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 relative, 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.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2017: What Does The Future Hold for Us in Railway Tour?

1intro

2016 have gone and now we are moving into the new year of 2017. Of course many people in Western society thinks 2016 was cursed as many public figures (namely from entertainment world) passed away in that year. It was the year that few seemed to enjoy.

For me it was also a major disappointment as I fail to run my Java Steam & Sugar Tour, despite of some railway tours held earlier that year.  So this year everyone is expecting to be brighter and much better than the previous one. In light of some progress and news that came in 2016, many wondered what will happen in this year.

2016: A Brief Review & Planned Mills Closure Controversy

2016 was actually not much different with what was happened in 2015. Steam locomotives still run as usual, some mills still operate their field lines. Some steam operation still going on as usual. For further details, you can check to this link.

But the biggest upset of 2016 has to be the news regarding of the planned mills closure, which causes uproar and disappointment among railfans and steam locomotive communities around the world who normally made pilgrimage to Java to see them.

day6-28

According to the news, many historic mills in East and Central Java will be closed in phases from 2017 onward (for the detail you can refer to the link above). Some of them are among favorite destination for steam enthusiasts, such as Olean sugar mill.

But will the closure ever took place at all?

Clarification from PTPN XI

The PTPN XI plantation company, which owned majority of the mills in the “hit list” of closure plan, gave some clarification during a visit which I made in December 2016.

ptpn-xi-s

They said that that many of the mills will remain in operation for 2017. Including Purwodadi sugar mills, which is known as the last place to see regular conventional steam working in Indonesia. But they did not elaborate whether if this mill will retain its steam working, or abandoned them (like what was done by sugar mill in Northern Central Java like Sragi, Pangka, and Sumberharjo in the aftermath of news about planned closure in late 2014).

As they stated (which I also posted in my previous blog posting) those mills will run as usual, pending the financial result. If they posted profit, they will resume working for the following year. While those who fail to do so will likely to be closed.

However, one mill will surely close. That is Kanigoro sugar mill in Madiun. Since 2014, I’ve heard rumor about its planned closure due to the urban expansion of the town of Madiun. After some period of uncertainties, it is now confirmed that 2016 become its last crushing season. Although the fate of its locomotive collections will remain to be seen.

day10-28

Olean sugar mill, which Rob Dickinson suggested to be candidate for World Heritage site, will remain in operation, including its fleet of steam locomotives and field lines. Both the mill and plantation company managers began to fully understand its historical value and now made several efforts to ensure its survival.

p2-66

They have renovate Olean sugar mill into tourist friendly space. Entering mill premises no longer require lengthy process, which in the past require written letter from company headquarter. The former manager’s mansion will be converted into exotic traditional sea food restaurant. And the front yard will be converted into theme park like what is done at Tasikmadu sugar mill, including building railway tracks into the front yard.  In addition they will also build a kindergarten in mill premise. All of these measures are done to ensure Olean sugar mill’s survivability.

I also discussing the future of the steam locomotives (of the same gauge of Olean) that may went out of use in the future, and the prospect of having them relocated to Olean or Semboro. The PTPN XI says that they’re welcome to such idea, as long as someone can help with the funding.

p4-22

There is one interesting topic that I learn from some of the managers in PTPN XI. They said that they’re keen to reopen De Maas sugar mill in Besuki in the future. But instead of using it to process sugarcane, it will probably be used to process coffee beans. There is a rumor said that in the mountain area near Besuki there is a coffee and cacao plantation where their products have distinct taste, thanks to its unique mineral content on its soil. Including in the plan is to build narrow gauge railway lines that connect the plantation with De Maas. It is remain to be seen whether if the project will ever materialize. Or even if they do make De Maas into coffee processing plant, there are some doubts on whether if they would built the narrow gauge lines, considering that De Maas have removed its railway lines since 1999. Not to mention the difficult terrain.

Despite all of the pleasing news of PTPN XI, no similar things came from other plantation companies whom some of their historic sugar mills is in the hit list. I care nothing about Merican sugar mills, as they care nothing about historic preservation and happily dumped their railway system. Gondang Baru is the sole sugar mill in PTPN IX which will also be closed.And sign of impending closure seem imminent, as the mill had a very short crushing season in 2016. Its tourist steam loco (the former Rendeng no.8) is now dumped. The future of its museum seem to be endangered.

When I suggesting about relocating of some historic sugar mills in PTPN IX into Olean and Semboro, the PTPN XI management apologize that such thing is beyond their control. Despite the fact that PTPN XI currently control PTPN IX mills operation, their role is purely to assist the sugar mills to be back to good operating condition. Nothing more.

Steam Loco Repatriation Controversy

loco_repatriation

Photo by: Bert v.d. Kruk

Worried by the recent plan of mill closure, which could see some rare steam locomotives in storage ended up in scrap yard some railway enthusiasts in Europe badly wants to purchase them and repatriate them. The problem is under the current law, the purchase or bringing historic artifacts out of Indonesia is forbidden. While on the other hand, no efforts were done to preserve them. And each year some were/are scrapped without any prevention effort from the mill company or local historical society.

This is where the controversy started.

From what I hear from PTPN XI there has been some lobbies in 2016 from European preservation group about the purchase of some locomotives. Apparently this lobby was met with resistance. So much that some mills barred foreigners from visiting their locomotive shed like what have been done by Cepu logging railway, notably in Tasikmadu.

barred

So what is the way out from this problem?

Actually there is. One suggestion is to work together with any sugar mill management or creating preservation movement with local groups. That is what was advised by both PTPN XI and also one British railway enthusiast who live in South East Asia. So far such join venture has yet to materialize.

Progress in State Railway and Others

The State Railway steam preservation efforts seem to show some progress too. This is quite unusual considering the curtailment of their Heritage Division, especially since the departure of Mrs. Ella Ubaidi from Indonesian State Railway, as well as the stepping down of Mr. Ignasius Jonan from Minister of Transport (himself is a former chief of Indonesian State Railway who turned the company around from loser into a profit making company).

ella_ubaidi

Aside of reopening of Ambarawa rack railway line, they also bring 2 steam locomotives from Transport Museum in Jakarta to Surakarta for reactivation. And in addition the E10 rack steam engine in West Sumatera have also undergone repair, although its rack gear is said to be removed…. Ironically, in January 2017 there is news that the funding for reactivation of D14 and D52 in Surakarta seem to have been withheld.

Cepu teak forest railway has also see resurgence of activity. It is said that the line to Gubug Payung has since been reactivated. This is quite good news, considering that this tourist railway network had fell into hard times since the collapse of the railway overpass in 2011. During their downturn period, the company has been involved in legal troubles with disgruntled tourists which led to prohibition of accessing loco shed. And at one point the company worked together with an incompetent tour agent who ended up feuding with the plantation company who own the railway system. But all of those are now history, and the recent positive development is good news.

While mechanic with the expertise in steam locomotive operation in Indonesia is like endangered species, it is worth to know that the operator (especially those who run steam tours) kept recruiting new personnel to do the job. Younger generation of steam loco engineers are being recruited by both State Railway and PTPN XI to run their tourist steam locomotives.

Although unfortunately similar measure is not done by the likes of PTPN IX (with the exception of Tasikmadu sugar mill) and PTPN X, as they left their fleet of steam locos rotting in the shed.

Mainline Trains

Prior to 2013 I was pretty much the mainline train, state railway, type of train enthusiasts. And my preference of motive power was (and sometime is) diesel, preferably of General Electric or Krupp marquees.

Things began to change when Indonesian State Railway began to install trellis on the locomotive’s windscreen in early 2013. Such move made the locomotives looks like something that came from backward country, which is too disgusting to photograph for me.

I often had to work hard how to either avoid photographing trellised locos, or finding those whose are free of them. It was quite a challenge to find one that is free of trellis, a stark contrast to the period before 2013 where trainspotting event were always a pleasure.

It was during this period that I turned my attention to narrow gauge sugarcane railway, which truly opened my eyes and widened my perception of railway in Indonesia. And the rest is, I can say is history.

Thankfully throughout that difficult period, trellis installation never fully implemented. At any given moment we would encounter one trellis free loco. And since 2014, the trellis would be replaced by polycarbonate bullet proof glasses. By 2016, the population of trellised locos only amounted 40% of total number of locomotives in Indonesia. It seems in the next couple of years the trellis would extinct completely and I can return to the good old days of mainline trainspotting.

mainline_trains

However, the trainspotting scenes have change a lot since 2013. We felt that more often than not, trainspotting is not as fun as it used to be. Thanks to the restriction imposed for railway photographers. The rule was initially introduced to curb unruly minor railfans who have a habit of taking photos in danger zones such as the middle of the track or trespassing into locomotive depot. But some managers misinterpret it as total banning of photography. So much that sometime people who took photo with DSLR camera would be reprimanded, even if he or she is a train passenger who took photo from the safe distance in the platform!

Security on railway premises has also been tightened. Back in the old days, we could just go into the locomotive shed or small station and took photograph as much as we like, as long as what we do don’t break safety rules. But these days, that’s not enough. I recently see “no photography” sign in some locomotive depots. Even more worrying, small stations are now patrolled by security guards! Sometime they will turn away photographers.

security

So in order to achieve maximum satisfactory in trainspotting we tend to evade major railway station, and we do trainspotting on the mainline. Sometime we would tune in into the radio (if someone brought one) to find out train’s actual location plus its locomotive number.

In the past couple of years, government have made some effort to reopen closed lines, and even building new ones. Such as reopening of Kedungjati-Tuntang line (which would reconnect Ambarawa railway museum with mainline), and also the construction of railway line in Sulawesi. It is the part of government’s ambitious nationwide infrastructure project. Such measure does bring some hope to railfans that there might new trainspotting places in a previously unheard of places.

track_construction

Although there has been some progress, complete with track laying, the whole thing turned out to be false dawn as the progress grind to a halt in 2016. The cited reason is lack of funding. But in my opinion it is due to mismanagement of the project, especially related to the financial feasibility of it. Apparently the transport ministry believing in the idea that railway must not make profit. That is despite the fact the projects are funded with loan money, and failure to repay the debt could (and does) lead to project suspension.

Train ride has now becoming a very much sanitized experience, when compared what we had in the past. Yes, now railway stations and coaches are cleaner, all trains are air conditioned, and security has improved. But on the other hand, it can be a bit unpleasant journey too due to brighter interior light (this can cause discomfort for overnight journey) and tighter seat in newer economic coaches.

P4-99

Train ticketing has also become an issue too. Since 2016, State Railway began to ditch the old blue ticket in favor of “boarding pass”, a thermal printed small piece of paper. While in the past you can have your ticket printed as far away as 3 months prior to the departure, now you can only print your boarding pass in a space of between 12 hours until 10 minutes before departure.  If you have ample of time, this shouldn’t be an issue. But if you don’t you will not be able to print your boarding pass in time and join the trip. And if the station is fully packed (as in the case of major public holiday), chance of missing your train due to long queue to print the boarding pass does exist.

boarding_pass

During transition period, things were much even more ridiculous as we must posses both of them in order to be eligible to board the train!

As a travel agent myself, who regularly sell airline tickets, Indonesian State Railway ticketing system is the most impractical and odd one. While airline ticket, and even boarding pass, can be printed at home or office, State Railway seem to live in their own narrow world.

To worsen the matter Indonesian State Railway manager seemed to be filled by group thinking people who turn deaf ear to positive inputs, and getting offended or incensed easily by criticism. The days of improvement under Mr. Ignasius Jonan have obviously diminished.

In the end I’m happy that I found mainline trainspotting returning back to its former glory, despite the fact that Indonesian State Railway’s effort and progress to improve obviously have gone astray.

Conclusion

Despite of the declining number of real steam workings and field lines mileage, there are still plenty to offer for railway enthusiasts in here.

Although elderly generation of railway enthusiasts lamented the disappearance of “real steam working”, steam locomotive attractions will never die in Java and Indonesia. There will always be something new to see and enjoy.

It is good to know that plantation company finally realize the historical value of steam locomotives or engines, and also classic architecture of the mills. Although they have made serious effort, in the end we must realize that they are not as big as Indonesian State Railway and most of their preservation effort does not receive the same kind of support from  central government in Jakarta, like what Indonesian State Railway privileged to have.

They have very limited funding to do all of those preservation efforts, so donation is actually needed. The best way to donate is by hiring their steam locos, for excursion running. In this way the profit generated can be used not just to maintain steam locos, but also bringing others back to live.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2016 Java Steam & Sugar Tour: What’s Happened?

At the beginning of 2016, I did have a high hope that I would repeat the same success with the Java Steam & Sugar tour like in 2014 and 2015.

p2-42

day5-113

Back then I had successfully organized a tour visit sugar mills and railway museums to see working steam locos in action. Some of them were regular working locos, a novelty in 21st century to see steam locos doing regular work instead of tourist service.

p4-29

Participants and organizer were happy because we could see many rare workings, and we didn’t just seeing them but also riding and even driving the loco too! So for 2016 season, I had a high hope that I would run similar and equally successful tour.

The year 2016 started out nicely. Indeed the request for railtour took place not in the middle of the year, but right from the beginning!

It was in January 2016 that my first railway tour in 2016 happened, when I took a couple of Malaysian railway enthusiasts traveling to see mount Bromo and seeing steam locomotives in Solo.

P2-28

The trip was a success one. We didn’t just seeing sunrise at mount Bromo, but also riding on intercity trains, staying in opulent (but affordable) hotel, and of course riding steam train at Tasikmadu sugar mill. In addition, we also rode the Batara Kresna Railbus which plying the unique street running in Surakarta.

P3-114

P3-35

Amazingly, just a few months after that in April, I also receive another railtour. Well actually not exactly a railtour, but rather a French tractor enthusiast is seeking relic of old tractors whose were presumably located in many sugar mills in Java. The route is similar to the tour in January, unless that instead of visiting mount Bromo, we went to visit some sugar mills in eastern East Java.

p2-34

The tour ended with mixed result: although we visited all places that we planned (except Gending sugar mill where we were refused entry, and Gempolkrep as it was too far from our position) and the tour went on without incident, my client was disappointed that he failed to found any old tractors that he has been searching for.  The only consolation was finding old Deutz locomotive which turned out to be the oldest diesel loco remain in existence in Indonesia. And I also learn that diesel locomotives in Indonesia have been around even before Second World War….

p1-28

Based on those 2 tours, I was very confident that I would run a successful “Java Steam & Sugar Tour” for 2016 season. By April and May, some tour requests have already appeared on my e-mail. So another Java Steam & Sugar Tour seemed to be certain.  And it was set to run on August.

But…..unfortunately, about a few weeks prior to the tour’s commencement in July, I suddenly receive e-mail from one of participant that he canceled the tour. The cited reason was the depleted number of steam locomotive in operation (which is not entirely true when compared to the previous year’s operation). When I also asked re-confirmation from another participant, the e-mail went unanswered. Another tour participant, who actually joined the 2015 tour, had also booked the tour. Unfortunately, his booking too was cancelled at the final moment.

p4-38

I tried to arrange similar tour for September and October. But trying to advertise such a long tour in short amount of time proved to be futile effort. And in the end, I eventually ran no Java Steam & Sugar tour at all.

The closest thing that I got to running Java Steam & Sugar Tour was taking my Dutch friend, Joop Versluijs, on a tour to see narrow gauge trains in Kedawung sugar mill in August. It was the first time I see him since 2009, where back then my car was brand new and I was still living in Bandung. His trip at this time is due to his participation a steam tour organized by other tour company.

img_6812

Although I have known Joop for long, this is the first time I learn that he have a wealthy array of narrow gauge trains archive of Java back home in Holland, thanks to my growing interest of narrow gauge steam locos since 2013. Since he has done trainspotting in Indonesia since early 1980s (and even met his wife in Java too) he obviously have many archives that would have wowed railfans in Indonesia.Such as this video of steam field working at Sumberharjo sugar mill which was taken in 2008.

He have many photos and even video clips from many sugar mills that no longer operate their field lines, or even in remain in existence in present days. I think he also mention that Tulangan was once a popular trainspotting place for narrow gauge fans, especially when they still operate their field lines. Especially due to its close vicinity to the city of Surabaya.

Kedawung sugar mill itself holds special meaning as I spend many occasions visiting the area and watching its field working. It was much more that what I did in previous year. I even saw many workings on almost every corner of its vast plantation.

img_5725

Although some lines looks as if they were not used and covered by asphalt, in reality when the harvesting time came, they would cut down any trees that blocking the way and removing the asphalt to give way for the train to get through. Some lines which I saw abandoned in 2015 (some didn’t have railway lines) were in full operation in 2016! It seemed that the engineers had gone extra length to reinstall some railway tracks.

img_5574

img_5582

For example is the street running section that plying main road between Winongan and Gayam. I last saw this track in full use in 2014. By 2015 it was largely abandoned. And by the end of that year it was lifted, so much that some local railfans exclaimed that Kedawung had closed its field lines.  His statement actually came out of his ignorance, due to his lack of knowledge of railway in beyond those of Indonesian State Railway.

To everyone surprise, by mid-year, the track in this section is relaid and even saw some limited service. In fact Kedawung’s field lines network were in full service in 2016. Some moribund trackage would see some service. It’s no problem if it’s isolated: mechanics would install temporary tracks to connect it to the existing line.

Its vast network means a trip on a field line can last for hours. Often loaded trains would return back at night.

img_5891

But the large size of acreage can pose another threat to the survivability of the field lines as some crooks would steal the rails for scrap metals. Sometime, to make up lost rails, the mechanics would install temporary track on a roadbed. Although it is passable by big 0-6-0 diesels, the trip will be very bumpy and sometime prone to derailment.

img_7006

Seeing the field workings of Kedawung is a good consolation for the absence of Java Steam & Sugar Tour. But unfortunately the mill has long given up its steam locos, making the scene rather dull. The last time they used the steam loco was back in 2001, on a chartered service.

Talking about steam service, the pattern of steam locomotive works in 2016 is not much different than what was seen in second half of 2015. Ambarawa railway museum still provide their chartered service to paying guests, many sugar mills who does regular steam service still doing their works, and chartered steam at sugar mills in Semboro and Olean are still up and running.

In 2016 too we learn that there are good news and bad news about what may come in the future of steam locomotive, or even sugar mills operation.

I’ll start with the bad one.

In early October 2016 I receive notification letter from my friend about planned closure of sugar mills in East and Central Java. This news came as a great shock as I was still reeling from my failure to run Java Steam & Sugar Tour for 2016. According to the letter shown by my friend, several sugar mills are going to be closed by next year. Some immediately, some will be done gradually in the next few years.

The likes of Kanigoro mill will surely be closed by next year, confirming rumors among the plantation company management circle which have been heard since 2015. In fact its crushing season lasted very short in 2016.

day10-28

Gondang Baru’s milling in 2016 had also been a short one. They lasted only around 3 months. But why do they want to cull this mill is a something of mystery.

p1-22

One mill where its closure has long been predicted is Tulangan sugar mill, mainly due to the depletion of available sugarcane field around the mill. Although PTPN X Company often tries to advertise the mill as “historic mill with old steam engines”, in reality this mill does nothing to preserve its railway. They happily scrap their steam locos in 1980s, lifting their field lines in 2006, and demolishing the old buildings around the mill and replacing them with new buildings. So if they really want to create “heritage tour” in Tulangan it would be a major hypocrisy and quite a blasphemy too.

p3-15

And another mill that surprisingly made it into the “hit list” is Merican sugar mill in Kediri. This is quite unexpected, considering that the mill is a modern and busy one. I have been to this mill in 2014 and saw how modern it is and how busy production line is. But considering that this mill have dumped its railway in 2008, I don’t think I would miss it anyway.

img_6522

Another upset has to be the closure of Purwodadi sugar mill in Madiun. This sugar mill has a distinction of being the last place in Indonesia to see the last regular steam locomotives working, doing so in 2016.

p4-29

I remember the last time I held “Java Steam & Sugar Tour” in 2015, upon arriving at this mill (especially on the level crossing section), my tour participants jumped in happiness and quickly taking photos of the steam working. Alas, now it’s gone…..

p3-13

But the biggest upset is the planned closure of all three sugar mills in Situbondo, including the famed Olean sugar mill. This planned closure is met with rejection, not just from narrow gauge or railway enthusiasts, but also from the local farmers in Situbondo as well as the local and provincial government. Because had this ill-conceived plan gone through, it will cripple Situbondo’s economy which largely reliant on the sugar mills.

Fortunately, as for Situbondo, that malignant plan will not go through easily, or even at all!

Now this is where the good news begins.

There are several factors why Java Steam & Sugar Tour is still worthy tour to go beyond 2016.

First, Olean Sugar mill is now slowly being converted into a “living museum”, which means that it will become more tourists friendly. Going into the mill will no longer require permit from headquarter in Surabaya. Instead, you can drop by at the mill’s office and pay the necessary fees. They will even convert the former manager’s mansion into a lodging place for visiting customers. Although if you think about hiring the steam loco, you may need to inform the mill management several days in advance, especially if it’s outside harvesting season.

Even the steam tour in Olean will be quite different, as it will involve visit to see local culture and customs, which made it appealing to non-railway enthusiast market. Still, anyone who wants to see it hauling sugarcane trains will still be accommodated. The non-tourist regular steam sugarcane hauling service may still exist in the future, although chance of catching up with it will not be as plenty as before 2014.

Oh, and now there is a passenger coach for Olean steam train. Something that didn’t exist before.

Another good news is the fact that Semboro sugar mill, which is well known for its chartered steam locomotive tour, even before PTPN XI even think of doing the same thing in Olean, is spared from “death penalty”, and will see more railway service in the future.

Including its famed fireless locos, whose are rare railways artifacts remain in existence, its rarity even enhanced by the fact that they still do regular working.

Beyond steam locomotive workings in sugar mills, there are more good news to be heard.

After years of maintenance hiatus, the rack steam working in Ambarawa railway museum is now back in service. It will be hauled by the regular B25 steam locos, in which both of them have recently undergone major overhaul. With the reopening of rack service to Bedono, now Ambarawa  railway museum have more steam locomotive service than what it used to be, complimented by some diesel locomotives. In the future it will include diesel locomotives museum in Tuntang.

Although so far 2 things in Ambarawa railway museum have yet to materialize:

  1. The reopening of railway line between mainline station in Kedungjati, and Tuntang station. Due to poor planning, financing, and the unclear aim of reopening, the project went into a halt.
  2. There was a talk of bringing the B2501 rack steam loco back to the museum, and reactivate it. So far nothing materialize.

Two steam locomotives have also been brought from Railway Museum in Jakarta to Surakarta, in preparation for steam locomotive tour. Although it is doubtful if they will ever be used for the Wonogiri branchline due to their large weight.

img_3644

Another steam locomotive that is under repair is the E1060, which was initially repaired in Ambarawa, but after being repatriated back to West Sumatera fell into disrepair. The last reported progress was posted sometime in mid-2016. Unfortunately, the repair somehow include the removal of rack gear equipment from the loco, which is a shame considering the loco is a rack engine, and the best scenery in West Sumatera can only be found in its rack section.

And lastly, after years of mishaps and mismanagement Cepu steam train tour is now back in business. The service includes the full length journey into the Gubug Payung, deep inside the teak forest around Cepu.  No curtailment of train journey like what was predicted earlier this year, especially after the bridge that passes above the highway frequently got knocked off by passing oversized trucks.

Cepu steam tour is perhaps the second most expensive steam tour in Indonesia, after Ambarawa. But considering the length and duration of the journey, which is twice of what you find in Ambarawa, this might be worth the money. And since new and more modern hotels began to pop up in this formerly remote area, a visit to Cepu will become much more fashionable than ever.

Overall railway tour to Indonesia, especially Java, beyond 2016 will be worth it!

If you like to join our 14-days 2017 Java Steam and Sugar Tour, please check out our website HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Old Tractor Tour? (Part 4 – End)

It’s Tuesday 19th April 2016, and today we would like to spend the day exploring sugar mills in East Java area, especially those whose are within easy reach from Surabaya.

Our initial plan was to visit mills like Kedawung, Wonolangan, Gending, Gempokrep, and Tulangan. Since Tulangan have been visited yesterday, so we focus our time today to visit the remaining four. Christophe initially wants to visit the mills as early as possible, even asking if we can depart at 6 in the morning! While, I’m suggesting if we depart later at much more leisurely pace at 9am. After some negotiations, we eventually agreed that we will depart at 7am. So I picked him up in the morning at 7 am in his hotel. This time, his girlfriend does not join him. So it would just be two of us.

Unlike previous similar trips to sugar mills, on this occasion I did not (or more appropriate if I call it “fail to”) arrange prior permit with plantation company. The reason behind this failure was due to two things: the lack of time to prepare the tour, and the fact that I had other administration things to do in between the tour planning and execution.

The trip between Surabaya and Probolinggo was pretty much a breeze. There were very little serious traffic jams and overall it was uneventful.

The drama, as I expected would only took place once we made an impromptu visit to sugar mill’s management office.

First to visit is Wonolangan sugar mill, which is located right on the eastern outskirt of the town of Probolinggo. As I expected, upon arriving at the mill’s management office, they received us in nervous and hesitant manner, unaware that a foreigner (Christophe) would pay visit without prior announcement. In a mill with strict and tight management, they would deny us outright. But thanks to the relaxed culture of PTPN XI, they eventually gave us permission, with small fee to go with it. After arranging some personnel to help us, they escorted us to explore the mill.

It’s off harvesting season, so all of the activities are concentrated in repair and maintenance works. In the yard, there are many sugarcane wagons parked. Just like most sugar mills in Java, Wonolangan have also abandoned its field lines, sometime in mid-2000s.

p4-1

We went straight into its locomotive shed, where some maintenance works are being done.

p4-2

Although this mill no longer has its field lines, all of its diesel locos seemed to be repaired in preparation for upcoming harvesting season.

p4-3

It is also in this mill that Christophe encountered Japanese diesel locos for the first time. After seeing its Japanese built engines, he is not interested.

Instead we focused on the fleet of Schoema diesel locos in here.

p4-4

This type reminds me with the one that I saw at Kanigoro sugar mill, as well as those operated by Krebet Baru sugar mill in Malang.

p4-5

p4-6

Christophe is also investigating its engine. This one is apparently powered by a variant of Deutz engine, although I can’t recall what distinct thing about this one.

p4-7

Not all diesel locos are maintained. Some of them are stripped of usable parts to be used by other locos.

p4-8

A move which I consider awkward considering that spare parts for Deutz engines are widely available in the market, unless if mill management is too stingy to purchase them.

p4-9

In the back of the shed, there is a number of steam locomotives stored.

p4-10

Although they haven’t been used for more than a decade, their external condition looks good. They are not rusted, and their paintwork hardly peeled off. Note a track inspection vehicle on the left, which also looks in good condition despite the fact that this mill no longer has field lines.

p4-11

It seemed that all of Wonolangan’s steam locomotives are of the same type: Orenstein & Koppel 0-8-0.

p4-12

p4-13

In some locos, its builder and ownership plate still remain intact as if they are brand new, or installed in recent period.

p4-14

I was told by the crew that all of Wonolangan’s steam locomotives are largely intact. None of them have been scrapped. In fact one has recently gone into a museum in Probolinggo.

p4-15

But apparently not all of them in really good shape like this no. 4 which lost its chimney and driving rods, as well as parts of its boiler.

p4-16

But this one, which is parked right in front of track inspection vehicle, is probably in the best shape. The only thing that has gone from this loco is just….number plate!

p4-17

I assume that this loco was once used to entertain foreign visitors who want to see steam working, perhaps on chartered basis.

Not really satisfied by our visit at the locomotive shed, Christophe is asking whether if there are any old pre-war tractors in the mill. The mill crew said there are some old tractors in the mill, but whether if they belong to pre-war era is something we need to find out.

Upon arriving at the shed, we found some old tractors. Some of them are already wrecked, or just a bare frame. When Christophe investigated, he found that all of them are actually Ford tractors that dating back from 1970s or later, definitely not according to his expectation.

While we rummaging around there, the mill employees also showed us an English cemetery in this mill.  The tombstones are all written in English, with 19th century grammar.

p4-18

p4-19

p4-20

p4-21

They said that this English family was the founder of Wonolangan sugar mill. Their descendants would sometime come and do some maintenance on this site, although when we came here this cemetery is in a bad shape. The surrounding area is akin to landfill, and even worse we can see some human feces in the area! Yuck!

Well, we think our visit in Wonolangan has been completed, and now it’s time for us to move along.

p4-22

Next stop: Gending sugar mill.  Christophe is excited upon hearing this, because according to his data there were many tractors delivered to this mill. He also added that this mill was among the first mill in Java to receive diesel locomotives; some were even delivered in period around First World War! So we have a very high expectation on our visit to this mill.

After a few minutes’ drive, which include passing through scenic backstreet (as this mill is located well away from main highway) we eventually crossed some narrow gauge lines which indicated that we are near a sugar mill.

Upon arriving at the mill, we were greeted by the same style like what we encountered in Wonolangan: the mill management looks a bit nervous when seeing a foreigner visiting their premises. They asked us to wait for a few minutes, because they need to phone and asking a clearance from the mill’s manager which is away in Surabaya at the moment.

We waited for some time, and when the mill employee returning back he delivered shocking news: we were denied entry! Much to my surprise, and Christophe’s disappointment! Apparently, unlike most PTPN XI mills, Gending management seemed to be a rather stiff one! He told us that we should have arranged the permit with the central office beforehand. But when I told them why no such fuss existed in Wonolangan, he blame Wonolangan management for being unable to handle foreigners properly (although in my opinion it is the opposite).

When we asked whether if there are any old tractors, steam locos, or old diesel locos in this mill, he replied that there are none of them. All of the mill’s road and rail vehicles are dating back from 1950s onward. To add the salt in the wound, he also said that starting from this season, the mill have also abandoned their field lines altogether.

Oh well, apparently there is no reason why we should stay longer in here. So we bid farewell and jump into the car and head back to the west to visit Kedawung sugar mill.

The rejection at Gending does let us down. It’s just unfortunate that they can be that stiff, despite the fact that it is not a vital military object and does not contain any sensitive items. And it is very unusual for any mill owned by PTPN XI which is known for its relaxed and cooperative culture.

Hoping that the same predicament wont befell us in Gending, we eventually arriving at Kedawung. I like visiting this mill because of all mills that we visited, only Kedawung feature field lines. But I don’t think that would be a plus point for Christophe.

Just like in previous mills, we had to undergo lengthy wait at the gate before eventually allowed to enter and meet the management. In the management office, we were greeted by usually nervous staffs. And just like what we see in Gending, they dealt with us with hesitant and slightly uptight mood. They called their boss to find out whether if we were allowed to visit. After a few minutes of tense moment for us, they deliver the much awaited answer: they approve our request! Yes! So we are finally allowed to explore Kedawung sugar mill!

After they make little preparation for us, we start exploring this mill, accompanied by some staffs and securities.

p4-23

In the main yard, the Japanese built loco no.1 is seen busy hauling engine part.

p4-24

p4-25

Since it is off-harvesting season, there are not much visible activities outside the locomotive shed.

p4-26

But inside, there is a hive of maintenance works at locomotives.

p4-27

Some locomotives are stripped to almost bare metal frame.

p4-28

Christophe is quite disappointed by the fact that all of the Schoema locomotives have had their MWM engines  replaced by Mitsubishi truck engines.

p4-29

All of the German locomotives in this mill were delivered in 1951, and made by Schoema which at that time was part of Krupp business empire.

p4-30

The other half of Kedawung’s diesel locomotives were made by Keio Yashima, a Japanese engineering firm. These locos obviously do not draw Christophe’s attention.

p4-31

The shed staffs also showing us a Dutch era jack which is used to assist derailment recovery. It’s amazing that this small tool is still in working order despite of its age.

p4-32

But in the back of the shed there are remains of Kedawung’s once venerable fleet of steam locomotives. When I visited this mill in late 2014 with a group of Dutch steam locomotive experts, they said that this no.14 is in working order. That is despite the fact that the loco haven’t been used for more than a decade.

p4-33

The loco number 16 is parked in an awkward location, right in the middle of the door. I later learned that this locomotive was built by Breda, the same Dutch engineering firm who built “Si Mbah” at Gondang Baru and “Doon” in Tasikmadu.

p4-34

I also found out on that this locomotive was originally delivered to work in a tin mine at Bangka island near Sumatera, before being transferred to Kedawung sugar mill.

p4-35

The rest of the locos in the shed are mostly identical to no.14 which is an Orenstein & Koppel built 0-8-0 loco.

p4-36

Contrary to what we saw in Wonolangan, the shed at Kedawung is muddy and dirty. The locos, although outlived their colleagues in Wonolangan by several years, are seemed in poorer conditions.

p4-37

This locomotive looks slightly different as it has shorter cab. I later learned that this loco is O&K 0-6-0 type.

p4-38

But the Dutch language sticker in the cab looks curious for me. Looks like a logo of a Dutch tour company. It seemed that a long time ago this locomotive was used to haul chartered tourist train, carrying Dutch tourists, across Kedawung’s still present field lines.

p4-39

One of the mill staff added that back then the reception for this Dutch tourist group was elaborated and rather grandeur one. The Dutch tourists were greeted with traditional dance and many local art performances.  They were invited to see the old houses here, as some of them were actually born here and spending their childhood here.

They rode the tourist train hauled by this steam locomotive along its field lines, before being picked up by their bus somewhere along the line where they visited hot water spring which is located near the field lines network.

Considering the mill’s close proximity to Surabaya and even the famed Bromo volcano, I asked them why they did not continue to steam tourist train operation, considering that other mills in less strategic locations such as Olean in Situbondo and Semboro in Jember does run chartered steam tourist trains. They said that the reason for the suspension is due to lack of demands, as well as the management is not interested to run such thing.

A few weeks later I learned what is probably real reason behind the discontinuation of such popular service was the failure of the last tour operator to pay the fee. Apparently the success of the first tours had led to a strong mutual trust between the mill management and this tour company. In turn the mill relaxed its payment policy to this tour company, which allows them to complete the payment after the tour. But I assume that in the latest tour, things didn’t go well. Perhaps the tour company fails to settle the debt due sudden bankruptcy. In fact when I searched this tour company on the internet, I found that it has long gone out of business.

Not all of the retired steam locos are grouped together. This rare Maffei built 0-4-2 loco is parked right in front of the shed.

p4-40

And one loco is parked inside what is now a storage room, full of disused items.

p4-41

One of the diesel engine in here caught Christophe’s attention, and he stayed quite long to study it. He said that the type of this Deutz diesel reminds him to one of the old tractor that he saw back in Europe. The staff who learning about this suggesting us to see a diesel pump engine that is being run in the nearby pond. However upon reaching the engine, we found out that it is a different engine.

Kedawung sugar mill is an impressive one, it has a huge machinery and all of its associated facilities. But unlike Tasikmadu, this sugar mill still retains its network of field lines (although the number of its mileage has dwindled in recent years).

p4-42

We kept searching around the mill, and somehow we came across this giant Deutz generator engine.

p4-43

Obviously it’s too big for a tractor engine, and probably won’t fit in a locomotive either. It’s even bigger than the GE 7FDL8 engine that is normally used on mainline diesel locos!

Since there are no more things to be seen, we decided to conclude our visit at Kedawung and bade farewell to the (somehow) hospitable mill management.

As we are returning back to our car, Christophe was stunned by this big sign. He is totally perplexed on how perfectly formal the grammar of this French language sign. An oddity, considering French people hardly visited this place.

p4-44

We’re getting hungry, and decided to sample the local cuisine at Pasuruan. One famous menu in this town is “Sate Komoh” which is lean beef grilled on skewer. Very tasty, although sometime it is full of fat.

p4-45

Since it’s getting dark, and the distance to Gempolkrep is very far (not to mention a rather strict PTPN X management), we decided to call off our plan to visit that place and head back to Surabaya. We have already felt tired after a long journey today. I feel that Christophe was quite right in asking us to depart as early as possible, due to the fact that it took the whole day just to explore 3 sugar mills whose are not very far from Surabaya.

 

TOUR CONCLUSION

On the following day, on Wednesday 20th April 2016, it’s time for Christophe and his fiancée to catch the return flight back to Bangkok.

I picked them up from their hotel and took them straight to the airport. Along the way, Christophe said that last night, after I delivered him to this hotel, he and his fiancée had a very long walk from Pakuwon City, all the way to the hotel, which is probably 10-15 km away! That was because they were running out of money to hail the cab, so they decided to walk!

Christophe said that he is actually disappointed, because he couldn’t find any single old tractors throughout his trip. Unlike in Eastern Europe where he could find old tractors easily, finding them in South East Asia is a merely impossible task.

Unlike previous specialized tours that I ran, I have to admit that this tour is a flop. But it doesn’t mean that Christophe doesn’t want to hire me anymore. He said that if I can find any old tractors anywhere around, he would be glad return back to have another tour with me.

Considering my complete lack of knowledge regarding of this subject, I found his request a rather tall order…..

p4-46

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Old Tractor Tour? (Part 3)

After 2 days in Solo area, it is time for us to head back to East Java to resume our research.  It’s Monday 18th April 2016 and it is our last day in Solo, before we head back to Surabaya. I woke up very early in the morning to have breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Today I took a slightly different menu: Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and sausages.

p3-1

Although Nasi Goreng in most hotels is no match to those at street side food stalls, this one is actually tasted nice. But the texture is not perfect as the rice is moist and sticky, not really suitable to make Nasi Goreng.

Contrary to yesterday, today the hotel seemed to be rather deserted.

p3-2

There was no one else other than me and the hotel employees in the restaurant. The hotel is nearly deserted! Is it a trend in this city where hotels are deserted in Monday morning?

After I finished my breakfast, I return back to my room to prepare myself for the return journey.

p3-3

Once all of my belongings are packed, I head down to the lobby.

p3-4

Upon arriving at the lobby, I found that Cristophe and his fiancée have just finishing their breakfast.  We checked out from the hotel, and hail a taxi that took us to Solo Balapan Railway station.

It’s not very crowded in the station, and getting into the platform was a breeze.

p3-5

In one of the station’s track there is a trainset consisting of brand new 2016 built coaches. There are some buzzes regarding of these coaches.

p3-6

Notably their brand new bogie suspension design, which is said to be revolutionary.

p3-7

Although new, some already criticized their interior designs that resemble commuter train, which obviously not comfortable for long distance trip.

p3-8

At around 07.40, our train from Yogyakarta eventually arrives, and it too depart according to the schedule at 07.45.

p3-9

What I like about taking morning Sancaka express train from is the fact that its schedule hardly time-consuming, it doesn’t depart too early from Solo, and arriving at Surabaya just before midday.

p3-10

As soon as we arrive in Surabaya, my brother picks me up to take us to travel around Surabaya. First we have a lunch at one restaurant which near railway track. This restaurant is well known for its duck, and this is one of its popular menus: “Bebek Puteri Madura”

p3-11

Once we finished our lunch, we head to Tulangan sugar mill. This mill is one of a few sugar mills which still use 19th century engines. But since our visit is rather impromptu, we are only allowed to visit its locomotive shed. It’s no problem, as we are not going after steam engines after all.

Upon arriving, we were greeted by friendly shed master. He introduced himself to us as pak Yayak. He has worked in this mill for almost 20 years. He initially works as a locomotive driver before climbing up his rank.

He reminisces the days when the field lines were still in operation. He said that back then Tulangan’s field lines goes all the way into Porong, next to the now abandoned tollway which is now buried under the mud flows.

Although located at close proximity with two other mills whose operated narrow gauge railway network, Tulangan field lines were not interconnected with both of them as it ran on narrower gauge (600mm).

Since the rural villages around Tulangan become increasingly urbanized, thanks to the Surabaya and Sidoarjo metropolitan expansion, the small roads around the area have become increasingly busier. Even the construction of tollway doesn’t just cutting parts of Tulangan sugarcanes fields, it also creating new urban areas. And this made the narrow gauge railway activities around the area a nuisance.

After many complaints from local people from the area (that’s what the mill management said, I believe in reality it was due to pressure from truck owners and stingy mill managers) the Tulangan’s field lines network were closed at the end of 2004 harvesting season.

Since then, Tulangan’s fleet of diesel locos, with their distinctive red body and blue skirt color, sees very little use. In fact these days, they are relying on tractors to provide motive power for sugarcane wagons in here.

p3-12

p3-13

Ironically, the mill’s management is keen to create heritage themed tourism in their mill premises. In my opinion such effort would be very much in vain, considering that in the past couple of years this mill have vandalized many historical artifacts in their possession. Even their fleet of steam locomotives was scrapped in 1990s! And to add the pain, just like most sugar mills who have abandoned their railway, they’re proud by the fact that they have get rid of them! Not to mention many historical buildings around the mill which have largely been demolished, so what sort of “heritage tourism” this mill will offer then?

One derelict diesel loco which is parked right in front of the shed drew our attention.

p3-14

We have never seen this type of diesel locomotive before, and this one looks rather unique.

p3-15

Upon closer inspection, we found out that this locomotive was built by Orenstein & Koppel.

p3-16

This locomotive looks so old that even its driving console seemed to be as antiquated as the Deutz that we saw at Gondang Baru.

p3-17

When I see the builder plate in the cab, I found out that this loco was built in 1961. Not as old as I initially thought.

p3-18

We opened the engine hood to look at its engine. Unlike the one that we saw at Tasikmadu, this locomotive is powered by O&K’s native engine. Not Deutz product.

p3-19

Just like other remaining locomotives in Tulangan, this locomotive has been retired and no longer in use. It seemed that this loco was withdrawn even before the field lines network were closed.

p3-20

We also wandering around the yard to see what are left. These days, only the circular railway lines inside the compound are left. The rail to field lines used to branched off from this area and goes into the weighbridge in the background and beyond into the sugarcane field around the mill.

p3-21

Since they are likely to use tractors to push or haul the wagons, the track that lead to the locomotive shed (the building with the open door) have even been removed. Should the need to deploy the locomotive arise, what they will do is installing temporary track to allow the locomotive to go out.

p3-22

Wider angle view with the track that goes to former field lines can be seen branched to the right of the picture and partly buried in the asphalt.

p3-23

Since it is off harvesting season, all of the wagons are parked in the yard, waiting for their duty which will commence once the harvesting season started.

p3-24

Since there was very little to be seen on locomotive shed Cristophe asking whether if there are any other old diesel engines around here. The shed master showed us to the pumping station on the riverside.

Inside pumping station, there are several Deutz diesel pumping engines. They are mostly dating back from 1960s or 1970s and came in several variety. Some of them looks familiar to Cristophe, but other are totally new to him.

p3-25

Since there are nothing left to be seen, we bade farewell to the mill’s employee and return back to Surabaya.

On our way back, Cristophe is asking whether if we can travel through some scenic countryside. I granted his wish, and we traveled through a small narrow road to the east of Tulangan sugar mill. (Note this photo was taken a few months prior to this trip, but the location is the same).

p3-26

Judging by its appearance, it is obvious that this road was built on what used to be the roadbed of field lines! And there are hardly any traffic, let alone built up area! So any claim that the railway traffic causing nuisance, or the sugarcane field have largely been converted into built up areas are unfounded!

It is unfortunate that our visit to Tulangan have partly been a disappointment. The fact that there are very little to be seen on railway or old tractor aspect does let us down.

But we do hope that tomorrow exploration could bring some consolation.

TO BE CONTINUED

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Old Tractor Tour? (Part 2)

It’s Sunday on 17th April 2016. This morning we have an ample of time before we start our tour.

After I woke up, I head downstairs to have a breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant was very packed: there was group of people from Jakarta who were vacationing in Surakarta, and all of them had a breakfast together. So the restaurant was really packed, and I struggled to find seat.

I look at the breakfast buffet menu, and quite disappointed by the lack of variety. Yes I know it’s a budget hotel, but they supposed to provide some lighter items that my stomach can digest in the morning. So I took sausage and potato that they served. The sausage is just mediocre, while the potato is just too starchy.

p2-1

After I finished my breakfast, I head out to the jalan Slamet Riyadi main street nearby to see the Car Free Day event. Upon walking out, I can see the Novotel hotel which is located just next to our hotel.

p2-2

Every Sunday, the main thoroughfare of Solo is closed from motorized traffic and used as pedestrian area.

p2-3

The occasion is used by local communities to showcase their stuffs, such as this peregrine falcon.

p2-4

There are also some people who asked for signature from passersby to support Indonesia’s first Formula 1 racer, whom himself is also native of Surakarta.

p2-5

In some places, there is also some traditional dance performance, such as this Dayak dance from Kalimantan, performed by Kalimantan students who studied at the local university.

p2-6

But other than that, we can just simply walking around in the middle of the street and enjoying the quietness of this city, a trait that this place was once known for.

p2-7

Some traditional food vendors also using the opportunity to sell their foods or merchandise, such as this old lady who sell satay.

p2-8

After withdrawing my money in the bank, I head back to the hotel where on the way I catch up with Christophe who has also returning from Car Free Day. He is impressed by the way such event is held, as he never saw such thing in Bangkok.

We are returning back to the hotel soon after. And upon arriving at the hotel, some people can be seen swimming in the hotel’s pool. It looks like a nice time to have a dip in the pool, but our tour starting time is near, and beside that we didn’t bring any swimming trunk with us.

p2-9

p2-10

p2-11

When we are about to enter the hotel, we saw this sign, which say that this hotel was inaugurated by Mr. Joko Widodo. He was the Mayor of Surakarta at the time this hotel was opened in 2008, and now he is the President of Indonesia!

p2-12

Upon returning back to my room, I had a shower first. My body was drenched in sweat, as if I was melting! After I finished shower, I sat on the working table in the room and enjoying the scenery. It was already past 9am, and the car free day have ended and the road reopened for motorized traffic.

Yet somehow I also see a group of protesters walking down the street. I was wondering what they were up to on Sunday?

p2-13

And one unique feature of jalan Slamet Riyadi is the fact that not all motorized vehicle that passing through the street are road vehicle. Every day there is also a railbus from Wonogiri who plying the street running section.

p2-14

It’s still 20 minutes to go before the tour commence, so I sit back and relax while enjoying the scenery out there.

p2-15

Once the tour commencement time near, I dressed up and head to the lobby where Cristophe and his girlfriend later come and meet me.

Our car arrived on time at 10.30am, and we head straight to Tasikmadu sugar mill. It wasn’t very difficult to go there as the road are rather empty. Upon arriving there, we were greeted by the steam locomotive who hauling tourist coaches.

p2-16

Interestingly, unlike my last visit in here, this time they reverted back to the old open air coach for the tourist train. Where are the VIP coaches?

p2-17

Upon arriving at the gate, we were greeted by pak Megantoro, the head of the theme park, and also my friend who lives nearby: Ariawan Sulistya. He is glad that I can return back to his theme park again. And Ariawan is also happy that he can finally accompany me again, after some failures to catch up in my previous visits. He is showing us that all of the locos in the park have recently been repainted. He said that the color selection was done with the consultation with German railway enthusiasts who happen to know the loco’s original color.

p2-18

p2-19

Apparently to “Doon” tram engine have also been repainted with the similar color.

p2-20

Just for your reference, this engine is the twin of “Si Mbah” that we saw in Gondang Bar, unless it was withdrawn much earlier, probably in 1950s. And unlike “Si Mbah” which was mainly employed for freight dutiest, this loco was exclusively used to haul VIP royal inspection train from Solo to here.

Of course the main attraction of this place is the real steam working around the theme park.

p2-21

But Cristophe is not really interested with the steam loco, and keen to see the sole diesel loco used for the amusement train.

p2-22

As we opened the engine compartment, we found out that this loco is using Deutz engine! This is an air cooled engine, so there is no radiator, and instead there is a large turbine which is used to pump in fresh air to assist cooling.

p2-23

Pak Megan introduced us to the head diesel mechanic who happens to be there. He is pretty much the expert of the diesel loco in here. He said that this loco is highly reliable. And maintaining the loco is not very difficult as the spare parts are easy to obtain. The exception being the wet clutch which is rather expensive and difficult to obtain.

p2-24

Contrary to popular belief that I heard in some sugar mills in East Java (some of them even still retaining their field lines) maintaining the old German diesel locos are not that difficult, their spare parts are readily available in the market and not costly to purchase. Then why do some sugar mills over there change the original European engines with Japanese ones with excuses such as cheap parts?

The mechanic also told me that this 1966 built locomotive is robust and reliable.

p2-25

Had Tasikmadu field lines are still in place, this loco would have been the best choice (for diesel category) to work in the field.

p2-26

p2-27

The fact that the loco can go run around for several times a day without any glitch is a proof on how reliable the loco is.

p2-28

Okay, now it’s time to get more serious.

The first agricultural vehicle (of sorts) that we explore is this old steam roller. This vehicle wasn’t actually used for any agricultural activities around the Tasikmadu’s estate. Instead, it was used for road construction and repair, and possibly field lines roadbed construction.

p2-29

Christophe wasn’t too interested with this, and asked if there are any other old agricultural vehicles around here. Pak Megan showed us there is one tractor which is claimed to be the oldest in the mill. He said that the mill itself doesn’t possess any tractors as they are mostly owned by local farmers. And those too are mostly brand new products.

We did see the vehicle which turned out to be a modified bulldozer. Although originally built for construction, it was occasionally used to assist harvesting activities. Christophe found that the engine is a Ford product which was built in 1960s.

Age wise, it doesn’t meet Christophe’s expectation. It is ironic that in the place that I mostly proud of, our tour seemed to have gone downhill, in term of historic tractor research…..

While we were busy investigating, we can hear steam whistle approaching. It was Tasikmadu I approaching.

p2-30

p2-31

p2-32

The fact that the mill is closed due to off harvesting season (and it was Sunday) prevented us from exploring much more inside.

But at least the sight of passing diesel train does entertain Christophe.

p2-33

p2-34

I have to say that the mill’s building is a majestic looking one. A stark contrast to other mills which largely resemble ordinary factory or just shed, Tasikmadu’s mill entrance is like a façade of a palace.

p2-35

Just right next to the entrance is the remnants of a locomotive boiler. Pak Megan told us that this is the remains of a locomotive that was involved in a fatal accident in 1990.

p2-36

Ariawan explained further that the accident was caused when the driver lost control of the runaway train (as it was traveling downhill from Matesih). When the driver tried to made hard braking, instead of reducing speed, the loco flipped over and buried in sugarcane wagons pile ups. The driver perished when hot water from the boiler showered him. That’s truly gruesome!

The accident was remembered as the darkest chapter in the mill’s railway history. It didn’t just caused the loss of locomotive and life, but also hastened the closure of eastern field lines, which at that time amounted 40% of Tasikmadu’s field lines network!

From there we head to the locomotive shed. In Indonesian sugarcane railway world, the locomotive shed is called “remise”. Christophe said that the word is actually French in origin. It means storage shed or barn.

Since the main locomotive shed is locked, we can only see the locos from the outside. I also notice that apparently the art-deco shed building is actually dating back from 1951, not Dutch colonial era.

p2-37

In the smaller loco shed, there are fewer things to see: just a small Schoema locomotive as well as the wreck of De Couillet steam locomotive which was scrapped in late 2014.

p2-38

Christophe giggles upon hearing the name. He said that in France the word “De Couillet” is the slang for “small genital”!

Well, it is obvious that there no more interesting objects to be seen for Christophe’s research, so we decided to return back to the city.

As we walked back to the car park, we encountered this Tasikmadu I which is parked near the shed, waiting for its duty hauling amusement train.

p2-39

p2-40

A few minutes later, a whistle can be heard in the distance, and the Borsig-built no.3 is approaching from ahead. So the driver of loco no I had to put the train in a spur nearby to allow this train to pass through.

p2-41

Trailing behind this train, apparently there is one interesting looking vehicle: a track inspection vehicle!

p2-42

Nicknamed “becak rel” due to its resemblance to rural tricycle taxi, this vehicle was used to inspect railway track condition, especially when the field lines were in operation. As the field lines were closed, the mill management decided to dump this vehicle. In fact when I visited Tasikmadu in 2014, it was in dump yard.

In 2015, the vehicle was recovered and brought back to operating condition. Although now it’s only used for recreational vehicle, as plan to reopen Tasikmadu’s field lines for tourist train has yet to materialize.

As we walk back to the car park, we also see some interesting things such as this Tasikmadu VII locomotive which is unfortunately painted in gold color.

p2-43

We also catch the last glimpse of this Orenstein & Koppel diesel whom Christophe likes the engine sound very much. He said it reminds him to his father’s tractor.

p2-44

Our car is parked just in front of “Besaran” or Manager’s mansion, which is now used mostly as employee’s dormitory. I really love its old colonial style, and it’s good to know that it is still well maintained.

p2-45

p2-46

We bade farewell to pak Megan, and Ariawan, and head back to the city. Upon arriving back, we took a lunch at this famous eatery which is located right in front of Mangkunegaran Royal Palace. I had eaten in this restaurant before, but this time I brought my DSLR along as in previous visit my camera was not working.

p2-47

Despite of its “Café” tag, it is actually a restaurant which sells traditional lower middle class food repackaged to appeal upper middle class. Unless that they also provide free Wifi (only for customers who buy significant amount of food), for anyone who wants to sit and surf the interenet.

p2-48

The concept of this restaurant is similar to traditional Solonese food, where you are offered variety of rice serving, and then you take side dishes of your choice. Unless in here they warm any food items that you take first in griller before serving them to customers.

p2-49

p2-50

I took 2 packets of rice with beef black pepper, and with side dishes of quail egg, sweet beef jerky, and caramelized spiced tofu.

p2-51

They are very satisfactory when it came about quality, but rather modest in quantity.

p2-52

After we finished our lunch, we went around the city to kill time before sunset. We decided to see some interesting places around the city of Solo, such as pawn shops at Triwindu market, and Laweyan batik district. In both places, we didn’t buy anything, and we didn’t even set down to have a look around in Laweyan.

To conclude our today’s tour we also visited Solonese royal palace.

p2-53

At the height of their power, the area around the royal palace was a restricted area and inaccessible by commoners like what it is now.

p2-54

The Solonese royal family is one of 2 royal families who live in Surakarta, the other being Mangkunegaran. In fact the Solonese sultanate came into being as a result of Giyanti Treaty in 1755 which ended Mataram kingdom as a fully sovereign state, and dividing the kingdom into Surakarta and Yogyakarta sultanates.

p2-55

Unlike their Yogyanese counterpart (at one point in history they were rival) Solonese royal family no longer bear true power, and their position in Indonesia’s politics are purely symbolic.

A few years ago, this Sultanate was embroiled in power struggle scandal. After the death of their king, Pakubuwana XII, two of his eldest sons (Suryo Partono and Tedjowulan) claimed to be the rightful claimants of the throne. As the deceased king did not designate replacement, or having queen consort (both of his eldest sons were born from different concubine mother) this eventually led to a family feud which briefly made headline in 2004.

After some negotiations, which were mediated by central government in Jakarta, it was eventually decided that Suryo Partono is the rightful heir to the throne, and he was eventually crowned as Pakubuwono XIII.

Although it was a small scale scandal, by national level, it was pretty much damaging Solonese sultanate reputation. After Indonesian independence, the Sultanate was often accused for being Dutch collaborator, which was later proven to be untrue. So this feud really added their misery, after being stripped of their Special Region status in 1946.

Some say the accusation were made by communist group in nearby Madiun who seen a sovereign royals as a threat of their increasingly volatile activities. Although the communist rebellion was eventually crushed in 1948, Solo sultanate has never been granted special territory (like what their Yogyanese counterpart has) ever since.

Nevertheless, Solonese royal palace is a worthy place to visit if you happen to come to this ancient royal seat.

p2-56

The façade of the palace is equally impressive.

p2-57

Just behind it is a tower named “Panggung Songgo Buwono”.

p2-58

Up until 1970s it was the tallest structure in Surakarta. It was said to be used by past royals to meditate, and also monitoring Dutch military activities at the now largely demolished Fort Vastenburg citadel.

p2-59

At the conclusion of today’s tour we returning back to our hotel for rest and relax. Unlike previous night, where we ate together in the hotel, tonight I decided to explore a bit of culinary in the city. My friend Ariawan told me that there is one nice seafood restaurant just a few hundred meters from the hotel.

So I decided to give it a try. The restaurant is just a modest lower middle class restaurant. But the seafood is authentic, and they have a good variety of menu. I ordered Shrimp in Tauco sauce (tauco is a sauce made from fermented soy bean).

p2-60

The food tasted….oh well, I should have asked them not to add tomato because it spoiled the taste. But overall it is a delicious and tasty food, and it is a highly recommended place to visit. I would love to come again, although I may order food without tomato in it.

After I finished my meal, I went to do some shopping in nearby supermarket, to buy some provisions for tomorrow, and then heading back to hotel for rest and relax.

TO BE CONTINUED

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Old Tractor Tour? (Part 1)

p1-0

My blog postings have attracted interest from railway enthusiast from around the world to start exploring railway heritage in Indonesia. My aim in creating this blog, aside of posting photos and stories about my railway tour, is also promoting the railway tour package that I run in my company.

But one day, it is also attracting interest from unlikely group of people. In late March 2016, a French reader contacted me and he congratulates me on my blog. Just like many readers in the past who e-mailed me, he also wants me to run a tour for him. But his interest is rather foreign for me: he wants to see old tractors. Old tractors? Yes old tractors! What do old tractors have something to do with railway?

Still perplexed on reading his request, he suddenly called me. He introduced his name as Christophe Perret. A Frenchman who currently lives in Thailand. He said that he would like to have a tour around Java to see old tractors. I asked him, what does my blog have something to do with old tractor? He replied that according to his archive many old tractors were send to sugar mills in Java during Dutch colonial era to work in the mill. So he is keen to do some research in Java to see whether if any tractors still remain in existence.

Perplexed, due to the fact that I have no knowledge at all regarding to old agricultural vehicles, I decided to arrange the tour per his request. And my lack of knowledge about the subject is the reason why I put question mark on the blog’s title.

 

PREPARING ITINERARY

Unlike previous big and specialized tour, such as Java Steam and Sugar Tour, for this tour I only have less than 2 weeks to prepare everything. The combination of hotel rooms and train ticket scarcity truly puts some pressure on me.

At one point I was thinking of giving up hope and relent, and let Chris find someone else to do the service. But his insistence on using my service does give me some hope to carry on.

Christophe told me that he only have a space of 10 days to explore, yet he wants to see as many sugar mills as possible in his trip. But the problem is he would only come alone, making the cost that he must bear a rather big one.

At first I offered him tour itinerary that cover Surabaya, Probolinggo, Pasuruan, Situbondo, Jember, Malang, and back to Surabaya. But that would have been too long and too expensive. Then I arrange another one which cover Surabaya, Mojokerto, Malang, Madiun, and even Solo. But again, this is beyond reach for him. We eventually settled with a rather short itinerary that cover Solo, Klaten, Surabaya, and Probolinggi / Pasuruan area which only take 5 days to do and with much more affordable price. Chris agreed with this option, and decided to give me go ahead to proceed with the tour.

Since he is a big fan of Deutz brand, I told him that there is a one loco from the marquee which is preserved at Gondang Baru sugar mill. So we put this mill as our number 1 priority.

As we are counting down to the start of the tour, he suddenly informs me that his fiancée would like to join the tour a few hours before our tour commence! Had we traveled solely by car, it won’t be a problem. But since parts of our journey utilized trains, this can be a problem especially it was on weekend where seats are scarce. But after some quick response, I eventually able to secure the seat for her without too much problem, and we are eventually good to go.

 

TOUR STARTING

It was in the evening at 15th April 2016. According to the schedule, their plane supposed to arrive in Surabaya at 19.50, after a long and non-stop flight from Don Mueang airport in Bangkok. But somehow it was delayed for several times before it eventually arrived at 20.50.

I was almost late in catching up with them, as all roads in Surabaya was jammed at that time, as the metropolitan area experiencing the worst flooding in months. All ordinary roads that lead to the airport were jam packed with cars, forcing me to use the tollway, which is near to Terminal 1, but in order to access to Terminal 2, I still have to go through another jam packed road.

After negotiating the busy roads, I finally made it into the airport, just in time to pick them up! When I finally made it into the terminal, I learned that their flight had actually landed! I anxiously waiting, wondering whether if I have missed them, or are they still inside? I looked around and none resemble French person. Only a few minutes later he eventually appeared from inside the terminal, with his fiancée. I greeted him and taking them to my car, and then we head to their hotel in eastern Surabaya, where they would sleep overnight before taking the morning train to Solo on the following day.

 

HEADING TO SOLO

It was an early wake up for me as I had to do prepare not just my belongings, but also their tickets too. After bade farewell to my parents, my driver took me to the Core hotel where I pick them up and then we head to Surabaya Gubeng station. Upon arriving at busy station, we unload our belongings from the car and enter the platform before boarding the Argo Wilis express train that took us to Solo.

The journey to Solo is generally uneventful. The sceneries are beautiful, and train crossings do exist. But somehow I felt too lazy to take any photograph. So there are no photos of our journey from Surabaya to Solo.

During the journey, I had some conversation with Christophe about the tractors and Deutz engines. He told me stories about his family’s relationship to Deutz brand as his family has roots in farming in Normandy. This dating back from his grandfather’s farming days which continue all the way to his father. So he grew up seeing those Deutz tractor in action.

Although his main interest is mainly tractor, he also has some archive about narrow gauge diesel locomotive. He is also interested with them as most of the European locos are powered by Deutz engines. He showed me his data. And I was amazed! Since then, it changed my perception about Indonesian railway history completely.

Prior to entering narrow gauge plantation railway world, what I know is the oldest diesel loco in Indonesia is a GE shovel nose which was built in 1953. But in recent times, I learned that diesel locos has been around since Dutch colonial era. I didn’t know the exact year, but all I know was in Cepiring there is one 1938 built Orenstein & Koppel diesel which has been modified. Even the first diesels to arrive in Indonesia after Independence were all narrow gauge industrial locos which arrived in 1951, preceding the shovel nose by 2 years! Only after studying Cristophe data that I realized that diesel locos has been around in Indonesia since 1914!

At around midday, our train finally arrived at Solo Balapan railway station. After taking our luggage, we are heading out from train station and into our rented car, which I have booked prior. Once we settled in into the car we head straight to our first destination: Gondang Baru sugar mill in Klaten.

The trip went uneventful. Along the way I also made contact with my friend in Yogyakarta whom is keenly interested in narrow gauge railway: Yoga Bagus. He is a young railway enthusiast in his early 20s, yet he already has access to many senior railway enthusiasts around the world. He also has large collection of railway archives, and he is still eager to learn more about narrow gauge railway history in Indonesia. So that’s why I invited him to come, as his eagerness can be helpful in this trip.

Upon arriving at Gondang Baru sugar mill, we were greeted by the sight of this diminutive Orenstein & Koppel locomotive. Despite of its diminutive size, this loco actually ran on wider gauge that what Gondang Baru have: 750mm (versus Gondang Baru’s 700mm). In fact this loco was originally belonged to the nearby Ceper Baru sugar mill, and relocated to here upon the closure of its original mill.

p1-1

Before we start exploring the mill, I decided to go to its “agrowisata office” to meet Yoga’s friend, Joko Indarto, another railway enthusiast who worked in here. I introduced myself as friend of Yoga, and he also introduced himself. He helped us to see around the museum.

p1-2

The first thing that we see of course is the Deutz locomotive.

p1-3

This locomotive is the reason why we put Gondang Baru mill on the first part of our tour itinerary.

p1-4

Named “Ajax”, this locomotive is a very old locomotive, so much that the driving console resemble a steam locomotive, instead of a compact driving console that you would normally see in modern day diesel locos.

p1-5

One unique feature that puzzled us is the presence of 70 atm air reservoir on the locomotive.

p1-6

We assume that it might be used for air brake system, quite a novelty for a plantation railway. But Christophe assumes that it might also be used to help starting the engine.

Next to the Deutz loco is the locomotive which is said to be the oldest locomotive remain in existence in Indonesia, hence its nickname: “Si Mbah” (“The Old Man”).

p1-7

This Backer & Rueb built tram engine is said to be originally owned by Oost Java Stoomtram company before being acquired by Solonese royal family to be used for their sugar mills.

p1-8

The loco was used to haul sugar molasses tanks between the mill all the way into Srowot station, on the 1,067mm branchline. This service terminated at the end of 1986 harvesting season.

p1-9

This loco actually has its twin: there is one similar loco used at Tasikmadu sugar mill.

p1-10

From the locomotives, we went to the library. Joko told me that a few months ago he did came across some book about old tractors in the collection. Despite of its rather dilapidated appearance, this library does have some treasures in it, such as 1921 book which show many narrow gauge steam locomotives during its primetime, and even early diesel locos too! Other than that, we also see old calendar which shows many steam locomotives when they were still in operation in 1990s.

p1-11

p1-12

While we were rummaging the library, Yoga finally arrived and we introduce ourselves. This is the first time that I actually met him, after corresponding with him through internet for sometime.

After we finished browsing the library, we start exploring the mill complex.

p1-13

It is off season, so all of the activities are dominated by maintenance works.

p1-14

We went into the locomotive shed to see some of the locomotives inside. Including this Schoema locomotive, which is essentially an enlarged version of what I see in Kedawung.

p1-15

The only steam locomotive in the shed is this Orenstein & Koppel built no.8. Originally operated by Rendeng sugar mill, it was relocated to this mill in 1990s. It is normally used to haul tourist train on circular line around the mill every Sunday, but these days it is only used on chartered basis.

p1-16

Outside the shed, we can see several steam locomotives placed off the track.

p1-17

It is sad to see them in such poor condition.

p1-18

One of those dumped locos is this Linke & Hofmann built no.2. When it was in operation, it was the star attraction as it used to have the loudest chugging noise.

p1-19

As you can see in this 1994 video, the loco used to have the loudest chugging noise.

Years later, the same loco is now in derelict condition.

p1-20

Joko said that this loco used to have a twin: the no.1. He also said that it was exported to France for one railway enthusiast group there. Christophe is interested with this, although he doesn’t really know where it is now.

Another interesting looking loco is this outside frame Orenstein & Koppel locomotive. Unlike other O & K 0-8-0 locos, this one looks larger.

p1-21

p1-22

p1-23

All of these locos were withdrawn when Gondang Baru was forced closed down its field lines in 1998, in the aftermath of 1997 economic crisis. Yoga said there is another version of story regarding of the closure. He said that in the aftermath of 1997 crisis, many of Gondang Baru’s field lines rails were stolen, forcing the mill management to suspend field operation indefinitely. Even worse, many of the roadbeds have even been occupied by squatters, rendering any prospect of field lines reopening (which was discussed in 2014) higly unlikely.

From there we return back to the Deutz locomotive again to see if we can reopen the locomotive’s engine.

p1-24

After some efforts, then viola! We manage to open it!

p1-25

Despite of its small size, the locomotive is powered by 2 large cylinders.

p1-26

Cristophe is investigating the engine. He had made several interesting findings about this loco.

p1-27

This locomotive was delivered to here in 1928 and it is probably the oldest diesel locomotive remain in existence. Interestingly for early generation industrial diesel loco, this one feature radiator cooling, which is quite a novelty considering that other diesels of the same era were only equipped with air cooling system. Although unfortunately the fan is nowhere to be seen when we investigate, presumably stolen.

We wasted no time in photographing this unique locomotive.

p1-28

Some other facts that we learned at the conclusion of the tour (long after we left Gondang Baru) is the fact this loco engine is a 2-stroke engine. Aside of that Deutz did actually sent 5 other identical locos with wider gauge, all were sent to BPM (Batavia Oil Company, precursor of modern day Shell oil company) railway network in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. But the fate of those sent to Balikpapan remains unclear to this day.

After we finished investigating the Deutz Ajax loco, and closing its engine bay door, we head to the restaurant in the complex to have a lunch.

p1-29

We ordered some menus, like this Fried Chicken in Kalasan style.

p1-30

I can’t recall what did we discussed during the lunch, but overall Christophe find the food satisfactory. And Yoga is happy to find that the Deutz loco is among the oldest surviving diesel loco in Indonesia.

After we finished our lunch, we bade farewell to Yoga and Joko, and returning back to Solo. Along the way we catch with this sight of rainbow.

p1-31

Upon arriving back at Solo, we bade farewell to our driver and checked ourselves in into our hotel at Ibis Styles.

p1-32

This may not be as great as Swiss Bel Inn that I stayed last January, but it is a great value for money.

p1-33

p1-34

p1-35

p1-36

p1-37

In the evening, we decided to have a dinner in the hotel as we get a discount voucher for eating in the hotel.

p1-38

Being a rather small hotel, they have limited items in the menu. But it’s still tasted great.

p1-39

p1-40

After we finished our lunch, we returned back to our room for rest and relax.

TO BE CONTINUED

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment