of meeting the idiot twat, I decided to report what happened to the Head of Human Resources at Semboro Mill, and thank God nothing else happened after that. I don’t know if Muhammad Sunarto still works there, but if he is, I can assure that I already have my own tricks up my sleeve.

Moving on from the corruption thing, anyway, I can report that the no.15 Mallet steam maybe out of service for good. I requested to run it during Steven’s visit, but of course, due to ‘you know what’, we ended up with the no.29 Jung instead. And even so, it came back limping as it had to be dragged by a diesel. After our charter, I don’t think they even repaired the damage, which was a leak in the steam injectors, thus making it unable to make enough high pressure steam to move the pistons. They were supposed to fix it just in time for John’s group arrival, hence John also had a guide organizing to run it, but it turned out that they didn’t. So his group was being ripped off by the mill. To add to this record, I can conclude that organizing steam charters had always been tricky at Semboro, even back to when the Farrails were a regular. I can’t promise anything much these days, but it is what it is.

Anyway, below are some of the actions that you could expect, should the steam charter runs well. The first two photos are mine, each one respectively dating from 2015 when being chartered by local enthusiast, hauling the skip wagons, and the other one is the mallet from the 2016 Farrails visit. And the third one is a kind contribution of Steven Jesser himself during his recent visit in 2017, so cheers a lot to him for that.

Olean Sugar Mill, North of Situbondo, East Java
Recalling from the first bits of the blog, John Raby organized a charter here. He kindly invited me to come, but I rejected it because I thought I have seen enough actions of Olean steams when they were still a regular. Reading from John’s reports, his charter at Olean was a semi success. A local enthusiast also ran a charter at Olean just couple of weeks before John’s group arrived, and more or less the same thing happened. The no.1 still serviceable loco is forced dead and plinthed, leaving only the no.4 O&K 0-8-0T as the sole serviceable loco. Another O&K, the no.5, seems to be in good shape, but I don’t know what’s going on with that. The photos below are John’s kind contributions, of course, being uploaded with permissions and copyrights from John himself.

The Madiun Mills, East Java
Madiun is possibly the last place to see regularly worked steams, having steams working regularly at Purwodadi and Pagottan. I met a Japanese person from last year’s Farrail visit, and with further talks, it turns out that he works and domiciles in Bogor in West Java. Having making contacts, he first asked me to run my own steam tour. I took it as a joke first, but then I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea after all. So I thought that I’d organize two days of mill visits for him. Initially I organized two days all at once, but an urgent call to work made me postponed my second day. I also changed the venues around, being Madiun was after Solo. A quick gamble, I decided to switch Madiun to Sundays, having permits already arrived from the PTPN XI HQ rather than the PTPN IX HQ (for Tasikmadu visit, more on this below). And what do you know?! My gamble paid off!!

After having permits in my hand, I went to Madiun 2 weeks before sending him the news. At first, I went to Rejosari Mill to arrange charter, with also noting that mills open at half day on Saturdays, and having previous experience at Semboro, I was expecting to be hard done by the mill bureaucrats.

The mill officials surprisingly were very friendly, and a quick inspection to the depot where I spoke to the loco mechanics that I wanted the no.10 “Salak” with the jackshaft gears to be steamed and run on our visit. After the charter payments were made, a quick last minute drop to Purwodadi, where I told the mill Human Resources that I’d be making a visit on the same day, but only on the morning and just prior to sunset. Of course, no charter arrangements had to be made, as the steams still ran on a regular basis. After making the entrance payments and agreements, a quick inspection to the outside truck yard, and again, what a luck!!, the steams burn bagasse!! This means that I could have sparks being lit after sunset!! From my experience, night firework sparks can be more easily created when the locos burn bagasse, however, some other photos have shown that even those locos that burn firewood can still create firework sparks, although an extra effort will be needed when burning firewoods. Furthermore, sparks can be lit for ‘just a small tip’ to the loco crews in charge. I decided to skip Pagottan since the locos are fireless, so ‘no good attractions’ are there. But just for the curious ones, I posted some photos of mine dating from 2014 and 2015.

So in respective order, the first two are Purwodadi, along with a video from 2016. Next two are the Rejosari jackshaft charter along with a video of it in action, and last two are from Pagottan.

Tasikmadu Sugar Mill, North East of Solo, Central Java
A rip off charter, that’s what this is!! Not to add the hard bureaucracy from the HQ and the mill officials themselves, surprisingly. The what was once a friendly mill with regularly worked steams have turned into a mill with very tight security and complicated bureaucracy. Normally, permits from the PTPN IX HQ came within 18 working days after you submit an application for it. But for some unknown reason, in my case, it was 6 weeks. I had to call them up to remind them, which luckily, it came by email which eventually was delivered by post.

The first stage done, next stage, visit to the mill for arrangements. I showed them the permit, told them my intentions, but the mill officials were confused on what to do. Calling here and there, and their ‘best’ conclusion was, “We don’t know if we can have a steam charter.” I persisted them, insisting that the TM VI could still see the last steams. Having made another phonecalls to the loco mechanic in charge, he confirmed that yes, the TM VI Luthermoller could still be steamed. However, another problem comes. They don’t know how much it costs, so they promised me to wait for another day. This means the end of the day for me, as I had to go back to Surabaya.

Days past, and no news. Phonecalls were made, and finally the fee was decided. I told them that I would pay the charter fee via bank transfer, and that the proof of payment would be scanned and sent by email. I waited until Friday 4 pm, and nothing happened. This means that I ‘had to’ go back to Solo just to collect the proof of payment. What a waste of a whole Saturday when I could do something that was much more useful!! By the way, you do need proof of payment to indicate that the loco charter is yours.

So onto the charter day. Who the bloody idiot had the ‘brilliant idea’ of tarmacking the dirt road?! Not only this increased the vehicle traffic on the small road at the back of the mill, but this also ‘stops’ the Luthermoller from having enough tracks to run on, as the TM VI had almost zero ground clearance since surface of the tarmac is higher than the surface of the rail, making the tarmac surface scraping the water seal located at the bottom of the TM VI pistons. Having being unable to go on the higher surfaced tarmac, this unables the TM VI to pick up the canes from the road delivery crane. Not only that, but they moved the huge rocks left on the dirt road prior to tarmacking to the side of the tracks, thus increasing the obstacles along the tracks and reducing the amount of distance that can be covered by the TM VI. And to make matter worse, the what was once possibly the most powerful loco on the island, able of hauling long cane trains, is now just a big machine only able of hauling at the most of 3 fully loaded fulls due to the amount of wheelslips it had. So what’s a big giant can do on tracks that are distanced possibly just around 50 meters?! Answer, a huge money and bureaucracy rip off is what it can do!!

In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend the TM VI charter anymore. Less amount of tracks, more obstacles on tracks, old giant loco added with complicated bureaucracy, making it possibly the first and last time I’ll (probably) do a steam charter here. Apparently, tourist steam trains proved to be more of an attraction than the TM VI itself these days. The tourist trains are worked by TM I O&K 0-6-0T, and TM 3 Borsig 0-4-2T. Photos of the actions during the day are shown below, along with the tourist trains.

Sragi and Sumberharjo, West of Pekalongan, Central Java
The what was once a playground for steams, it is now in huge threat of being closed down. It hasn’t milled in 2 consecutive cutting seasons, and I doubt it will mill again. As for the steams, they’re all stored in the shed. Reports from Bernd last year (2016) shows that only one Berliner no.7 could be steamed to shuffle the empties around, so enough said. Sumberharjo, more or less the same. The mill is still in working order, but due to the amount of canes it received, it is not doing much now. Again, only one steam could be steamed from 2016, and it was the no.11 D&B. Conclusion? I’ll skip these mills, as their golden days are already behind them.

Pangkah Sugar Mill, South East of Tegal, Central Java
Arguably still the ‘best’ mill under PTPN IX. According to reports from Bernd Seiler, despite the decline of working steams (from a total of 4, or even 5!!), however, the same action still takes place. The steam would take the canes from the outside road delivery crane, hauling the canes from the crane past the road level crossing, down to the front yard and to the back of the mill, in which afterwards the steam would back up the canes to the milling crane. A quick look on Google Streetview, there’s a short section of the former field lines being left behind just prior the rails enter the road delivery crane, (possibly) still being able to be run by locos, besides from another (former) short section of the field line is still visible by the side of the mill, and another ‘long enough’ tracks by the back of the mill, in case anyone wants to recreate the old scenes of a steam train hauling canes from the fields. To add to the attraction, there’s a huge chance of the locos burning bagasse, making it easier to be able to produce some night sparks. Below are the photos taken from Bernd’s website, Farrail Tours, of course and again, uploaded with kind permissions from Bernd himself.

The Cape Gauge Steams
Ambarawa Rack Railway, South of Semarang, Central Java
On the good news, the rack railway has resumed its service. I was lucky enough to be allowed to join a group of Australians when they visited and chartered the rack loco. Hence I managed to grab some shots, even if I only had a limited number of them. Below are two of my shots, being the first one is the B2502 0-4-2T rack loco built by Esslingen posing on the flat section on a heated afternoon at Jambu, and the other one being it in action, propelling a train on a climb to Bedono on the rack section. Charters are always welcome, but they do cost at an amazing rate here compared to the sugar mill charter fees.

Slamet Riyadi Road, Solo, Central Java
The classic C1218 Hartmann built 2-6-0T is always ready to be steamed, at approximately the same rate as Ambarawa’s charter. In this section, the steam loco hauls a classic resemblance of the golden age of steam trams, running along the street running section of Slamet Riyadi Road in the downtown area of Solo. If anyone wants nostalgia of the old steam tram days, then this comes as a recommendation to you.

D52099 and D1410 Steams
Other cape gauge steams include the restoration of the D52099 2-8-0T steam built by Krupp, the once a lightning beast running on Java’s mainline, and a D1410 2-8-2T built by Hannomag, once a climber on the line from Manggarai, South Jakarta, climbing the gradient to Bogor and continuing to Sukabumi in West Java, both are now located at the Purwosari Station Yard in Solo, Central Java. Restoration news is always heard, but nothing has materialized.

Final Thoughts
So what’s in store in Indonesia in 2017? To conclude it, all in all, this is more or less the last few steams still be able to be ‘salvaged’ in the whole of Indonesia. Note that I do not run official tours, however, should anyone wants to be arranged something, then this will be a space to be watched out for. If you could get me a number of people (minimum a 4/5 people, maximum a 10/11 people), then I might just be able to arrange something for you. Note that the more you want, the more costly it will be, especially if you want to include the cape gauge steams. But it is all up to you.

If you have any questions, enquiries, or needed arrangements to be done, you can always contact me via email on, and I will do my best to try to answer any questions or enquiries regarding Indonesia’s last steams.

Back to Main Page

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the blog, Aditya. I enjoyed reading it.