Kedawung Steam Locomotive Revival

Ever since I become fascinated with narrow gauge sugarcane trains in 2012, I always want to see more of this unique piece of railway. And the eastern part of Java Island has plenty of them still in operation in recent times. Coincidentally, in that year I began to move from Bandung to Surabaya, and I used this occasion to get closer and deeper with the narrow sugarcane railway, and also tries to reconnect with the rare railway that was part of my childhood but now largely gone on elsewhere outside in East Java.

Back when I was kid in 1980s and 1990s, there were plenty of narrow gauge sugarcane railway network located within less than an hour of driving from Surabaya. But since back then I wasn’t enthusiastic of the narrow gauge railway, I overlooked the progress of what happened throughout the years. By the time I became committed narrow gauge railway enthusiast in 2012, I realize very little are left these days.  But not all are lost.

Fortunately, there is one place where I can enjoy narrow gauge sugarcane railway scene, without the need of lengthy drive and overnight stay away from Surabaya. That place is called Kedawung sugar mill. Located to the east of Pasuruan, this quickly become my favorite “trainspotting” place, especially as harvesting season comes.

I first visited the place in 2013. Back then, I was overjoyed to find the sugar mill operates its field lines network.


It’s truly marvelous considering on how rare the presence of field workings are these days, added to the fact that it also has beautiful surrounding scenery, including the fact that the mill’s estate is located at the foot of famed mount Bromo-Tengger National Park.


However, there is one thing that is lacking in here: the presence of steam locomotives.  Indeed, just like many sugar mills in Java, Kedawung ended their regular steam locomotives operation in mid 1990s, while some worked for chartered trains up until 2001 or 2002.


Photo source is here.

Beyond that, their steam locomotives were stored in rather derelict condition in the shed. Like what is seen in this 2013 photo.


These days, the railway works are done by diesel locomotives, whether if it’s shunting inside the mill or field workings.


This made Kedawung sugar mill rather “dry”, in essence that it is lacking of steam locomotives working. A presence of steam locomotives at work would surely make the scenery much more lively, like what I see in Olean and Semboro (where both operated their steam locomotives for chartered field workings), or in Tasikmadu. Unfortunately, these mills are located well away from Surabaya, and it require lengthy driving plus lodging at the nearby town/city.

But things began to change, in a rather unexpected way. In late 2017, Kedawung sugar mill management began to set up a theme park on their premises (akin to Agrowisata Sondokoro in Tasikmadu sugar mill), named “Agro Wisata Selfie”. The project, which was initially started as “just for fun”, turned out to generate significant revenue for the mill. It is said that it even overshadowed the revenue generated from sugar production.


This theme park is actually made of several old artifacts that are repainted and polished to make it looks attractive for “selfie”.  It also includes excursion train that runs to westerly direction from the mill complex, where passengers can get to see beautiful scenery along the way.

And among the items that are renovated (cosmetically) for the theme park are the steam locomotives. Once derelict inside the muddy shed, now they’re taken out, repainted, and put on display.

Like this Maffei-built number 17. This 1909-built locomotive was once parked in very derelict condition in front of the locomotive shed. But when the theme park project commence, they repaint the locomotive in this lively color.


Although the new livery looks clownish and ridiculous, at least it is still better than having it scrapped.

Another locomotive that is taken out for display is this steam locomotive number 16.


Built by Backer & Rueb  in Breda in Netherlands, back in 1912, this locomotive has colorful history behind it. It was originally operated by Railway Company in Bangka Island, near Singapore. It was used to haul tin ore, and also hauling passenger trains. There are several versions on how this locomotive was purchased by the mill and ended up in Kedawung: one version said that when the railway network closed in 1960s it was transferred to East Java, but other theory said that it was transferred during Dutch colonial era. Whichever is true, at least this rare locomotive, and sole survivor of Bangka railway network, is in safe hand.

However the biggest surprise of all has to be the reactivation work of steam locomotive number 14.


Prior to this, I already knew from the shed crew that this locomotive is actually in the best condition, and can be brought back to service with little repair works. But the hindrance in the past was financial restraint. Now with the profit generated from the theme park, they can finally get enough funds to reactivate this 1913 built steam locomotive.

Months passed since the first time I found out about this good progress in January 2018, when the mill manager suddenly sending a video message, through Whatsapp, to me on 12th March 2018 informing that the number 14 is now back in running condition! And a few days later, the locomotive is officially inaugurated and recommissioned back to service on Friday 16th March 2018.

Wow! This is good news! Now there is a live steam train attraction that is within easy reach from Surabaya. I quickly go to Kedawung sugar mill on following Saturday to see this good news by myself.  Before arriving at the mill, I was expecting to see the steam locomotive running around like those in Agrowisata Sondokoro at Tasikmadu sugar mill in Central Java, or even better: traveling on the field lines.

But when I entered the mill, I was greeted by the sight of rather quiet theme park. No sound of steam locomotive to be heard. Instead I was greeted by the theme park manager. He explains about the inauguration party that took place yesterday. After the celebration in front of the management’s office, they took the loco for a trial run to the west from the mill.

Then I asked him why he doesn’t run the loco now? He said that the locomotive would only be used for chartered excursion trains only. Well, that’s a bit disappointing. I thought they would use it in the same fashion as those in Tasikmadu. He said that considering the temporary downturn of theme park revenue (when I visited the place it was rather quiet), the mill management decided to play it safe by only running it for chartered train.

He then took me to the locomotive shed, where he shows me the locomotive. It’s great to see that now it looks in a nearly pristine condition.


The choice of livery color is actually inspired by the old photo that I send to mill manager. Once he asked about the ideal color for the locomotive, and I gave him some photos from Rob Dickinson’s collection.


And what is more, the loco still retains its original Orenstein & Koppel builder plate too.


After inspecting the newly reactivated loco, I bid farewell to the theme park crew and head back home.

With the completion of steam locomotive restoration, now I’m confident that I can begin selling steam railway tour packages that is as simple as my Bromo tour package, or my Surabaya city tour. I began to compile my website to advertise the steam tour package, and also printing some brochures.

Despite of my effort to advertise the steam tour package (in conjunction with my existing Bromo tour package), things didn’t go smoothly. There were initially no interests shown on the tour package. Not even a tour inquiry was made.  I began to wonder whether if the steam locomotive tour in Kedawung is feasible, even if it’s easily within reach from Surabaya?

Fortunately, the tour request does eventually come. A friend of mine from UK, Robin Gell, said that he is interested to have a tour in Surabaya, for his upcoming Indonesian visit to see his fiancée and in-laws. Robin have helped me to advertise my Java Steam & Sugar tour package back in UK, and keen to have a hands on experience on parts of the upcoming tour (aside of visiting Bromo volcano). After some calculation and preparation, we eventually decided to take the tour on 3rd May 2018, a day after we go for a tour in Bromo volcano.

On 3rd May 2018, we finally arrive at Kedawung sugar mill for the tour. Despite of the fatigue caused by the Bromo sunrise tour on the previous day, it didn’t reduce our excitement to have this steam tour. The entrance to the mill was virtually free. With the opening of the new theme park, now anyone can go into the mill without any need to arrange lengthy permit or paying expensive permit fee. Indeed, we paid nothing to get in, when the security officer spotted Robin on the front seat.

I parked my car in a house near the starting point of the field lines, and as soon as I disembark, I was greeted by Syaiful, a mill employee who is in charge of theme park and amusement train operations. He has been busy preparing the steam locomotive, hours before we arrive.


This is the first time I see this loco in steaming condition, after years of seeing her neglected inside the shed.


Since the number of participants is just 2, we only request a single coach to accompany our trip. But somehow they added additional coach, possibly to act as ballasting. We depart into the field lines, as soon as Robin give clearance (he pays for this journey, so he is the boss!).

The starting of the journey turned out to be very rough and noisy. Possibly the roughest train ride I’ve ever had. Due to uneven wheels surface, and lack of suspension, combined with poor track condition, this made our coach ride very bumpy. Not to mention noise generated by banging metal parts caused by vibrations.


But the unpleasant ride is compensated by the beautiful surrounding scenery. The nearly endless vista of rice field with the backdrop of mount Bromo (admittedly it was largely obscured in haze when we had this trip), making the journey a one of a kind excursion ride. Aside of rice fields, we also passes through the sugarcane fields, where its sugarcane are nearly ripe for harvesting.


Sometime we pass through some small villages under the shady sengon (albizia chinensis) and bamboo trees. This trip truly allows you to immerse yourself with the surrounding scenery, something that cannot be done with the mainline trains.

As we approaching the village of Kawisrejo, I notice that now there is a motorway construction nearby. Although its location is actually quite far from the railway track, but it can be clearly seen. The construction trucks traffic also damaging the main road in the area. Up until last year, driving along this road was very pleasant as it had smooth surface, quiet traffic, and scenic vista. I’m quite disappointed by what I see. I hope that this would not let the conversion of this beautiful countryside into urban area.

Just after crossing the main road, our train stopped at a junction. Syaiful said that this is the terminus point of our journey. From here, the locomotive will be reversed in position, and we return back to the mill again.I was thinking, had we gone beyond all the way until Kawisrejo village, it would have been a great journey. But due to the locomotive’s short water supply, we simply can’t do that.

In here the locomotive is detached, while a diesel loco pulled the coaches into the line to the right.




I didn’t realize if our trip is accompanied by a diesel loco, because for most of the journey, we didn’t see it around.

While they move the locomotives around, I notice that a fire have just started in the middle of the track (you can see it on the left track).


Apparently, the sparks from the firebox ignited the grasses in the middle of the track.

Once the steam locomotive reversing its position, it is reattached to the wagons.


While waiting our train to depart, I asked Syaiful whether if it’s possible to do a photo running. He said it is perfectly possible. Then I turned to Robin and offered to do some photo running. He agreed with that. So we went to an embankment near the level crossing to capture the train as it passes through the scenic rice fields.


The scenery is actually scenic, but in here I realized that I have made some mistake by trying to start the tour after midday. Apparently the harsh sunlight making my photos look darker, due to backlight effect.

I waved my hand to signal the train to depart, and start the photo running session.




I have to say that she looks truly gorgeous.

Once it crossed the main road, the train stopped so Robin and I can rejoin the train. The train make a brief stop in this spot, so we can take some more additional photos.






After we took enough photos, we resume our return journey to the mill. This time everyone hop onboard the locomotive’s cab. Since the fireman never opened the firebox door throughout the journey, it feels rather cool onboard the cab.

As we travel along, I notice some unusual thing which could probably be used as a cue to find steam locomotives working.


Apparently steam locomotives would leave a trail of burning grass patches on every line it passes. Had regular steam locomotives working were still around, this could have been very valuable.


When our train approaching Toyaning village, I asked the driver to stop.  We decide to do a couple of photo running in this area, as it has quite a dramatic scene.





We resume our journey again after that…. but for a very brief period! Once inside Toyaning village, Robin wants to do photo running in the village, as its leafy surroundings will give backwater scene.





If that’s not enough, he also asking for additional photo running in the sugarcane field just outside the Toyaning village.




And for the final photo running, we do a photoshoot of the train as it passes through the rice fields.




Had the sky was clear, we could have seen mount Bromo in the distance. Alas, the best that we can get of the volcano just a faint sight of its feet.


We return back to the train for to resume the return journey.



Once onboard, the driver told us that he cannot do additional photo running session as the onboard water supply is critical. So we have to be content with what we have got, which I think it’s sufficient enough for our documentation.

I think that was the last photo running session for today…..or is it? As we approached the village near the sugar mill, apparently there are some visitors who parked their cars in the middle of the track!


Our train stopped as train crews knocking the doors of the houses around the track to find its owner.  Robin and I use this opportunity to do another photo running.  Once they find the owner, they ask him to move the car off the track, and we resume our journey.


Since our destination is only a few meters away, our train traveling at very slow pace and it’s easy to rejoin the train without stopping it.  And within a few minutes, our trip eventually came into conclusion.


We are happy that our tour has proceeded smoothly and safely without too much hitches, and not even a single bureaucracy bungle get in the way.  Upon bringing our belongings back into the car and bidding farewell to the train crew, we return back to Surabaya to have a rest.

This has to be the smoothest railway tour I’ve ever run so far. And it is also much easier to run when compared to another steam train tour, where I had to drive long, arranging accommodations, and even facing bureaucracy hurdles. This one is simply goes in, doing the excursion, settling the payment, and go home!

I hope that you enjoy reading my blog posting. If you like to have similar tour, you can book it through my website, or you can also join an even longer and more complete tour that feature many steam locomotive workings in sugar mills in Java.

Before we go, here is the movie of our steam locomotive in action during that day.

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2018 : A New Hope

According to Chinese mythology, number 8 is considered as auspicious number where it is perceived as symbol of luck and eternal prosperity. This year’s last number is 8, therefore many perceive it as the year which bring many good luck to everyone.

Before we proceed about what will happen this year, let’s look back on how 2017 have been. It can be said that for us, 2017 have been a pleasant and good year. Compared to 2016, 2017 was a better year as there were no “no sales” month, the revenue was much better, we much more tours than what we had on previous year (although still no match to 2015), and most importantly we finally able to run Java Steam & Sugar tour after a year of absence.

The highlight of 2017 has to be the fact that Java Steam & Sugar tour can be held once again, after one year hiatus. For more detailed story, you can browse on previous posts. But for the summary, although the tour ran on curtailed itinerary than what was originally planned (which covers the areas to the east of Surabaya), it was a huge success.  Unlike the previous Java Steam & Sugar tour in 2014 and 2015, all sugar mills feature field lines. It was also the first time that I visited Semboro sugar mill in Jember, riding along its vast field lines network (although admittedly we only plying a fraction of it), hauled by steam locomotive. But one drawback was it didn’t include visit and ride steam loco at Olean sugar mill, despite the fact that we did visited Situbondo. I think it was the first time that I visited Situbondo and didn’t come to Olean sugar mill at all.

Despite of rumor about sugar mills closure and cessation of steam locomotives operation, it turned out that they still remain in place after all, at least in 2017. Regular fireless steam locomotives working in Semboro and Pagottan sugar mill still remains. But the most surprising, and relieving, of all has to be steam locomotive workings in Purwodadi sugar mill. Long considered as “last place in Indonesia to see conventional steam locomotives at regular work”, it lived up its reputation in 2017.

With all of the positive news in 2017, would 2018 be better, still the same, or even worse? Well, I will deliver my analysis below.

As we have heard since early last year, the news about planned closure of sugar mills in Java caused uproar among railway enthusiasts, especially those in Europe who truly wants to see the rare steam locomotives that can only be found in Java.

But as the year 2017 progresses, it turned out that all that was feared never materialize. Sugar mills still run as usual.  And most importantly, there were no reduction of steam locomotive workings, when compared to previous year.

PTPN XI, the holding company who own sugar mills in East Java whose are traditionally known as destination for railway enthusiasts around the world who wants to see its steam locomotives as well as its stationary steam engines are now in full swing with their heritage preservation effort.

Like what I have mentioned last year regarding of Olean sugar mill’s heritage preservation. For this year, they have stepped up their effort. After the success of Olean no.4, they will also bring back the steam locomotive no.1 to service, after 5 years of hiatus. Hopefully by this year, it will return back to service. They will also revitalize historic employee housing areas for tourist attraction.

The local government of Situbondo regency also supported the effort by helping to promote the attraction, as well as pushing for the building of 4-star hotel near Panji sugar mill. Although more detail about local government support of the preservation effort is yet to be learned, but it is positive development regarding the future of Olean sugar mill as well as its steam locomotives.

Sumberharjo sugar mill in Pemalang, Central Java, also recently opened its premises for small scale tourist attraction. I do not know how good the place is, but at least it brings life to the already dormant sugar mill, which saw its last crushing season in 2015 or 2016. Among the attraction is riding the narrow gauge train circling the mill premises as well as traveling the short stretch of the field lines to the south west direction. There are also some rumors about bringing some of its steam locomotives back to service, after 4 years of dormancy. Things would probably never be the same again in Sumberharjo, but it doesn’t mean that it would die down.

But perhaps the most anticipated attraction for this year will be the steam locomotive restoration program in Kedawung sugar mill. This sugar mill is strategically located (rather) near Surabaya, and right at the foot of famed mount Bromo. It is the nearest sugar mill from Surabaya that still operates its field lines network.  Even better is the fact that the sugar mill also has one of the best scenery, where one can photograph narrow gauge sugarcane trains with the backdrop of mount Bromo volcano.

Unfortunately, there is one thing that obviously lacking from Kedawung sugar mill: the presence of steam locomotive(s). A sight of steam locomotive plying the field lines with the backdrop of mount Bromo would have been a spectacular sight to see. But alas, the last time this mill saw steam locomotives at work as back in 2001 or 2002 (sources vary), and that was for chartered working as regular working ended sometime in 1990s.

Fortunately, all are not lost in this historic mill. All of the steam locomotives that saw regular workings up until 1980s and 1990s are fortunately stored in the shed. One (number 14) is even in near working condition.  For more than a decade, they rusted in the shed, until now……

In December 2017, the Kedawung sugar mill management decided to open up a theme park in their premises. The theme park is inspired by that in Tasikmadu sugar mill, and within the first month of its operation, it already gained revenue as big as one harvesting season. Named “Agrowisata Selfie”, it is aimed at young visitors who want to take selfie photos with the backdrop of historic artifacts in the mill area. This concept, apparently works and now it is one of popular tourist destination in Pasuruan area.

One of its attractions is riding the amusement train, made of modified sugarcane wagons, hauled by a pair of diesel locos working in push-pull configuration across its field lines. Although only plying a short stretch of field lines to the west of the mill (or even circling around the mill compound) as well as having “childish appearance”, it is actually quite a good prelude for a more representative excursion train.

With the progress of restoring Kedawung steam locomotive no.14 it is hoped that in the future, real steam locomotive attraction that is within easy reach from Surabaya will become reality, like what happened in the past.

If you want to join us on our tour to explore Java to find the last steam workings, or perhaps would like to have tours that tailored to your requirements, don’t hesitate to check out my website.

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2017 Java Steam & Sugar Tour: The Humble Return Part 5

Like the old saying: “All of the good things must come to an end”, and it also applies to our great tour. After four exciting and action packed days, our Java Steam & Sugar tour has finally reach its final day.

But it will not end with just a plain straightforward trip between Jember to Surabaya and dropping them to the hotel. Midway through our return journey, we will also drop by at Kedawung sugar mill in eastern Pasuruan to see its field lines action.

After breakfast, we packed up our belongings and checking out from the beautiful hotel that has been our base for 3 nights in Jember. It is a nice hotel to stay, but rather overpriced when compared to other Aston hotels that I’ve stayed. The room is rather small, which makes it slightly uncomfortable. And the breakfast never met my expectation at all. But since it is called “the best in town”, and even Geoff complimenting the hotel selection, I think it may be an adequate choice after all.

The drive from Jember to Pasuruan is uneventful. It is largely quiet and peaceful between Jember to Klakah. But beyond Klakah the road is packed with overweight and oversized trucks who struggled to climb the gradient, stalling the traffic and causing congestion. After we clear Probolinggo the road condition is generally tolerable as the road is much wider and also flat.

Upon arriving at Rejoso district, where the Kedawung mill is located, we turned south and start exploring the field lines.

It seem that the harvesting season have been shorter than last year. When we goes around, we are really surprised to see that majority of sugarcanes have been harvested. Very little wagons can be seen on the field lines. Of those that we found, all are loaded with temporary tracks. No sign of loading process being undertaken. Have they concluded the field workings? I know in some mills, they sometime ended the field lines workings several weeks before the actual closure, and relies the supply for the remainder of the season solely from road trucks.

However, we eventually struck gold where we see several wagons being loaded with sugarcane at northern Winongan.

The branch that led to the street running section is blocked with this wagon, maybe as a mark that no additional works are due on this line.

I have to say that compared to previous mills that we’ve visited, Kedawung field lines is truly scenic because it is mostly surrounded by rice field.

Joop and Geoff walk to the spot with me.

Compared to Jatiroto and Semboro, the field lines of Kedawung passes through more scenic countryside and villages, whose are dominated with rice fields. But ironically, that is the reason why the mill see fewer workings that the previous two because much fewer people planted sugarcane these days.

We arrive at the loading point. The farmers are busy loading the harvested canes into the wagons.

What is more interesting is the fact that we can also see mount Bromo in the distance too.

Although we are in an open area, the temperature is actually quite cool. Not scorching hot like what we had in previous mills (namely Wringinanom and Semboro).

I walk back to the main track, and come across the supervisor.

I ask him when the loading process will be completed. It is around 1pm, and the works seem to have been 40% complete. I predict that it might be completed well before sunset. But against that, the supervisor says that the loaded train will depart after sunset. The reason behind such lengthy working time is the fact that none of the canes have been secured. And coupling large number of wagons takes long time. Not the mention that there are several wagons that yet to be dropped into the field and loaded.

After that we bid farewell to him and return back to our car.

We went for a lunch in Pasuruan before returning back again to see if there is any locomotive already deployed to retrieve loaded trains. We returned back to the mill, and when we arrive at the level crossing, there are no signs of locomotives. We drive along the railway line to the west from the mill, and suddenly we see a locomotive traveling into the distance!

We quickly chase after the loco. Although at one point the road diverges away from the track, it doesn’t hinder us in chasing the locomotive.  Thanks to the locomotive’s very slow pace we eventually manage to catch one at a level crossing in Toyaning.

The driver, getting used to being chased after by trainspotters, decided to stop the locomotive and generously allowing us to get onboard. My brother doesn’t join and choose to remain in the car. We have a bumpy journey. Joop and Geoff don’t mind about the lack of comfort, and seem to enjoy the bumpy trip.

Compared to previous mills that we have visited (except Jatiroto), the field lines in Kedawung are very bumpy.  The mill management never bothers to do proper track maintenance on their field lines network.  Talks about field lines closure have been up in the air in the past several years; exacerbated by the fact that tollway will be built across the plantation.

Apparently our trip is a short one. Just a kilometer from the level crossing, our locomotive stop in a junction where they wait for loaded train. As soon as we disembark, we can see that there is another locomotive behind us. I assume that the loco is the one that we saw earlier near the mill.

Both locos stopped side by side at the junction. One will retrieve wagons from the loading point near Winongan (that we visited earlier), while other will pick wagons from a loading point only a few hundred meters from this junction.

The temporary track has been set up to assist the loading, while the track beyond goes to Kawisrejo direction.

The weather is really perfect for photography today.

And the scenery is just wonderful.

Not long afterward, there are busy shunting activities in the junction. The locomotives go back and forth to arrange the wagons and also collecting some loaded ones.

You can see the video of the activity below.

Once the shunting activities ended, the loco no.2 head to the south, while no.1 stays here, waiting for more loaded wagons to come.

Joop and Geoff enjoying their time documenting loading activities at the nearby loading point. While waiting for them, I chat with the locomotive driver.

We talk about several issues, such as planned toll way construction which will cut across the sugarcane field. He said that the tollway is highly likely to be built using flyover method because it will have to cross several roads as well as narrow gauge railway lines.

When I tell him about steam locomotive tour that we had in Semboro, he say that Kedawung sugar mill used to have similar thing. Back then the steam locomotive would haul open air passenger coach across its scenic field lines. The regular destination was Kawisrejo, where tour participants would be treated with traditional dance attraction as well as enjoying lunch (with traditional menu) in a guesthouse. Unfortunately the services have long been ceased, owing to lack of serviceable steam locomotives as well as demolition of guesthouse in Kawisrejo.

The driver excusing to me that he have to do some work. I bid farewell to him and return back to the car. Along the way I catch glimpse of mount Bromo. The Penanjakan summit can also be seen clearly too.

As I walk further, the sky gets darker. I don’t see any additional wagons being prepared. I believe the train will eventually move way after dark. So this is definitely my last sight of field workings in Kedawung for 2017 season.

Upon returning back to the car, I meet my brother who is sleeping in the car. He is asking where Geoff and Joop, which I replied that they’re still in the field.

It’s only when the sun really have goes down that they eventually turn up. Both of them are exhausted, but very satisfied. Geoff remarked that this has been an incredible journey. We have had a very successful tour, and managed to find everything that we have aimed to see.

But as we’re about to depart, suddenly this small locomotive turned up!

Once they locomotive disappear, we resume our journey back to Surabaya, where upon arriving in the city I dropped both Geoff and Joop in the hotel. We later bid farewell and hoping that we can have similar tour again in the future.

Well, that is really a good closing for our great tour.

Indeed on this tour we have seen several things that we never see before. Such as scenic field lines in Kendir, where you can see mount Ringgit up close.

We have also found one rare British diesel in Wringinanom. This Baguley diesel is so rare that it is one of its kinds left in Indonesia.

And lastly, I also get to know the fate of the loco that I’ve been looking for: Jatiroto J100.

Well, it has been a great journey. Although the Java Steam & Sugar tour didn’t go as long as the original itinerary, at least I’m grateful that the tour has proceeded after all.

If you enjoy reading our trip report, and wants to join our future tour with more diverse scenery and more steam locomotives action, join us on 2018 Java Steam & Sugar Tour! We will take you to beautiful places where you can get to see and even ride historic steam locomotives in Java, across one of the most scenic places in the world.

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2017 Java Steam & Sugar Tour: The Humble Return Part 4

Monday 11th September 2017 is the day where we will have the highlight of our 2017 Java Steam & Sugar tour: riding steam train on Semboro’s vast field lines network.

Or not so, according to Geoff.

While we were having breakfast, I expressed my excitement about today’s planned itinerary where we will ride steam loco hauled excursion train on Semboro sugar mill. Especially since the mill have 2nd largest field lines network in Indonesia, this would guarantee a more exciting journey than what I had in Olean back in 2015.

But Geoff reminds me not to be too excited about it first, as the chance of not having working steam loco does present. He said that back in last August, John Raby’s tour group left Semboro almost empty handed. Just like us, they had actually booked steam train excursion on the mill. But upon arrived, the mill management told them that none of the steam locos were available for excursion (including the rather young no.29). So they ended up doing excursion ride onboard small inspection railcar at Jatiroto.

Upon hearing that I lost my appetite to eat breakfast, and began to felt very nervous. So much that I began to suffer from gastritis, resulting from the stress. The feeling of excitement on me turned into anxiety. Although both Geoff and Joop said that they wouldn’t mind if we fail to had a steam train excursion, for me it would make tour’s financial management into a nightmare.

After breakfast, we return back to our room to have shower and preparing ourselves for the journey. Today, my brother rejoined us and he will assist me on running this tour. He will do the driving, while I do administration matter. This proved beneficial for me, because as a tour leader, dealing with administration with sugar mill can be a very tiring and even heartbreaking process. And if added with driving, like what I did in 2014, it would have been a very tiring work to do. Although back then, I thankfully encountered mostly friendly mill managements who were accustomed to impromptu foreigner visits.

The drive between Jember to Semboro was quite an easy one. Although it was Monday morning, the fact that Jember is just a small town means there were virtually no traffic jams. It was the second time I visited Semboro. The first one was back in early 2015 during off season, when I visited the mill just for curiosity after I dropped a group of fussy German tourists in Banyuwangi. And back then, I didn’t enter the mill or wandering around its field lines. So finding the way to Semboro is an easy one.

Upon arriving at the mill, we head into its administration office. I have to say that unlike most sugar mills that I’ve visited, which have shabby and dusty entrance, the frontage of Semboro sugar mill is very neat and tidy. It is a truly pleasant place to visit.

Upon parking our car, we went into the administration office.

I went into the administration room. While Geoff, Joop, and my brother Satrio sat in the guest room, I met with one of the administration staff, and submitting the permit letter as well as informing our intention to go on steam excursion trip, with nervous feeling. I was met by one management staff named Agus.

It was during this meeting that one major glitch is revealed: apparently none in Semboro has prior warning over our intention to have a steam excursion tour! Apparently my permit letter wasn’t forwarded to here! This truly increases the tension on me.

Then I asked to Agus, whether if it’s still possible to charter steam loco for that day. I’m anxiously waiting his answer……

Surprise! Surprise! Agus delivered one answer that truly easy my tension: Yes, the steam loco is available for charter today! Although the catch is, due to our “impromptu visit” (no it’s not! It’s the fault of the management office in Surabaya for failing to forward my letter to here!), the steam locomotive would only be ready by 3pm.  And also the only available steam loco will be the no.29. The rare mallet is not available due to maintenance. I replied to Agus, that’s perfectly fine.

After I settle the payment for the tour (which thankfully didn’t exceed my predicted amount) I left the office with a very relieved feeling. I then informed everyone that the steam locomotive tour will proceed as planned, although there will be some delay encountered. Geoff and Joop don’t mind about that. Now everyone is happy!

It’s still 10.30 in the morning, and we still have an ample of time to do before we start the steam train excursion. So we decided to spend time by exploring the mill.

Semboro sugar mill is a massive complex. Its sugarcane receiving station size is twice larger than what I see in Tasikmadu. One is for truck deliveries while other for railway delivery.

It’s quite a novelty, considering that in some other mills that operate their railway, one receiving station is used for both trucks and rails.

Near the station, we found one locomotive parked next to small food stall hut. Its driver is having some coffee between duties.

Once the driver finished his coffee, he resumed his works.

Semboro sugar mill is quite a modern sugar mill. Although it was built in 1921, very little trace of original factory building can be seen. It has largely been swallowed by modern structure.

The sign of modernity doesn’t just visible on the factory compound, even the railway wagons are equipped with one modern feature: roller bearing axle.

In other mills, the wagons are so primitive that they still have friction bearing. This give the sugarcane train distinctive creaking noise, especially when loaded. With the roller bearing axle, sugarcane train would be much less audible. And the only way to spot their presence is by listening to the sound of its locomotive. And due to the fact that all of the locomotives in Semboro are rather silent (the diesel locos sound are similar to tractor, while the steam locos only makes faint hisses), noticing train presence would be tricky.

Despite all of its modernization, Semboro sugar mill still operates some ancient relics which have become increasingly rare in the world: the Fireless locomotives.

Unlike conventional steam locomotives, Fireless locomotive works by mean of using steam pressure which is injected into its boiler.

The steam itself is also generated from byproduct of crushing process.

The reason why Semboro is still resorting to fireless locomotives for shunting works is due to the threat of fire that can be caused by spark emission from steam locomotives. Even to smaller degree diesel locomotives can still pose similar threat too.

And if you look into its cab, it has no firebox. The fireless locos in Semboro doesn’t even have whistle. Probably to conserve the steam pressure needed to move the wheels. So it’s only mean to warn people are by using the bell seen in the background.

Although the role of fireless locomotives have largely been superseded by battery locomotives in other parts of the world, the reason why Semboro sugar mill still retain this pair of 1920s built locomotives is due to its simplicity and reliability.

Of course there is a catch: the locomotives cannot wander to outside due to limited quantity its steam reserve.

Once both locomotives have been filled with steam pressure, they resume their shunting works.


It’s quite amazing to be able to see such rare locomotive to do regular works in 21st century.

You can see the video of their working in here:

These locomotives works in pull and push order. In this occasion, the no.3 pulling the loaded train from the yard, while no.2 assisting it by pushing the train.

For some reason, the train is delayed for long, so I took the chance by photographing its builder logo on its boiler.

My brother said he couldn’t stand the heat and noise. So he decides to return back into the car. I stay with Geoff and Joop, who watching the fireless. Even if none of them are moving, they’re willing to wait.

Although the noise from the factory is nearly unbearable, they seem to enjoy being there!

A few minutes later another loaded train came from the yard, and heading into the receiving station.

Since I too couldn’t stand the noise and the heat further, I decide to return back to my car and catching up with my brother.

But apparently the length of the diesel hauled loaded train is so long that it blocked my way back. So I decided to cross the train by passing through the driving cab of one of the loco there.

I took the photo of the locomotive’s builder plate. From it, you can see that the locomotive was built by Hokuriku in Japan, back in 1976. I believe it was actually delivered here as a part of Japanese economic assistance to Indonesia.

I went back to the car and found it locked. Apparently my brother is relaxing in the gazebo just in front of the office. It’s quite a pleasant place to relax and drinks while waiting for our steam locomotive to be ready.

While waiting, I decided to go to steam locomotive monument near the entrance. This loco is similar to what I saw near Jatiroto yesterday, albeit in better condition.

From the monument, I head into the locomotive shed to find out how does our locomotive preparation progress.

I asked the direction from one of the security officer there. She said that it’s on the back compound. But she reminds me that it’s quite a long walk, so she suggests that I need to take my car there. I replied that it’s alright for me. I get used to walk long anyway, so I decided to walk.

Along the way, I came across this molasses filling station, where tank trucks receiving their load here.

Up until 1988 harvesting season, this service was served by railway where it was connected on a cape gauge branchline that starting from Tanggul station on the mainline. The line itself is a dual gauge, a combination of 1067mm mainline gauge, and 700mm field lines gauge, which also cross a large bridge just to the north of the mill compound. The cape gauge is no longer in use, while the 700mm is still busy.

The haulage was done by a cape gauge Orenstein & Koppel built steam locomotive. Coincidentally the loco is now displayed just next to the loading point.

After the end of the service, the locomotive went into disuse, and for decades it was stored in derelict condition. But in 2016, it was rescued and partly renovated for display. They never made any attempt to fully renovate it, probably due to complexity of the task.

And it’s quite interesting that now they display the loco just next to the place where it would normally do some workings in the past.

I resume walking where upon arriving at the locomotive shed; I went inside and greeted by the sight of busy maintenance workers. It is in here too that I catch up again with Geoff and Joop who have finished watching the fireless locos.

The yellow locomotives are the big locos that are normally used to haul loaded trains in the field, while the small green locomotives are used to haul shorter train. And the small locomotives are also capable of going down into the field on temporary track to haul loaded wagons, and carrying them into the permanent track, essentially replacing the role of animals or tractors that are normally used on other sugar mills.

Right in the middle of the shed, I can see that our locomotive is being slowly steamed for the excursion.

A fireman stood in front of the firebox door, carefully monitoring the heating progress. While waiting for the steam pressure to go up, he complained on why didn’t I inform the mill management before coming? I replied that it is actually the fault of the central office in Surabaya for not forwarding my permit letter to here. He seems to accept my answer and resuming his work.

The loco that we will ride today is quite new, being built by Jung in West Germany in 1961. And it is also the twin sister of Jatiroto number J100 that we saw yesterday. It’s amazing how a pair of identical twins would have different fate these days.

Right next to our loco is this Orenstein & Koppel built mallet number 15.

Unlike the number 29, she is a very old locomotive. Built 1926, she was once the star excursion locomotive in Semboro. Her uniqueness lay in the fact that she is the last mallet locomotive to see operation in Indonesia, or even South East Asia! Although officially listed as “ready but under maintenance” the loco haven’t run its wheels since 2015. The mill management promised that the loco will be available for charter, once the maintenance works completed. They’ve been saying similar thing since 2 years ago anyway.

As we go deeper into the locomotive shed, we could see the remains of the glory days of steam locomotive era in Semboro, in a form of variety of derelict steam locomotives which saw last regular use in 1990s. We can see many steam locomotives from different builders like Orenstein & Koppel, DuCroo & Brauns, and also Maffei. Up until 2013 or 2014 there was one Borsig mallet loco, but it has since been disappeared. It has probably been scrapped.

This locomotive is one of a several DuCroo & Brauns locomotives that survive in Semboro.

If I’m not mistaken Semboro have 4 of them, but only 3 are seen. They’re the smaller variant of DB’s mallet, which only generates 60hp.

Other type mallets in storage are the OK variant, whose are essentially similar to no.15. The derelict OK locos are used for spare parts source to keep no.15 going.

The shed looks rather empty now because majority of steam locomotives (and possibly early diesels) have been scrapped.

The number 9 is a rarity in the mallet dominated shed. It is one of a few small OK 0-4-2T locos that survive today, albeit in a very poor condition.

Steam locomotives operation in sugar mill like Semboro have survived mass dieselization that began after First World War and intensified in 1950s and 1970s, but thanks to the fact that they use sugarcane bagasse that come for free, they can survive well beyond internet era of late 1990s. But as the price of diesel fuel becomes increasingly reasonable, combined with the economic crisis of 1997-1998 led to drastic cost cutting measure, and the old steam locomotives have to go into the history.

And that leaves these 2 locos (plus 2 Fireless ones) as the sole survivor of working steam locomotives in Semboro sugar mill.

Satisfied with the inspection, I decide to return back to the car. Along the way, I passed in front of this display which show Semboro’s fleet of trains and tractors.

Upon returning back to the car, I learned that our water supply began to be depleted. Apparently the scorching heat causing us to drink more than what our supply has.  So we decided to go out from the mill and search for some supermarkets around for resupply. Thankfully, there are some minimarkets such as Indomaret or Alfamart which is similar to Seven Elevan convenient shop. They sell wide variety of drinks, snacks, or even food ingredients.

Once we bought necessary provisions, we return back to the sugar mill and head straight to the locomotive shed. It’s still 1.30pm, and we still have an ample of time before our steam tour commence. So we decided to park in a shady place near the locomotive shed and taking a brief nap.

At around 2’o clock, I woke up and went into the locomotive shed to see how our steam locomotive have progressed. Upon arriving in the shed, I’m surprised to found that our locomotive is nowhere to be seen!

Apparently the locomotive is on the outside, now fully steamed, and basically ready to go.

I hastily return back to the car to call my brother to be ready, and also picking up the ice box which carry our drinks provision.

Our locomotive is now ready to go. All it need is just fresh supply of firewood and also turning its direction around.

While waiting for that, I met the shed master and his subordinate. Once again, I listened to the same advice of “please inform us in advance”, which I replied by mentioning the head office’s carelessness in forwarding my permit letter.

The vice shed master also reminds me that it is highly advisable to return back to the mill before 6pm. This is to avoid inbound loaded trains traffic which might hinder our return trip. He said that they will not provide VIP treatment to our train, where regular sugarcane trains would gave way to ours, because it is impossible to do. That is despite the presence of double tracks on field lines.

When they move locomotive backward, my brother suddenly feel an eerie supernatural feeling. He asked to the crew whether if the loco have “guardian ghost”. They replied that it actually is, for those who believe in Javanese supernatural stuffs.

I think it’s quite strange that a locomotive of such age can have supernatural being in it.

While waiting for the locomotive to be turned around, I took some time to photograph the detail of our loco.

They might have done good job in making this locomotive in working condition. But obviously more effort needs to be done to fully repair this locomotive, as they obviously don’t do proper painting work on the locomotive. Not to mention some leaking in the steam piping joints.

Soon our locomotive is on the way to get its fresh supply of firewood.

Once the loading completed, our locomotive is turned around in the nearby triangular track. Since there is no turntable in this mill, this procedure is necessary to prepare the steam locomotive.

As I walk to a spot where I would photograph the outbound steam locomotive, I came across a small bit of the remains of cape gauge branchline which used to connect this mill and Tanggul railway station.

Although the outer track on branchline is largely still intact, most of those in the mill compound seem to have been pulled up.

Moments later, the steam locomotive completed its turning and heading straight to field lines.

But there is one more task that needs to be done before we can start going out into the field: retrieving the passenger coach for our accommodation during the trip.

I initially thought that they will use a passenger coach that is parked next to steam locomotive. It turned out that they allocate another coach with better appearance for us. The problem is, the aforementioned coach is parked in the part of the shed yard which is inaccessible by our steam locomotive, due to low axle load clearance.

So they will use small green diesel loco to haul our train. But then another problem presents itself. When I asked the shed master where the locomotive is, I’m stunned when they pointed to one nearby which seem to undergo major overhaul! Several mechanics swarmed the loco, while some parts and engine bay panels scattered around the locomotive. It doesn’t look like it is going to finish anytime soon.

I look on my watch, and it’s already 2.45pm! It means that we only have about 15 minutes to go before we have to go out to commence the excursion, without risk of being hindered by regular sugarcane trains. Yet, upon looking at the locomotive’s condition, I began to wonder if we would make it in time?

Amazingly, against all obvious odds, they could fix the locomotive in 5 minutes! And not for long they began to use it to pull the coach out.

Once they park the coach into the position, the steam locomotive backed into the shed to be coupled into the coach.

I get onboard the coach, and quite amazed on how spacious the interior is.

Once they coupled the coach, the train began to set off.

Then a few hundred meters from the shed, the train stopped by to pick Joop and Geoff, as well as my brother who carries the ice box.

The train moves slowly out into the field. It is when our train passes the gate, a security guard hop onboard our train to accompany us. Despite of good level of safety in the area, it is a standard procedure that an excursion train will be guarded by at least one security officer. There is no train conductor here, so either the security officer or my brother would act like one throughout the journey.

When our train exiting the mill compound, I spot one big diesel locomotive following us.

The locomotive act as an escort, in the event of steam locomotive breakdown the diesel loco will push the steam train into the safety, and then hauling our train back into the mill.

In the past, there have been some incidents where the steam loco broke down, and the diesel escort loco plays its part by helping clearing the track and rescuing the train.

As we go further, we can see a junction where one double track line goes into the south.

They say that if we took the long excursion route, the train would head to that line all the way into Kencong, about 20 km to the south.

Although the area around the mill is normally reserved for sugarcane crop, these days the farmers are given freedom to plant any crops that they think beneficial for them, like rice or corn. The rice field truly provides beautiful scenery for our trip.

About one kilometer after we left the mill, Joop asked us to stop the train. He said that this spot is good to photograph and record passing train with the backdrop of the mill in the distance. So we obliged to his request and taking some run past photos in here.

Once we finished taking photos and recording, we resume our journey again. While we are traveling slowly, I could see the feet of one volcano in the distance (which I assume as the nearby mount Argopuro).

I’m wondering, had the sky was clear, we could probably take the photo of the train with the backdrop of the volcano.

The railway line is winding its way through the rice field and sugarcane plantation. Sometime it also crosses some village road. When we approached one village (which I later learn that it is named “Kebon Agung”), Joop asked us to stop the train.

Apparently there is another interesting spot in here, where we can take the photo of video of the train as it about to cross the street and enter the village.

When the photo session ended, we return back to our train. Unfortunately, as we’re about to depart, our locomotive suddenly stalled. Although it is still in proper running condition, it is obvious that she is not designed for frequent stop and go operation.

We waited for some time before the driver fixed the problem and we resume our journey again.

During this stage of the journey I asked Geoff and Joop whether if they like to take photo at the girder bridge. They replied yes. Although I haven’t been there before, I have studied the satellite map of the place before, so I know that there is one interesting spot ahead.

As soon as we get near the bridge, we disembark from the train and walk into the bridge.

Signaling the train to move is a bit tricky, because our spot is located away from the track. So I decided to use my phone to call my brother to dispatch the train.

Although looks similar to younger bridges on the mainline, this steel girder bridge is a very old one, being built sometime in early 1930s to accommodate Semboro field lines. At that time it was one of the most modern railway bridge designs in the world.

Despite the fact that the railway lines were built to low axle load clearance and purely for industrial purpose, the Dutch didn’t spare any expenses and built the best narrow gauge railway system that they can get at that time. No temporary cheap wooded bridge designs were ever used in here.

Once the train crosses the bridge, we return back the train to resume our journey.

While traveling, I asked the security officer about our final destination, Pondok Jeruk. He replied that the place is not very far, and we will reach the place in less than 5 minutes.

Less than 5 minutes? As far as I know, the place named Pondok Jeruk is still a very long distance away. When I looked on satellite map, the distance between the steel girder bridge and the village of Pondok Jeruk is roughly equal to the distance between the bridge and Kebon Agung village. And the recent trip took more than 15 minutes to complete. So it left me wondering whether if one of us miscalculates the distance.

As soon as out train left the village area, our train passes a flat crossing with another railway line, and our train stopped. It is in here the security officer informing us that we have reached Pondok Jeruk. Really? I thought the place is still several kilometers to go, and feature triangular track?

Apparently this place is indeed parts of Pondok Jeruk district, and yes this place have triangular track which allowing the train to turn around to mill direction. The locomotive detached from the coach and ready to commence turning process.

Probably due to fatigue, Joop saying some requests which I found difficult to comprehend. Basically he wants to get the best angle for his video recording, but the way he telling it somehow puzzled me.

I went to the western apex of the triangular track to see the locomotive approaching the corner.

I believe had we paid more, we would have been able to go to the real Pondok Jeruk, or even Jatiroto!  These days, most of the workings beyond this point are done by diesels. While steam locomotives are only used on chartered service like what we have today, with very few options.

The locomotive the switched track and reverse into the distance.

It seems that while we were busy documenting the steam locomotives movement, the diesel loco pulled the passenger coach into different place to give clear way to steam locomotive to pass through. It is also turned around so it will be placed on the back of the loco.

While we wait for the turn around to complete, a loaded train from the west crosses the diamond crossing just in front of the steam. I didn’t photograph the trains crossing, but I do record it on the video.

After several movements, the locomotive is now facing to the mill direction. The locomotive then re-coupled to the passenger coach and ready for return journey back to the mill.


The trip back to Semboro was generally uneventful, with the exception of small incident at Kebon Agung. At that time, Joop requested to do lineside photography. I was too tired to join, so I remain seated in the train. After one pass, apparently the train failed to stop! Geoff and Joop were nearly left behind, before I notice the error and asked the driver to stop the train. Both of them huffing and puffing upon returning back onboard the train.

The remainder of the trip went uneventful. It was almost 6pm when we approaching the mill compound. And like what have been informed before, some loaded trains began to arrive into the mill. There is even one very long train that comes from southerly direction.

Contrary to what was told by shed master, that loaded train would not give way to our train in the event of congestion, one of the loaded trains in front of actually moved to another track, allowing us clear path to enter the mill.

But as our excursion is about to came to conclusion, one major incident strike. The locomotive water tank derails!

This caused some drama among the train crew. They suddenly rushed to re-rail the wagon. After some effort, they eventually succeeded in doing that and we’re able to complete the last few meters of our journey.

Soon we disembark from the train and thanking the crew for their hard work in making our steam locomotive journey possible.

The trip has been a good one. I wouldn’t say perfect because the absence of tripod makes the video looks odd in some scene, but overall it provide you with the live action of our happy steam train excursion.

Overall, today have been a blessed one and we are really grateful of our successful steam train journey.


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2017 Java Steam & Sugar Tour: The Humble Return Part 3

After a very tiring trip in the past couple of days, we woke up in the morning. It was 10th September 2017.

I opened the window and can see semi-rural scenery out there. It’s quite surprising to find out that Jember is not as urbanized as I initially thought. I believe that up until recently, this area must be a rural outskirt of the town. But it is gradually swallowed by the town’s expansion.

Nevertheless, it is also an excellent place to see sunrise as well.

I went down alone to have breakfast. My brother said he would like to enjoy some rest because today he would not going along for the tour.

As I went down stair, I use the opportunity to take some photos of the hotel interior. This hotel was opened in late 2013. Although quite new, the interior design looks passé for a hotel of this age. Quite a stark contrast to Aston hotel in Madiun, which I stayed in 2015.

The breakfast is served at the hotel’s restaurant. Interestingly, although part of the hotel, it is branded as “Bumbu Desa”, named after famous Sundanese restaurant chain. The logo even looks similar. Yet the foods that they serve that morning are anything but Sundanese.

As I usual, I took western menu that feature no rice. The starter tasted okay.

Then I proceed to the main menu which consist sausages, spicy fried chicken, and polenta. I’ve never tasted polenta before, so I took some out of curiosity.

Although the sausage and the fried chicken tasted nice, the polenta is too starchy. The texture is rather heavy for breakfast menu.

While I was enjoying the breakfast, Geoff and Joop come to have their breakfast. They had wonderful rest last night. Geoff said he had a sound sleep, and really happy about the hotel selection. Joop also enjoyed the sleeping.

However, also notice that Joop’s face looks rather pale. He said that he actually have digestion problem, akin to food poisoning. This problem traced back during his tour in Sumatera where he contracted some bacteria during one leg of the tour. Although he feels much better now, his meals are always accompanied by Norit. He looked much weaker than yesterday. I asked him whether if he need some rest. His reply is no. His only request is for me to drive slowly, so he would feel less pain.

After we finished our breakfast, we return back to our room to prepare for our journey. After having shower and dressing up, I return back to the lobby to meet both of them, before heading to out at 08.30 in the morning.

Our today’s itinerary is visiting Jatiroto sugar mill. We are focusing our activity today to chase after the field train. This will be a unique one, considering that Jatiroto currently operates the largest field lines network in Indonesia, and it too is also connected to the neighboring Semboro sugar mill whom is currently the second largest!

The drive from Jember to Jatiroto is an easy one. It was Sunday morning traffic, and there were very few cars or buses around. This route also sees very little truck traffic (aside of some sugarcane carriers) as most of them would ply north coast.

After 30 minutes’ drive, we finally arrive at Jatiroto. It is the first time I came to here, but prior to this journey I’ve made some “familiarization trip” by using Google street view. So when I came to this place, all places look quite familiar to me.

Yet, it doesn’t prevent me from taking the wrong way. Apparently, I missed the entrance gate! So, instead of going through main entrance, I went into the employee housing complex!

But actually, it’s not a wrong thing to go to here actually. Joop asked me to stop in one of the classic houses in here.

He said that one of his friends in Netherlands used to spend his childhood in here. So he wants to photograph the neighborhood for his friend.

The row of classic Dutch-era houses, combined with unpaved road, gave a strong atmosphere of bygone era in here. Indeed, had the trucks and modern automobiles are replaced by horse or buffalo hauled carriages, this place would feel like in early 20th century!

From the housing, we do some brief exploration of the nearby field lines. There were no activities to be seen over there.

While waiting for some movements, they suggesting visiting the locomotive shed to see some interesting collections inside. Although entering the mill complex is part of the itinerary, I actually wished to avoid spending exorbitant amount of money just for entering the complex. So, I devise some plan to avoid such thing, by not revealing too much information about our intention.

We first went into the entrance way to the loco shed, which is quite near to where we took the photo of the houses. I was met with one security who asking my purpose. I politely replied with smile that my group wants to make brief visit the locomotive shed.  The young security officer, uncertain on making decision, decided to direct me to the main security post at the entrance gate.

Now this will be the moment of truth for me. Would I be required to pay hefty amount of money, just to make a brief visit, or would they only charge me small amount of money?

After arriving at the entrance, I decided to park the car slightly away from the security post and asked both Geoff and Joop to remain in the car while I settle the permit. Upon entering the post, I was greeted by one security officer in friendly manner. I politely shook hand and smiled to him, and mentioning my intention to visit locomotive shed. That’s it! I didn’t say if I travel with 2 Europeans, wanting to see production process, or any other information that might be too revealing (the fact that my car have tinted window also help!)

Much to my surprise, the officer gave me the pass to enter, and charged nothing! He only asked me to drop my ID card, which can be retrieved back again upon completion of the visit.

I returned back to the car, slightly relieved, and then head back to the shed entrance. I didn’t say much about the problem to both of them, because I don’t want to bother them.

Upon returning back to the shed entrance, I showed the pass to the security and thankfully we are allowed to enter!

After parking the car in a shady corner, we start exploring the locomotive shed. Along the way, we catch up with the diesel number 25 doing some shunting work in the yard.

Jatiroto sugar mill doesn’t just have massive field lines network, its yard is also really big. Indeed the journey between the mill entrances all the way into the mill building itself can take more than 15 minutes. In smaller mills, that is similar to journey between the entrances to the nearest sugarcane cutting area.

We walk slowly to the locomotive shed.

Upon nearing the shed, we are greeted by the sight of this Ruston steam roller.

Although it looks in good cosmetic condition, it is actually no longer in working condition as it has lost many of its vital components.

From there we head to the former steam locomotive shed which sadly is now empty.

Up until early 2017, there was plenty of derelict steam locomotives parked in here. Some of them were intact and suspected to be in working condition.

But now only these locomotives are left. One of them is obviously in a very sad condition.

Leading the pack is the locomotive number J100.

Contrary to popular beliefs among ordinary people, which said that all steam locomotives, are leftover from Dutch colonial era, this locomotive is quite new, being manufactured by Jung in Germany in 1961.

This locomotive is the twin sister of Semboro no.29. Indeed both of them were built and delivered at the same time, although they ended up in two different mills.

The second loco is no. J47. This one is really old as it was built by Maffei (also in Germany in 1910).

The third loco, numbered J50 is identical to J47. It is also manufactured by Maffei in 1910. But unfortunately, its cab has been obliterated. The reason why they spared this loco is a mystery.

While we exploring the steam locos, one elderly lady shouted from inside the shed “The locomotives have been stolen! They’ve been illegally taken away!” I’m quite confused by what she said, so I approached her and made some inquiries.

She said that there used to be many steam locomotives in the shed. But, contrary to the news from railway enthusiast which said that they were scrapped here, those locomotives were transported intact by trucks to Gresik. Since there is a large steel mill complex in that town, obviously these locomotives are going to be scrapped and turned into liquid metal.

She protested such move because it is considered as stealing. The steam locomotives, she said, are taken without permission from their original owners. She also added that in late October, the whole locomotive shed complex will be demolished to make way for mill expansion, while the diesel shed will be relocated further south. This move would surely endanger remaining historical artifacts in the shed area, and that somehow worries her. So she hopes that I can relay her message to the PTPN XI head office in Surabaya.

I thanked for her information, and promised to do something to inform the bosses in Surabaya about it.

I think it is truly sad if these beautiful locomotives would ever be scrapped.

Like this J100, despite the fact that it is the twin sister of Semboro no.29, being in Jatiroto means she ended up in such a derelict condition while her twin sister is still going strong until now.

Near the steam locos, there is a unique coach. This coach is formerly used to take school children to the school.

And behind it is a smaller, but taller, coach which was once reserved for the adult (either the teachers or parents).

Although it looks like average passenger coach, it has a rather short ceiling that render it rather uncomfortable for tall persons to go in.

I can only imagine the days when local school kids had a journey hauled by steam locomotives. It must have been a really fun trip. Even if it was taken daily!

Inside the coach, the seats are mostly still in place.

I believe back then, it was thronged by school children, enjoying their journey either by watching the scenery or playing around with their friends. But those days is now gone as they’re now traveling by school bus or motorcycles.

Right nearby is this vehicle with unassuming appearance. Joop said that this small inspection railcar was built by Simplex Company in Netherlands. The company itself is probably a subsidiary of similarly named company in England.

Joop said that only a handful of them survive in modern era. And the one in Jatiroto is the sole survivor of its type. That shows how much historic artifacts littered the railway yard in Jatiroto sugar mill. Indeed the area around the locomotive shed is full of wreckage of old steam locomotives that have been scrapped a long time ago.

The scrappers are mostly looking for valuable parts, such as boiler or the frame. While other parts like water tank or driving cab are left behind.

Seeing the disused steam locomotive chimney bringing tears to my eyes. I believe up until early 1990s this was part of a very active locomotive and used for heavy duty task hauling sugarcane trains along the vast field lines network. But not, it sits silently, never to be used again.

Some other may still remain in intact condition. Like this mysterious railcar, this was probably used either for school kids or inspection vehicle.

From the wreck, we return back to the shed to see the active diesel locomotives servicing activities.

Most of the diesel locomotives now consist of Japanese Hokuriku-built locomotives, where all are painted in yellow color.

These locomotives were introduced in 1970s and 1980s as part of Japanese economic aid for Indonesia.

However, in the back of the shed there are several disused German built Schoema locomotives.

They’re smaller in stature than their Japanese counterparts, and seem to have been in here since 1950s or 1960s. Possibly working in conjunction with the steam locomotives like what I have seen in Sumberharjo or Olean sugar mills.

Aside of old diesel, I also found this inspection railcar. Despite of its skeletal appearance, it was actually manufactured by reputable factory back in Europe before Second World War.

This white rail vehicle is quite a mystery for me. It looks more like track maintenance vehicle than just a plain inspection vehicle. I wonder what is it for?

It is parked next to a boxy rolling stock, which I assume a former locomotive tender.

Jatiroto also operate some newer inspection railcars. They’re mostly used to inspect track conditions, as the usage of road vehicle would be impractical.

Indeed prior to our visit, there were some British railway enthusiasts who hired them to compensate the absence of working steam locomotive in Semboro.

We move out from the shed and looking around the area. It seem that the adjacent shed is already in the process of being demolished, leaving its inhabitants in limbo. Like these boxcars, and one unidentified railcar.

I went into the shed master’s office to find out the whereabouts of the locomotive in the field today.

I introduced myself to him, and he kindly welcomed me to his office. I asked him about the locomotive operation on that day, and asking on where the locomotives have gone to.

While I was expecting him to mention the locations, surprisingly he only mentions the number of the locomotives that have gone out in the past 2 hours. He said that there are 7-8 locomotives that are out in the field at the moment, delivering empty wagons into the field. He honestly lost count on where have the locomotives have gone to, because there are many that go into the same field alone. And Jatiroto sugar mill have many sugarcane fields being harvested!

Basically, there are many locomotives that go into the fields in that hour alone.

Unlike in Kedawung sugar mill near Surabaya, whom I’m familiar with, where the pattern of their field lines operation are predictable: 2-3 locomotives delivering empty wagons in the morning and retrieving loaded ones in the afternoon, things goes in much more complex fashion in Jatiroto.

I bid farewell to him and return back to Joop and Geoff. Both of them said that they’re satisfied with locomotive shed exploration, and he think that it’s time to start exploring the field lines.

Before that, I need to return back the entrance pass and retrieve my ID card in the security post. Now, my nervousness returns back again. Would I still be required to pay the entrance fee this time? I’d found out soon. In order to reduce chance of being detected, this time I parked my car slightly further from the security post. I greeted the security officer there, and handed back the security pass. The officer promptly returns back my ID card without any questioning, and we’re free! Wow! How lucky I am today that I manage to save precious amount of money!

I happily return back to the car, and we start exploring the field lines. First, we follow the main road that plying a double track section that goes to the south west direction from the mill. Despite of the absence of villages, the road is amazingly busy. Mostly it was the trucks and tractors that use the road, although sometime we also see some villagers riding their scooters.

It doesn’t take long before we encounter our first train: a lone diesel engine running light engine back into the mill. Possible after dropping empty wagons somewhere in the field.

Once in a while the railway line crosses through some villages.

As we went further, we encounter many branches that go either to the south, west, or even north.

And very few of them are adjacent to road passable by anything bigger than motorcycle. It might be disadvantageous for us who want to hunt down and photograph the train, but that is the reason why this mill still retains large number of its field lines.

We followed the track that goes straight ahead.

And we followed them all the way until its end. Although the track originally looped back into the mill’s direction, when we came there the loop track has been removed, effectively converting it into a stub end. Indeed there are some lines that no longer in use and having their rails removed.

Since there are no other things to see, we decided to head back north.

As we go through, we came across one very pleasant neighborhood, consisting of classic stilt houses that surround one open field, which is also surrounded by coconut trees. It is called Rojopolo complex.

In one corner of the field, there is one huge banyan tree. The tree seems to have been planted since the opening of Jatiroto sugar mill itself.

Many of the houses in this area are built on stilts.

This design is commonly found in Sumatera or Kalimantan, but rarity in Java.

Such scene giving impression as if we’re in colonial era Sumatera, despite the fact that we are in moern day Java.

Some local kids found the presence of two Europeans here as amusing. Some of them tries to engage conversation with Joop and Geoff. This place must be a really fun place to live for this children.

Even better is the fact that it is just next to the field lines.

I believe that one of the destinations of the school train that we saw in locomotive shed was here.

We think that this scenic neighborhood might be a good place to photograph passing train.

But since the train’s arrival is uncertain, we decided to return back to see if there is an oncoming train. If we found one approaching, we will return back to Rojopolo to take photo.

As we move further to the mill’s direction, we saw a small yellow object in the distance. At first we were doubtful whether if it was a train or not, because once in  a while we saw some trucks or minibuses whose are painted in similar color.

Only when it gets near then we realize that it is indeed a train!

We quickly return back to Rojopolo to photograph the train.

Since there are several branches between the mill and Rojopolo, there are some doubts over whether if the train would go to Rojopolo direction. Indeed, although the train got near, it briefly stopped in the junction before Rojopolo.

Only when it gets really near that we can confirm that the train is indeed passing through Rojopolo.

We took some photos and video in here. It was really great place to take photo. Although in my opinion, it would have been even more dramatic had the train was loaded, and hauled by steam locomotive.

We wrap up our trainspotting session in Rojopolo and head into the main road, where we would search for trains on the northern sugarcane field. We drove along Jember-Lumajang main road where there are several level crossings of Jatiroto’s field lines. Some are in operations, but there are many that obviously no longer in use, either they’re covered in tarmac or even already have the tracks removed.

But somehow we caught not one, but two locomotives! They’re parked idle right next to the main road.

I quickly parked my car on the roadside, and then start finding spot to photograph the locos.

It’s quite interesting on why they park one of them on the bridge.

And this bridge is quite obscured if you’re driving from Jember direction, because it is blocked by the road bridge that connects to one village deep inside the plantation.

I also peek inside its cab, to see its driving console. Unlike Kedawung’s Keio Yashima locomotives, this one have forward facing desktop console.

While enjoying our time in here, Joop’s illness suddenly got worse. He vomited profusely, and nearly fainted.  But fortunately, he regained his composure, and able to recover. Still, we definitely need to take a break and head for lunch.

I drove around the area and looking for any eating places that may be suitable for us, especially to cater Joop’s special need. Since the area is rather sparsely populated, finding good eating place is rather difficult. There is one nice restaurant actually, but unfortunately it is fully booked for a wedding party. I wish if we can gatecrash it, had we wore more appropriate attire.

Eventually we ended up eating in one small restaurant who serves many seafood varieties. The owner, unaccustomed to foreigner, are all too excited to see Geoff and Joop coming to his restaurant, while somehow ignoring me.

The food in this restaurant is actually quite good. The taste may be slightly above average, but considering its low price, it is actually worth coming.

After we finished our meal and paying the bill, we resume our hunting. Joop also partly recovered. He seems to be in much better shape than before lunch, although he is not really fit enough for this tour actually.

We return back to the same spot where 2 locomotives are parked. This time the drivers are there. I talked to one of them about today’s activity. One of them told me that the locos will pick loaded wagons in the field just next to the village inside the plantation. They will also depart at 3pm.

So we decided to drive to the path that leads into the village.

The street is quite narrow and can only be passed through by one car at a time. Sometime in the middle, we also came across one junction, although the branchline seem to see no activity that day. After some arduous driving, we finally reached the end of paved road. Anything beyond that cannot be accessed by road vehicle, and we must walk. So we decided to park the car in front of a house. The owner doesn’t mind to have our car in front of her house, and she allows us to do so.

We waited for some time in the village, before the locos turned up right on time.

The villagers are amused by our activity in photographing the train.

Although many foreigners have hunted down sugarcane train in Jatiroto, their village had largely overlooked by visiting railfans.

We followed the locomotives all the way into the field.

Although predominantly a sugarcane plantation, there are some blocks that are planted with anything but sugarcane.

Just meters from that place, we also see another junction. This must be a really extensive railway network!

And the loco stopped just next to a quite scenic bridge.

We decided to wait in this spot, while the locos are working in the field. The place seems to be a good place to photograph passing trains.

But as we waited, we became increasingly curious because the locomotives don’t return back. When we go into the field, we found out that the locos, instead of approaching, are receding into the distance.

The reason why they waited in that spot remain a mystery, and obviously they’re not going to ply the same line again, even when they haul loaded trains, because they can go back to the mill through another line in the distance.

So we decided to head back to the mill’s entrance to try our luck there. Who knows if we may be able to caught one or two loaded train?

Once arriving at that specific spot, we waited on the junction, just at the starting point of field lines. We hoped that we might be slightly luckier this time.

While waiting, a couple of workers arriving at our spot. They introduce themselves as track maintenance workers. They’re going to start their night work shift. They’re asking about our purpose in this place. I replied that we’re waiting for the loaded train to arrive. Apparently, as they explain, loaded trains never arrive in the afternoon in Jatiroto. The earliest train would arrive around midnight, while the majority arrives between 3am until around 10am. Hmm, I remember I saw some loaded trains activity when we first arrive in Jatiroto. Could it be that it was actually a field working, instead of just ordinary shunting?

They also added that during harvesting season, the whole sugarcane plantation would be buzzing with activities for 24 hours, because there will always be activity. Even cutting activity may also be done at night. But outside harvesting season, the area is rather unsafe and crime prone.

Our conversation was suddenly interrupted when a pair of locomotives coming from the mill and heading to the south west direction.

Once the locomotives disappear, we bid farewell to them and return back to Jember. Along the way, we drop by at this locomotive monument to take some photos.

This type of locomotive was once ubiquitous. But now, she is the sole survivor of her type in Jatiroto.

We also try to find the remains of cape gauge connection to the mainline, as well as its associated locomotive shed. Although we did find them, we couldn’t trace the remains of the steam locomotive used on the service.

You can also see some video of our activity in here:

Upon returning back to the hotel, we took the shower. I also catch up with my brother, who spent the day by traveling around Jember and resting in the room.

We go for the dinner in the nearby restaurant, minus Joop who decided to take some rest. Although Joop couldn’t made it, he give some tip about one nice restaurant near the hotel. The name of Qunyit, an ethnic restaurant who sell variety of food.

I ordered this “Cap Cay” stir fried vegetable for my meal.

The drinks is “Es Campur” which tasted really nice.

It was a really enjoyable dinner. The portions are quite big, yet we don’t need to dig too deep on our pocket for it. And above all, we are really satisfied with the dinner.

Upon finishing our dinner, we head back to the hotel for overnight rest. Tomorrow will be the highlight our journey because it will involve field trip with a steam train.


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2017 Java Steam & Sugar Tour: The Humble Return Part 2

9th September 2017 is our second day of the tour. Thanks to the tipoff by the lever crossing operator on yesterday, we decided that we will check out from the hotel at 8am to check out the outbound field train. Everyone badly wants to photograph them as they pass the Sampeyan river bridge, to compensate yesterday’s loss.

I and my brother woke up early in the morning and head to the restaurant to have breakfast. I’ve stayed in Rosali hotel for several times, and I knew that their breakfast is one of their weak points. They have poor quality, and even quantity!

But when I found out in the restaurant, I was surprised to see that they have made some improvement by turning the breakfast into buffet style. So you can take as many as you like. The taste also seems to have improved too!

In the past, the breakfast was served in a la carte fashion, and the portion was very small. So this is quite an improvement.

While we were having breakfast, Geoff and Joop came over to have breakfast too. I can’t recall what we discussed during breakfast. We were just keen to revisit in Wringinanom’s field lines, as well as visiting the mill.

This day will be a long one as the itinerary will be very full, first we explore the field lines, and then we head to Wringinanom sugar mill, before moving to Jember.

Upon finishing the breakfast we quickly head back to our room to have shower and packed up our belongings before checking out from the hotel.

Once we settle all of the outstanding bills with the receptionist, we speed up to the same level crossing as yesterday.

Upon arriving, we were greeted by different flagmen than yesterday. Thankfully they’re also as hospitable as the previous crew. When wee asked about the outbound train, they politely replied that the trains haven’t arrived yet. Although empty trains normally pass at around 08.15 or 08.30, in reality they might came much later than that.

We thanked the flagmenr, and head to the bridge once again. My brother choose to stay in the level crossing.

We searched for the best spot around the bridge to take the photo of passing train. Eventually Geoff and I decided to settle at one spot where we can take the photo of the passing train, with the backdrop of mount Ringgit.

Despite of its scenic look, the spot is actually an unpleasant one. It is located right next to an illegal rubbish tip. Besides that, the noise of passing vehicles would interfere with my video recording, and threatened its quality.

Joop found this place rather unpleasant one, so he decided to look for another better spot. First he crosses the bridge.

Then he went into the trees on the left to see if there are any good spot.

Eventually he found one at the bottom. He stood and waits in that open spot before the train arrives.

Our wait turned out to be longer than what we anticipated. It really testing our patience, as we had to endure unpleasant moments while waiting. Although my spot is under the shade, it is next to the rubbish tip, and main road so it was smelly and noisy. Joop even had to endure even worse scenario where he had to wait under the sun.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait that long and right around 10 o’clock the level crossing gate was closed, as a train is about to pass.

Our patience is finally rewarded with this sight. It’s just superb.

I believe the view would have been much more spectacular had the steam locos still plying this route.

Once the train left, we return back to the car park. Joop also return back to the gate short time later, and he was seen exhausted but happy. Once everyone back, we decided to resume chasing after the train to Kendit.

However, as we’re about to go, suddenly we caught a glimpse of oncoming train. We quickly got out of the car again, and took the picture of this train as well.

Once the train passes, we return back to the car and head to Kendit. The drive from level crossing to Kendit may be a short one. But it is very scenic.

In fact the presence of mount Ringgit gave wonderful scenery of this place.

However, upon arriving at Kendit, we found no train it all. Not even empty wagons were sighted. The train may haven’t arrive yet.

While they wait for the train, I decided to walk to a level crossing and curve to the north of Kendit.  Despite of the heat, I could still enjoy the beautiful countryside scenery in here.

This scenery reminds me with my childhood days, where narrow gauge sugarcane railway still plying the roadside of most of Javanese countryside.

I imagine, this place must be really wonderful place to photograph a train that head to the mill.

As I walked further, the scenery becomes even more fantastic.

Just near to that place, the road turns to the north, while the railway track kept heading to the east.

The scenery must have been very surreal had the steam locos were still in operation.

Just a few hundred meters from the previous spot, there is a railway junction. The track on the left is the one that goes to Kendit, while the other one has unfortunately been dismantled. I believe it was removed long time ago.

I was about to resume walking when I caught a glimpse of oncoming train in the distance.

I decided to return back to the level crossing and curve to photograph this train. When the train about to pass the level crossing, there was a hilarious moment when the driver jumped off the loco and ran ahead and act as flagman, and then jumped back again. Such scene reminds me to the “Gods Must Be Crazy” movie.

Since the train traveling slowly, it was quite easy to chase after this train.

The even gave me free ride onboard one of the empty wagon.

While I was riding, I my brother phoned me. He said that both Geoff and Joop want to quit waiting and head to the mill. But when I informed that the train is coming, they jumped out of the car and resumed the trainspotting!

The train finally arrives at Kendit, and my brother parked the car under the shade.

When the empty train head to the loading point, Joop and Geoff followed the train while I waited in the car with my brother.

You can watch the video of the field working in here, which include the recording done on the previous day.

I have to say that it is a very pleasant place to relax. The rice field and hill scenery is just awesome.

In fact it is quite a peaceful one. So much that I spend my waiting time by sleeping in the car. It was so serene.

Sometime after midday, both of them returns back again to the car. They were exhausted, yet happy that they can get to see the working in the field. Geoff said that I have missed one of the most spectacular scenery, because the place is quite near to mount Ringgit.

We head back to the town to have lunch at the famous Malang Restaurant.

The restaurant is a Chinese restaurant that is quite popular because it sells great food, liquors, and also traditional snack which is normally bought by visitor for souvenir.

But today, it seems that we didn’t have enough luck. The food that we ordered tasted rather plain. Even when compared to the breakfast at Rosali hotel, our lunch doesn’t taste even better.

While we were having lunch, I make some discussion with Geoff over the Kendit line’s potential for tourist train. I was thinking about running a steam train from Olean, and then goes all the way to Wringinanom’s field lines, before crossing the bridge and head to Kendit siding. Geoff said that would be an interesting challenge, and would surely draw some interests.

After we finished the lunch, I looked at Geoff and Joop facial expression, and was wondering if they still want to see Wringinanom sugar mill? Even Joop looks a bit sleepy too, possible after being exposed by the heat. In addition that we still need to travel long to Jember afterward.

Surprisingly, they’re still highly motivated for the visit. So once we paid our lunch bill, we head to Wringinanom sugar mill.

Since it was Saturday, the reception goes rather slowly. It was already 3’o clock and administration personnel had all gone home for the weekend. Upon arriving, I reported to the security about our intention to visit.

A few minutes later one female management staff turned up and receive me. After I explain to her about the plan to visit the mill, she return back to see her boss. When returning back, she mentions the price. I was hoping that they still stuck with the old rate, but it didn’t work out. Although only one person carries DSLR, in the end both were charged for “carrying camera”, despite the fact that the official rules only charge for anyone who carry DSLR, not small pocket or video camera. Even worse, they also charge me as well! I think this is the first time that tour leader must pay entrance fee. In other sugar mills, or in any non-railway tourist destinations, tour leaders would normally be exempted from this. I was furious over this extortion.

When I double check with my friend who works at PTPN XI management, she said that I’m not supposed to pay for that. But the mill employee insists that I must still pay for my entrance. She even gave suggestion, in threatening manner,  that if I refuse to pay, my group can just go to Olean sugar mill. That is a very vile answer!

In the end, I grudgingly accept the term and paid Rp 600,000,- for entrance fee! Very expensive fee when compared to last year’s fee which was quarter of that, and tour leader wasn’t charged for fee at all.

Once the administration matter was settled, I called Joop and Geoff to start the mill tour. Before we proceed, I dumped some empty bottles in in the middle of the car park, outside rubbish bin. Joop reminded me to be clean and put the empty bottles “in the right place”. But I choose to do this act as a form of revenge for the extortion perpetrated by Wringinanom sugar mill’s management.

Just for note, a few days later (after I concluded this tour) I heard from my friends that some sugar mills are known for being greedy. They would try to take as much money as possible from tour group, using any legal loophole. Sometime it is the security staff who would also charge photographer who wants to take photos of steam locos. Even if we have settle the payment in the company headquarter in Surabaya, it wouldn’t guarantee that tour group would not encounter “additional fee”. However, not all sugar mills are that greedy, but being assertive would be very helpful.

First destination is the railway yard; we were greeted by the sight of large locomotive in the yard.

This loco would do some shunting before heading to the field later in the afternoon to pick up loaded wagons. (Note the mill employee who extorted my group can be seen on the right).

We went inside the locomotive shed to see if there are any interesting locomotives inside.

Upon entering the shed, we found out that indeed there are some interesting locomotives inside.

In here parked the two out of the 3 remaining steam locomotives in Wringinanom (the third one is displayed at the entrance road).

The number 6 is an Orenstein & Koppel product, manufactured in 1911.

Behind it is the rare DuCroo & Brauns built no.7, slightly younger than no.6 as it was built in 1927.

I took particular liking to this Dutch built locomotive. There are many DuCroo & Brauns built steam locos in East Java, but the overwhelming majority of them are Mallet articulated locos. This loco has Klien Lindner 0-8-0 wheels arrangement.

One senior shed employee told me that these steam locomotives last saw service back in 1997 (although later research found that they last saw full working back in 2001).

It’s inconceivable that in the space of 15 years, the locos could be reduced into this very poor shape.

I also chatted with them about the possibility of running Olean’s steam loco to Kendit. Although both networks are connected, it is now impossible to run big locomotives pass Sampeyan river bridge. Indeed the last time big diesel loco passes the bridge was back in 2007. Since then the lines to the south of the mill are exclusively served by small locomotives.

This means any idea to run steam locomotive tour to Kendit is basically impossible without proper track upgrade program, which would be very costly to undertake at the moment.

Aside of the steam locomotives, there are also some diesel locomotives stored in the shed. Including the diminutive number 1, which I believe can fit inside average house’s living room!

Just like many sugar mills that have field lines, Wringinanom actually have an inspection railcar.  But unfortunately, it is now out of use.

Once we finished exploring the shed, we head out to see the yard activities.

I took the photo of the mill’s entrance, and found a unique track arrangement in here. The track that head into the distance is a stub end, while field lines go to the right.

These days in majority of sugar mills in Java, the track beyond entrance gate have largely been removed. But thankfully in here, they’re still in regular use during harvesting season.

Wringinanom sugar mill’s yard is not particularly big. It reflect the size of both the mill and also the field lines coverage.

There is one diesel loco which seem to be solely used for shunting in the yard. Its shape is completely different when compared to other locos in Wringinanom.

As it got closer, I can see “RUHAAK” name plate on its side.

Joop said that the loco was manufactured by Dutch company of the same name. Humm, then this loco must be a very rare breed because it must be the first time I see a Dutch diesel loco in Indonesia.

However latter research found that this “RUHAAK” loco turned out to be British built loco, manufactured by Baguley.  I was really overjoyed with this finding, because I’ve been looking for this loco for some time. The loco was previously used in Kedawung sugar mill in Pasuruan, before being relocated to here in late 1990s. Despite the fact that it is rarely used for field working, the loco works perfectly fine.

You can watch the video of Baguley loco at work, as well as shed activities in the video below.

From the yard, we entered the mill to see the sugarcane processing activities, using steam engines that dating back from Dutch colonial era.

I have to admit that although I’m a big fans of narrow gauge steam locomotives, I actually dislike exploring the inside of sugar mill because we had to endure dusty and noisy environment. I’m also not really interested with stationary steam engines.

While exploring the mill, I get to know one supervisor in this mill. His name is pak Nasirudin. He has been working in sugar industry since 1996, and only work in this mill since 2016. He showed us around the mill and also some machinery inside. I also found one interesting fact that this sugar mill heavily depending its electricity from the outside, as they don’t have their own electric generator.

He also told me that sugarcane harvesting season has been quite short one for this year. Indeed almost all of sugar mills in Madiun have ceased crushing, with the exception of 2: Rejosari and Pagottan. But even both of them will also conclude their milling that evening. Many other sugar mills will also conclude their milling in late September. Semboro and Jatiroto, which is traditionally known for their lengthy harvesting activities which can last all the way until January, will also conclude their crushing in October. The cited reason for Jatiroto is due to major overhaul that will be undertaken in the mill.

After some chatting, I bid farewell to him and resume our exploration.

While Joop and Geoff enjoying the activities inside, I decided that I had enough and left the mill building as soon as I spotted the exit door. When I walk back to the car park, I saw this small turntable which is only big enough for one wagon. My brother is chatting with one security staff in the car park.

While we waited for Geoff and Joop to return, I spend the spare time by photographing the meeting hall.

I believe this building was probably the mansion for the owner of this mill, or could be the clubhouse for the affluent Dutch landlords in Situbondo.

They even still use old bell that dating back from 1862. The security staffs said it is normally used to command mill employees to muster at the car park, in the event of emergency.

Once the Geoff and Joop returns back, we conclude our visit at Wringinanom and head to Jember. The visit was satisfactory for both of them. For me, it is actually not really impressive, considering the absence of steam locomotives working, as well as the extortion during the entrance.

The trip from Situbondo to Jember went on smoothly. It is also the first for me and my brother to ply this route.

Joop also tell a story about how he had a road accident a few years ago during similar railway tour, just to the south of Situbondo, where his minibus was hit by a truck from the back. They were traveling from Jember to Situbondo. Many of the tour participants were injured, and they had to be hospitalized (including Joop himself).

Along the way we also passes through Prajekan sugar mill. This mill is still a very busy one. Although it still has some narrow gauge railway lines in operation,  its field lines was closed decades ago due to the dangerous nature of operating sugarcane trains at steeply graded lines. Despite the fact that they used to operate large Luttermoller steam locomotives, it didn’t helped much.

These days, the only railway operation left is just the transport of molasses between one site and another.

At one time after the closure of field lines, there used to be cane transfer operation as well, but this seems to have ceased.

The remainder of the journey wasn’t really special, and by the time we reached Jember, it was already dark.

Although Jember is a small town, finding our hotel is a bit tricky. And despite its status as “the most luxurious hotel in Jember” the hotel is actually located hidden in Jember’s southern suburb. Thanks to our GPS, we could find it.

The check in went on smoothly, and we proceed to our comfortable room. I’m happy to say that this comfortable hotel will be our lodging for the next 3 nights.

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We settled in to our room and taking shower. Joop knocked our door and suggesting about having dinner in the city. He knows some good restaurant that has the best food, and also beer for him. The name of the restaurant is “Lestari” and it is located near the city square (“Alun-alun”).

After preparing ourselves, we went out to visit this restaurant. Thanks to the Jember’s small size it isn’t really difficult to access the place…..or is it?

Unfortunately, as we are getting near to the restaurants, many of the main roads are closed! Apparently there is a major carnavel event in the town where performance stages are erected on the main road, all the way until Alun-alun!

Eventually,  we found one parking spot which is quite near to the restaurant. From there we still need to walk to access the restaurant. It wasn’t very far, but it made a good exercise.

The restaurant is an ethnic-themed eating establishment which sell traditional Indonesian foods and beverages. Although they also have some western menus as well.

We ordered our foods and drinks. Probably due to the road closure, not all items were available that night. Unfortunately, the beers were also absent too. So we settled down with whatever menu available. I ordered this Satay Bumbu Rojak, or satay in spicy rojak sauce.

Once we finished our meal and paid the bill, we head to the town’s square to see what sort of event is going in here. We had no idea what the event is all about, all we found is people gathered in the concert and some even wearing fancy costumes.

We also sample some local snack, such as this “Lekker” cake, which is actually the local derivative of crepes.

As we get nearer to the Alun-alun, the sound of the music has become increasingly loud. Apparently there is a “Dangdut” concert, complete with some sexy dancers!

The concert is very loud, so much that Geoff couldn’t stand being in the concert. He said that he might have boarded some of the loudest steam locos, including riding on its footplate, but this one is way too loud for him.

Eventually, we decided to return back to our hotel for sleeping. Tomorrow will be a hectic day for us, because we will explore Jatiroto sugar mill, which has the biggest field lines network in Indonesia.


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2017 Java Steam & Sugar Tour: The Humble Return Part 1

Last year was a major disappointment as I fail to run the Java Steam & Sugar tour. Despite of the high hope that I would run similar tour like what I did in 2014 and 2015, my advertisement went unnoticed. There were some interests, and some even booked their place for tour in August or September. But alas, they either cancelled the tour in last moment, or went silent forever.

But it doesn’t mean that there were no railway themed tours in 2016. The very first month of the year saw me taking a group of Malaysians visiting Tasikmadu sugar mill and traveling onboard DMU on street running in Solo. Then in April, a Frenchman wants me to take him to search for tractors in sugar mills in Central and East Java, which opened new insight on narrow gauge plantation diesel locomotives (whom some are dating back from prewar era).

Based on these two successful tours in early 2016, I was really confident that I could run Java Steam & Sugar tour for the year. I created the itinerary and advertised it extensively on the internet. The fact that several people showing their interest gave some hope that I will certainly run another Java Steam & Sugar tour for this year.

Alas, that was not to be. About a few weeks prior to the starting date of their selected tour, as when I asked re-confirmation of the tour, the bad news came. Some decided to cancel the tour due to variety of reasons, while some went silent. This made me upset.

On the other hand,  Geoff Warren, a friend of mine whom I guided on the successful Java Steam & Sugar tour in 2014 made an inquiry in late 2016 about tour to Sumatera. He asked me to arrange tour to visit several places around Jakarta, Banten, mount Krakatoa, Southern Sumatera, and lastly a ride on jungle narrow gauge railway in Bengkulu. All of them will took place in late August until early September. Geoff said that he will travel with Joop Versluijs (whom I have known him for almost 10 years, and went on a small tour at Kedawung with me in 2016), as well as his son and many more of his friends.

I did compile an itinerary and submitted to him. Geoff’s response was generally positive, although there were some revisions that need to be done to perfect the itinerary. I did some intensive research on his grand tour.  His request was very complicated as it feature inter island crossing, visit to a rather violent volcano, and a visit to what is probably the most isolated railway network in Indonesia.  So it require some extensive research and planning.

Unfortunately, as the year progresses my plan to go on grand tour with Geoff and his group did not materialize. A combination of personal problems (mostly related to failed railway tour sales) led to nervous breakdown on me. In addition at around the same time there was a series of cyber bullying by local railway enthusiasts in South Sumatera that directed towards me due to disagreement. Since I’m not familiar with the area, a trip to an unknown place accompanied by hostile host wouldn’t count as safe journey for me. In addition, around mid-year, a Dutch railway enthusiast who has been to Bengkulu isolated railway suggesting me against going there, as he look at my shortcomings.

Based on that, I regret to inform Geoff and Joop that I cannot accompany their group on their Sumatera tour. Despite of my rejection, apparently Geoff and Joop didn’t mind about that.

On a contrary, upon knowing that I also have steam tour package, they requesting me to arrange such tour at the end of their Sumatera one. They requested the tour to be held in early September for around one week. They initially mention several dates. But after some discussion, they eventually settle on the 8th to 12th September schedule. Since there are no confirmed booking for the original itinerary on Java Steam & Sugar tour, I decided to go ahead with the tour.

Initially, I offer them the eastern leg of my Java Steam & Sugar tour. But Geoff said that he is not interested to visit Olean sugar mill. He said that he had been there for too many times, and had seen the mill in its better days.

After I made some revision, I submitted the final itinerary which cover visit to sugar mills like Wringinanom in Situbondo, Jatiroto and Semboro in Jember area (including steam train ride), and Kedawung near Pasuruan. This itinerary is the one that is approved by both Joop and Geoff. So  we are good to go.

Just as the tour is about to proceed, I receive some bad news from PTPN XI (the owner of all sugar mills that we are going to visit). It’s not that they reject my permit; on a contrary they happily accept my party. But the problem is, the entrance fee to the mill has quadrupled! Up until last year, the entrance price for sugar mill was $5 or Rp 65,000,- per person. And that was only applicable for foreigner. Locals can enter the site for free. These days the entrance price is for foreigner is Rp 250,000,- per person. Locals must also pay too: Rp 100,000,- !

I was totally shocked and dismayed upon learning the price hike. Because when I submitted the itinerary, the pricing was based on the 2016 price. If we decided to enter all 5 mills, there is a good chance that I might make loss for this tour, something that I resented.

I decided not to inform them regarding of the price hike, due to the fact that they travel on a very tight budget. Any request for additional fund may lead to tour’s cancellation. Something that I tries to avoid.

Another factor that also led to cost increase is the accommodation in Jember. Although Joop suggesting one hotel in Jember with good quality and reasonable price, I found that this hotel is not available for 3 consecutive nights. Their standard room are available for first 2 nights, but not for the last one. I tried other hotels of good reputations in Jember, yet the result are the same: none are available for 3 nights. There are other cheap hotels that were available, but their reviews are poor.

Eventually, I settled with Aston Jember hotel, which is considered as the finest hotel in town, but not without problems. After some negotiation, I eventually able to book 2 rooms for 3 nights, at corporate price (which is lower than published ones). I even saw that they have one type of room that are not displayed on their website, but available in contract rate: the Standard Plus. Its price is not very far off from the hotel that Joop suggested earlier, so I dully choose that room. Only when I made the payment, I realize that the room is not suitable for my group: apparently it consist only 1 bed per room and don’t even have window! Of course, I must upgrade to Superior room which jacked up the price even further. But this is necessary to prevent major troubles.

This cost increase saga worrying me so much that I was overwhelmed with that. So much that I sluggishly preparing my clothing and camera for the tour, and almost forgot to bring my tablet and even forgot to bring my tripod altogether!

As their Sumatera tour commenced, I briefly lost contact with them. For a few weeks prior to the start of the tour, I was completely in the dark about their presence. That slightly worrying me because some payments are due. Namely payment for hotel and several other things.

Thankfully Joop’s wife did transfer some money to settle some important payments, so that reduce my anxiety a bit.

Finally, a day prior to the start of the tour, Joop resume the communication contact. He said that he and Geoff have just arrived from Bandung, where they transited after concluding their Sumatera tour. He said that he will stay overnight with Geoff at Pop hotel in Jalan Diponegoro (a main street in Surabaya). But he asked me to pick him up from his in law’s house in Ngagel Dadi, a low class suburb in southern Surabaya.

I would love to meet them, as well as collecting the remainder of payment. But since I was busy and tired after doing a day tour at mount Bromo, I decided to go straight to picking them up on following morning.

I woke up on Friday morning 8th September. Feeling slightly tired but also excited to go. I’ve prepared everything two days prior, in order to avoid chaos and confusion that would happen if I do everything on last minute. So this measure truly helps.

Still, due to anxiety and partial nervous breakdown resulted from worries about financial feasibility of this tour, as well as personal problems (like what I mentioned earlier), I almost forgot to bring some important things. First, when I arrived at Ngagel Dadi and tries to contact Joop, I realize that I forgot to bring my Samsung tablet! So we rushed to return back home and tries to retrieve it. But when we resumed the tour later, I realize that I forgot to bring my tripod along! Unfortunately, it was too late so I had to make up things by improvised.

When I went to Joop’s in-law house, I was greeted by the whole family. Apparently they held a farewell party for Joop’s brother because he is going to return back to Netherlands, possible after long stay in Indonesia? Geoff was also there. He greeted me and saying that the tour in Sumatera has been a big success. He never hinted any disappointment over my refusal to assist him on his Sumatera tour. On a contrary, he still kept his praise on me by saying that “The only missing on this tour is your presence. You would have been a valuable asset on our Sumatera tour, because your ability to sort out the problems” says Geoff. I thanked him for that.

Once we bid farewell to Joop’s family we proceed to Situbondo. For this tour, I’m accompanied by my brother who does most of the driving. The journey from Surabaya to Situbondo proceeded normally without any traffic jams or serious incident. We also got to try the new tollway that connect Gempol to Pasuruan, enabling us to avoid congestion at Bangil, which is nicknamed as “Bottleneck” due to its narrow main road.

As we approached Situbondo, we felt rather hungry. Geoff said he “wants some coffee”. For me and my brother, we saw this as a signal for lunch stop. Since I didn’t eat a lot in the morning, I felt a bit of migraine as a result of my hunger. So we stopped by at Handayani Restaurant in Paiton to have some break and meal. Once we finished our lunch we resume our journey again, feeling refreshed.

We resume our journey again. The drive from Paiton to Situbondo is not very far, and soon we arrive at the entrance of the town, where we encounter the level crossing of Wringinanom’s field lines. We stopped by at there, parked the car near the level crossing guard post, and start exploring. My brother stayed near the car as he is not interested to do so.

We went to the bridge that crosses over Sampean river.

This bridge is currently the largest narrow gauge railway bridge that remains in operation. There used to be bigger bridge somewhere, but none remain in operation as railway bridge.

The current bridge structure is actually quite new. The original bridge which had different design, was obliterated by flooding in early 2000s. The wreck of the outer spans can still be seen underneath, while the middle span was scrapped at the nearby scrap metal dealer.

It’s hard to believe that the river so calm like this can unleash such fury.

Since we didn’t see any train movement, we decide to return back to our car and made some inquiries at the level crossing gate guards. Upon meeting them, they told us that a few minutes ago, there were 4 locomotives heading south to the village of Kendit. They mention the location is near a high school.

We wasted no time and head straight there, where upon arriving we were greeted by the sight of 2 small locomotives parked on the street side.

The train crews were amused upon seeing foreigners taking train photos. One of the friendly crew asked me on where I’m from. I answered that I’m from Surabaya, and my guests are from Britain and Netherlands. He told me that a few weeks ago there was a group of British railway enthusiasts who visited the place. They went around and also chartered steam train at the nearby Olean sugar mill. I guess he might refer to John Raby’s group who went for similar Steam & Sugar tour.

When I asked him on where the remaining locos are, he told me that both had gone to the west to retrieve loaded wagons. He said that the place is “not very far” from the siding. I have to be aware of his description because city goers like me have completely different perception of distance than him.

I and Joop decided to walk following the line. Before that, I took the photo of this loco. I initially thought this loco was the rare British-built Baguley. Only when I read the “DIEMA” sign in front of it, I realize the loco was built in Germany.

We walked along the railway line to the west. Our place is actually quite near to mount Ringgit.

This heavily eroded extinct volcano is known as the icon of Situbondo, due to its unique craggy shape.

We walked further and we can also see hills in the distance. Not quite as good as mount Ringgit apparently.

The walk to loading point turned out to be long one. We got really exhausted.

Joop said he wants to photograph the train from a “nearby” bridge. “Near” is obviously ambiguous, especially if you look at this picture. Do you see any bridge in the photo?

As we walk along, we also came across some wagons being dumped on trackside. Thanks to their lightweight, retrieving them is not a very difficult task.

We went further, and Joop said the bridge is only a “few meters away”.

But as the aforementioned bridge came in sight, we suddenly see the loaded train approaching us!

The train travelled at walking pace, so it is very easy to follow

But if you want to get ahead the train, you must run quickly. And that proved to be quite difficult as we had to run through sandy and difficult terrain.

I was extremely exhausted and losing breath as well. I also sweated profusely, so much that my shirt becomes wet!

I struggled to follow the train, but thankfully it wasn’t long before I was able to return back to the Kendit siding and catch up with the loaded train.

The locos were detached from the train. Apparently this was done to allow one loco to pull the train into the siding, while other waits on the adjacent track.

Once the loaded train fully entered the siding, the other 2 locos (which we saw earlier) reversed, and then entered the same line where they will retrieve additional loaded wagons.

After two other locos went into the western line, the crew cut the train into two 10 wagons train.  This measure was done due to low axle load clearance on the bridge at Sampean river.

As soon as the loaded train departed, we speed up to the level crossing that we went earlier to catch up this train.

We did arrived before train and prepared ourselves to take photo of loaded train passing over the bridge. But as the sun goes down, we realize that our effort is futile. Even if the train passes, it would probably be too dark to be photographed or recorded on video.

So we decided to called it off and return back to our car…..except for Joop who went further to the south to investigate.

While waiting for Joop, I chatted with young level crossing guards and asked whether if the train had overtaken us. They replied that we didn’t. None of the loaded trains have arrived. They said that although the journey from Kendit to Wringinanom took less than 15 minutes by car, loaded train can take as long as 2 hours to reach the mill. That is due to its very slow speed, and occasionally worsened by derailment.

Upon Joop’s return, we bid farewell to the level crossing guard and head to the town for dinner. Situbondo have very little to offer when it came about culinary. But we still found one “Ayam Goreng Pemuda” who sell variety of fried and grilled chicken.

Once we finished our meal, we head to our hotel for checking in and overnight rest. The hotel selection is, inevitable, the Rosali Hotel Situbodno. The best hotel in Situbondo….unfortunately.





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