2018: A Somewhat Sad Year

When the year 2018 started, I had a high hope that it would be a prosperous year. Boosted by improvement on previous year (which saw better result than the previous one), and combined by my partial belief in Chinese superstition that “8” is auspicious number, I was confident that 2018 would be a great and successful year.

The year itself actually started really well: I received sufficient tour requests for the beginning of the year. And followed by hectic tour schedules in February 2018, where I had no less than 3 tours to go (including back to back tour with cruise ship passengers to Surabaya and Bromo). February could have been busier had the Singapore customer on Bromo tour did take the city tour as well (which was cancelled last minute).

With series of successful tours in the first 2 months of 2018, I was confident that the year would be a lucky year. In addition to that, I also received significant amount of tour requests for the upcoming months which I hoped would be sufficient for the wellbeing of the tour business. And on personal note, I also hoped would be able to collect enough money to buy new camera and traveling to Europe.

By March, I was confident (or shall I say complacent) that it would also be a good one as there are tour orders.

But it turned out that it was not meant to be.

To my surprise, the planned tour got cancelled. And there were no tour for the remainder of the month. That made the month as “no sales” month. Although I’ve had such thing in the past, what surprised me was it took place very early in the year. In previous (productive) years in my tour business, such thing normally happened in the middle or later part of the year.

And that was just beginning. The following month was even worse as there were not just the absence of tour, but also not a single tour request was received. While I would normally receive some, or even many tour requests in my e-mail, this year the inbox was largely empty.

In the end, I had 5 “no sales” months in 2018. The largest number of losses I’ve ever had since I started my tour business in 2012. And to worsen the matter, my ticketing sales have largely extinct since 2015 owing to unfair competition with online travel business. This means that the absence of tours means no revenue at all!

If that is not enough, this year is also the first time someone gave negative review on my TripAdvisor listing. One of the groups that took my tour in February apparently dissatisfied with my service. The group came from Singapore, and they’re a couple of Malay lesbian couple. They initially plan to do Bromo tour and followed by Surabaya city tour on the next day.

Although the Bromo tour proceeded smoothly and safely, apparently they were disgruntled over the fact that I occasionally sleep during the tour. Since it was a sunrise tour which started from midnight, I’d occasionally sleep during the jeep journey to conserve energy. Previous guests would normally excuse me as they know how difficult it is to stay awake in the middle of the night and drive over long distance from Surabaya to Bromo. But these spoiled, ignorant, narcissist, rude, and ruthless brats simply don’t take it. They expected me to stay awake throughout the tour and entertain them.

Closer examination reveals that they actually have a habit of lambasting many tour operators, hotels, restaurants, and many more establishments who list their business in TripAdvisor. Many of those that they attacked actually have good reputations, but they just want to tarnish their image. Indeed, prior to vandalizing my listing, they had actually complained about their hotel with nonsense reasoning.

As a result of the unfavorable and damaging review in my TripAdvisor listing, it tarnished my previously positive image of my tour company, and could potentially deter potential customers from hiring my service.

But thankfully one of another past customers, who never gave review before, somehow came with help by giving positive review that helped push the reviled review down.

Still the damage is done, and my perception of Singaporean dropped from “solid green” to “solid red”, putting them on the same league as Germans and Russians. Prior to that, I used to have positive opinion about Singaporeans as they’d normally be friendly, understanding, and generous. But this group destroying that reputation overnight.

And months after that, my business went eerily quiet. No tour requests appearing on my e-mail, and almost no tour at all for the remainder of the year. So much that I have to do part time jobs on my parent’s restaurant just to make ends meet.

I thought this was due to the damage caused by negative review that was delivered by those Singaporean brats. But when I double checked with other tour businesses in Surabaya, it turned out that they’re also suffering downturn in their business! Many of my top rivals saw its last customers in early 2018, and haven’t seemed to receive regular guests since.

One of my friends who run a tour business, and regularly refer my business to his potential customers to help boosting my sales, apparently also suffering the same problem. He said that since the beginning of the year he his e-mail inbox is also largely devoid of tour requests. That is stark contrast with previous year where he would normally receive barrage of tour requests.

All of my friends in the touring industry also saying the same thing: this year has been a recession! We all wonder what causing this? Is it because of the terror attack that took place in May? Or maybe external factors such as Brexit or something else that we do not know?

If that is not enough, I also suffered personal tragedy when I lost my uncle (my father’s last living elder brother) who died suddenly during a vacation in Bandung.  It was a huge loss for my family and extended family. And for me it was a disheartening moment, as I was very close to him. When I was child, he often protected me from my father’s harsh treatment and would often console me in time of troubles. Losing family members is surely a massive personal setback.

But on the brighter note, despite of the sad recession I still able to run Java Steam & Sugar tour this year. And even more special is the fact that I’m able to run back-to-back two legs tour in successive months. It’s the first time I’ve ever manage to do such thing, although not the first time that I run more than one railway tour in a year. For the detail of the 2018 Java Steam & Sugar tour you can check them out in my previous posts.

Another thing that surprises me this year, in positive way, is the reactivation of steam locomotive at Kedawung sugar mill. As I have mentioned before, Kedawung is the nearest field lines network to Surabaya and it also has probably the most scenic field lines network I’ve ever seen, thanks to the presence of nearby mount Bromo.

A presence of long-gone steam workings would have made the scenery even more beautiful. Well, I never expected my wish to be granted that quickly. It is made possible thanks to the presence of a well patronized theme park in Kedawung sugar mill’s premises. Its popularity generates revenue that enabling the theme park to reactivate its last working steam locomotive.

In the end I have mixed opinion, to put it politely, about the year 2018. The year that I expected to be auspicious one turned out to be a disastrous and sad one. Despite of its rare achievements, it also has far more downsides too. Therefore, I’m glad that the year is over and I sincerely hope that everything will bounce back to positive direction in 2019.

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2018 Java Steam and Sugar Tour. Leg 2 Day 7 (14 September 2018). The End!

There is an old saying in Indonesia: “Fortune can come from anywhere”.  And this proverb is the best way to describe how this year’s Java Steam & Sugar tour.

I’ve relentlessly advertised this year’s steam tour packages to around the world as far back as mid-2017, even before that year’s tour underway. Whether using my website, social media, word of mouth, or even resorting to my overseas friend’s help to deliver brochures in UK and Australia. But by the time mid-2018 approaching, there were still no orders for the tour. There were inquiries, but none goes beyond that. All quiet, and I was even considering to cancel this year’s tour program altogether.

But then comes Mr. David Sutton, a Hong Kong based British photographer who have contributed to several top media in overseas countries. Although he didn’t take the full tour, at least it allowed the tour to run.

David Sutton mingled with local children at Olean’s sugarcane estate in Situbondo.

And then comes my friend, and also mentor in railway enthusiast world: Paul Collin.

Relaxing with Paul Collin and Hayden Kinsley at the ballroom of Swiss Bel Inn Saripetojo hotel in Surakarta.

I’ve known him since my days of studying in Australia way back in 2000.

Paul photographing an Australian built Nomad airplane at Probolinggo museum.

He and his late friend, Jim Oliver from Australian Railway Historian Society-West Australia division had helped me to revive my interest in railway. Although I have since returning back to Indonesia, we still maintain contact, and the rest is history.

Paul inspecting Kedawung no.14 as it is being refilled with water.

We had actually done tour in Java multiple times, some even way back in 2009 when I lived in Bandung, and was still in culinary business. And he would normally come with either with his close friend, Hayden, or his son, Greg.

He has also helped me on multiple occasions. He has helped me promoting my railway tour business, even helping spreading my brochure over there. But still, it’s a tough job to do which yield nearly no result.

But thanks to his generosity, he has helped me to make this year’s tour materialize.  Although the itinerary is far cry from the complete tour, but nevertheless it has been a huge success! It also allows me to show to the world that yes the steam railway scene is still up and running.

And most importantly, it also helped the steam locomotive operators to get extra revenue for their business.

As I drove back from Probolinggo to my home base in Surabaya, I reflect on how successful the tours has been. Despite of setbacks on Leg 2, so much that we thought it was jinxed, it turned out that the tour is a successful one. And although I’m unable to run the tour like in the itinerary, the fact that I’m able to run 2 steam tours in a year is a huge blessing!

If you like to experience the same kind of excitement like we do, join us on our railway tour packages in Java! For more info click: http://www.indonesianrailwaytour.com/

See you on the next tour!

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2018 Java Steam and Sugar Tour. Leg 2 Day 6 (13 September 2018)

Just when we thought that there is no hope left for us, things seem to take dramatic turn today.

I woke up this morning to a very beautiful sunny day, and feeling refreshed. Upon opening up the window, I can see that our hotel is surrounded by classic houses that seem to be dating back from colonial era.

Further north, fishermen boats can be seen sailing in the sea.

I took a shower and later while dressing up, I tried to establish communication with the contact person of Semboro sugar mill, miss Iin. I made some inquiries to her regarding of our plan to visit, and also making inquiry about the condition of steam locomotive operations in Semboro.

Iin said both of their steam locomotives, who normally used for field excursion train, the number 15 and 29 are unavailable for charter as both undergone major overhaul. The number 15 is a mallet loco and actually the last mallet steam locomotive to see service in Indonesia. It hasn’t run since 2015 and raising question whether if it would ever run again in the future. While the number 29 is a 1961 Jung-Jungenthal built steam loco. I did charter the number 29 last year for excursion run.

Well that is interesting news, although I’m not disappointed as I have no plan to charter any of them. Even if they’re available, I wouldn’t be able to do so as we have too little time.

But the best of all has to be the fireless steam locomotives, where both of them are now at full operation. The mill has since returns back to working condition and the repair work on one of the fireless is done. So they’re now in full running condition.

I left my room and then catching the glimpse of mount Bromo from the window at the end of alleyway. The clear sky allowing me to see mount Bromo Tengger national park clearly. Even mount Semeru can be seen on the left.

I head to the restaurant on the ground floor to have breakfast. Once I go inside, I take some of the food. I’m disappointed! Despite of the high room rate, I found the food menu looks unpleasant. It’s even no match with Amaris Madiun hotel, let alone the Swiss Bel Inn! Even the servants are not properly groomed, and none were smiling. So I didn’t take any photo of the restaurant nor its food.

While I was having breakfast, Paul and Hayden joined in and also start having their breakfast. Paul said that earlier this morning he went out and walking to the city square and even the railway station to watch the trains.

I told them about the news from Semboro. It seems that they’re happy, and it seems we would firmly goes there in accordance to our initial plan. Beside that today is our last day together as Paul and Hayden will take the train to Banyuwangi, and then ferry to Bali. So chance of having a second look at Kedawung steam locomotive repair progress is just slim.

Yet Paul suggesting why don’t I make another questioning to the person in Kedawung. Who know if they have completed. Hayden suggesting against that as it might encourage the mechanics to take shortcut and causing long term damage to the loco. Well, I might give it a try.

But, in order not to give impression as if I pressurize Kedawung sugar mill to rush the repair, instead of asking question I send the message to pak Huda in Kedawung. I messaged: “Good morning sir, how are you? I hope that the steam locomotive repair is progressing well. I hope that it can be fully repaired” all without giving hint as if I’m asking when would it be fixed.

To our amazement, he sent us the video message which show the steam locomotive in full running condition! We are all aghast by what we had seen, especially Hayden. “How did they do that?” asked Hayden. I replied “Well, this is Indonesia. Mechanics can find even the most creative way to solve the problems.”  Huda asks me whether if I will arrive at Kedawung. I said we will go there and would probably arrive around 10am. We eventually choose Kedawung over Semboro. Goodbye Semboro….

We quickly return back to our room to prepare our belongings for today’s tour. Paul and Hayden will also check out from the hotel today, so it took them slightly longer as they need to pack their belongings. Once they completed the packing, we head to the receptionist where they settle their check out process.

I still remain for one night in this hotel because in the initial plan we supposed to go to Semboro today, where after completion of that tour I would drive back to westerly direction to Surabaya. Nonstop driving from Semboro to Surabaya would have been too dangerous as I would normally be very tired after steam tour. But since we decide to go Kedawung instead, the additional night stay in the hotel is actually redundant. But as it was too late to cancel, I decided to keep it as it is. Had I know that the tour would proceed like this, I would only stay for a night in this hotel too, dropped Paul and Hayden at Pasuruan station, before returning back to Surabaya. That would have been more economical.

We get onboard the car and go straight to Kedawung sugar mill in Pasuruan. The drive was quite a breeze. Just like yesterday’s afternoon, there were no traffic jams on our way….or maybe for most of the trip because as I wanted to turn south in Rejoso, the access road to Kedawung is jam packed with trucks! Although the remaining distance to Kedawung is less than a kilometer, we waited for more than 15 minutes there! Rather than waiting further, I decided to take diversion through Toyaning to avoid this jam. Although longer, it is virtually free of traffic jams.

Upon arriving at the mill, we were greeted by the majestic sight of our steam loco brewing.

Seeing a steam locomotive at work is always a majestic sight. It’s like watching a dinosaur in modern day era.

While Paul and Hayden enjoying the sight of the loco, I head to shed master’s office in the background to met pak Huda.

He said that the mechanics have successfully replaced the troubled fire tube with the replacement pipe. So the locomotive is good to go. He also introduces me to Fajar, a mill management staff who will accompany us throughout our trip.

One of the loco crew, who we met yesterday in the shed came and smiling to me. He is relieved that the locomotive is now repaired. He said that it took him almost whole night to have the pipe replaced. He and his friend worked all the way until midnight to fix it. And now it is ready.

Since he knew that we wanted to photograph the loco hauling loaded sugarcane wagons, he bring good news that there is a loaded train from last night’s harvesting that haven’t been retrieved. We will pick that up.

Considering that we have limited time for excursion today, this is a blessing! We are very lucky because loaded trains would normally be available in late afternoon. Had this excess harvested sugarcane train is not available, we would probably had to content with a sight of the loco hauling empty train.

Our train departs at around 11am and trundling along the bumpy track on the field lines. The trip was a rough ride; very rough that I almost thrown off my seat. At the junction near Toyaning, we were directed to southerly direction.

I think it’s the first time a steam locomotive going to this direction since decades of absence. On our previous steam tour our train headed to west, to Kawisrejo, while another previous group who hired the loco took the train to the south of the mill.

Our train also passes through a scenic albizia tree plantation near Toyaning. I imagine taking photo of the train in here would be really good.

In a few minutes our train is getting near to its destination.

And we finally arrive in a siding at Ketegan. In here, a branchline from Pandanrejo to the west (left) join the line. I’m a bit surprised that the line is now in use. The last time I saw working on Pandanrejo was way back in 2015.

In here the locomotive changes position. The passenger coach is detached and then everyone  manually pushed the coach into the siding so the locomotive can push it deeper.

Ketegan siding is perhaps the only siding left at Kedawung’s field lines network, as most of their lines are single track.

In here our train will pick this train up. It carries excess sugarcane that was harvested a day before, but couldn’t be brought to the mill due to motive power shortage. They called it “imbalan”.

All seem to set for a great photo run today.

While waiting for our departure time, our driver dumped some water from the boiler.

It looks quite spectaculer, but at that time I wasn’t aware that it’s actually a sign that there is trouble.

One of the drivers come to me and said that the locomotive needs to have its water tank replenished. So they detach the loco from our train and then start carrying the water pump.

They park the loco at one corner of the siding.

From here the crew began to prepare the pump where they will suck the water from the nearby spring to be filled into the water tank.

Once they’re ready, they began to fill the water tanks of the locomotive.

The filling process took long time because apparently both tanks are not connected. It means that they have to fill the tanks one at a time.

Strangely, when they completed the filling process, they dumped the water again.

From what I heard, it seems that they struggle to bring the water into the boiler. So they have to fetch the water in the tank into the boiler by dumping some water and steam.

Maybe the locomotive suffered problems with its injector?

While we wait for our locomotive fixed,  two diesel hauled trains arrive into the siding. Apparently they are stranded and couldn’t go in. One of them is a field train from Pandansari.  They can’t go in because our steam loco block their way.

So after some discussion with the steam locomotive crew, the diesel crew began to shunt their wagons into the position that hopefully wouldn’t block our way. In here they began to employ one unusual shunting method, where they use cable to haul the wagons.

This unusual method is common in sugarcane railway in Java, and it is meant to give free movement space for the loco, without having the train blocking its desired way.

After completing its duty, suddenly the small diesel suddenly broke down!

No problem! The big diesel helped giving it a push start.

Once its problem fixed, it haul the empty wagons into Pandanrejo direction while the big diesel return back into the mill.

I’m not sure how long would we have to wait in here. We should also be wise in spending our time as Paul and Hayden must catch the train to Banyuwangi this afternoon. So we must not spend too long time here.

But thankfully the wait is not forever, and within a few minutes our locomotive is returning back and ready to haul our train.

First it must move the wagons left by the small diesel into adjacent track.

You might wonder, wouldn’t it be better if they combine these wagons into our train?

There is a reason why they don’t do that. One of them is the quality of the sugarcane itself. This one freshly cut, while those on our train are no longer fresh. Mixing them can damage the quality of the produced sugar.

As soon as they completed the shunting work, the locomotive returns back to our train.

The spark from the firebox caused the grasses underneath to catch fire.

Well, now our train is really ready for return trip, and also photo runs.

Our first photo run took place when our train depart from Ketegan siding.

I believe it would have been perfect photo had the land in the foreground is used as ricefield.

Once we completed the photo run, we resume our journey. At one point I was thinking about photographing the train on one spot nearby. But since the sun is now on the west, it cause back light on our photos. So we decide to move forward to go to another spot.

While we were traveling, our train suddenly stopped in the albizia plantation.

I have to say that this place would have been a great place to photograph the train, had there was a clear spot.

Apparently this is what held us up: the big diesel that we saw earlier suffered from broken suspension. So it had to be put aside in the branchline.

We wait sometime until they clear the diesel loco from our track.

Once it cleared, we resume our journey. Somewhere along the way, one of the driver suggested us to take photo from an embankment on the track side. He said that it is a great spot. So we agree to take photo from this spot.

This place is actually near a tollway construction site. As an avid trainspotter who have seen this place for long time, the presence of the new tollway doesn’t just ruined the view, but also potentially endangering the rural area in here. There is a good chance that some real estate developers would see the place as a good site for their future projects. Such thing has happened in Sidoarjo which led to the demise of field lines in the area.

Nevertheless, just a few hundred meters from our previous spot, there is another spot where you can took the photo of the train with the backdrop of mount Bromo. This would have been a perfect spot had it not for the tollway construction site.

I was initially suggesting to photograph the train at the level crossing in Toyaning. But since the sun shine brightly on the west, it would create back light that ruined the photo. So we decided to move ahead.

Fajar told us that there is only one photo running left for us, because the locomotive is now running low on water, and its injector seems to develop troubles. Since some of the photography spots that I had last May are now fenced, we decide to do photo in one spot just to the east of Toyaning village.

As you can see in this photo, the spot is not really ideal. You can even see flares in the photo.

But nevertheless, we can still take a good photo in here.

The next spot is actually nearby. I initially suggest us to take photo of the train with the backdrop of mount Bromo. It is a rare occasion to be able to do this as the mountain frequently covered in clouds. But to my surprise, it was met with resistance from Paul, on a ground that “it will be a back light, and the train would look dark”.  But I make reasoning that the scenery would compensate the bad lighting. So we decided to take the photos from 2 different spots. Paul takes the photo from shady place near the track, while me and Hayden go into the rice field to take the train photo.

Well, I have to say that just like previous photo running; this one is also slightly less than perfect. It would have been better had the rice are fully grown, so it would give impression of grasslands. And the sun angle does indeed make the train looks rather dark. But nevertheless it’s satisfactory.

Upon returning back into the mill at 3’o clock, we quickly return back to the car. We are running out of time, because Paul and Hayden must catch the 4.10pm Sritanjung to Banyuwangi from Probolinggo. After bidding farewell to the locomotive crew, and also mill management staffs (plus settling the payment), we quickly drove into Probolinggo.

While we were traveling to Probolinggo, we reflect on how lucky we are today. Against all odds, we can have a steam tour on the field lines, our train hauling loaded sugarcane train, and despite of steam injector problem our train can safely return back to the mill in time. Hayden also praise the tenacity and creativity of the steam locomotive mechanics in Kedawung who were able to fix the locomotive in such short amount of time.

You can see the video here:

The trip to Probolinggo is, again, thankfully without any incidents and we manage to arrive at Probolinggo station 15 minutes before 4’o clock. Paul quickly ran out of the car and head to the ticket counter where he manage to secure tickets for both he and Hayden.

Once they unload all of their belongings, they start entering  the station. This tour has been a dramatic one. Things doesn’t go as straightforward as we expected, but nevertheless we got what we wanted. After we shook hand, and bidding farewell, we parted ways: Paul and Hayden goes into the platform to wait for their train, while I return back to my car.

What draw my attention, but I fail to photograph, is the fact that the station is full of European tourists. This station is the nearest railway station to the famed Bromo Tengger volcano national park. So it does make sense that it is full of those who wanted to visit the volcano, and those who continue their journey all the way to Bali.

Since I have nothing else to do for the remainder of the day, I decided to walk to the westerly direction where I can see the Probolinggo railway station yard clearly.

A few minutes later, the eastbound Sritanjung express finally arrives. This train will take Paul and Hayden, plus many multinational passengers to Banyuwangi.

As soon as this train passes, I return back to my car where I drove to look for a place to have a dinner. I remember before I came to Probolinggo I heard that there is one seaside eatery which serve great food at cheaper price. It is called “Beejay Bakau Restaurant”. Finding the place can be tricky because GPS give false direction while its location is deep inside Mangrove Park near the fishing harbor. If that’s not enough, there are layers of ticket booth that I must pass before arriving in the place.

The place is actually part of mangrove-themed amusement park in Probolinggo. It also has lovely looking entrance gate.

This place is quite vast and also includes some a resort hotel and several playgrounds.

It is also very windy, and walking on the wooden walkway can be a bit tricky due to strong wind.

In distance, I can also see mount Lamongan volcano looming in the distance.

Finding the restaurant can be confusing as none of the signs specifically mention the restaurant. It only says the lobby of the resort.

But I eventually find the restaurant. I took a seat and  then ordered crayfish in Singapore chili sauce. The price is not too bad, considering it include drinks and rice. But the taste is left more to be desired. Maybe I should ordered the black pepper sauce instead?

The sun already set by the time I finished my dinner. After paying the food bill I walk out into the mangrove, which is now illuminated by lights.

They have make this place looks attractive at night.

Amazingly, as the night progresses, more visitors began to come to this place. It seems that this place is indeed popular at night. But, I was too tired to enjoy the place further, so I decided to return back to the hotel for overnight rest and relax.


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2018 Java Steam and Sugar Tour. Leg 2 Day 5 (12 September 2018)

Today will be the highlight of our tour: steam locomotive tour at Kedawung sugar mill. Paul has seen the steam locomotive in the shed before, and he was really happy to see it reactivated after years of neglect. Hayden, upon hearing such news, is really keen to go for a ride. So much that he decided to trade steam train in Surakarta with this one. We are all excited to go for the steam tour.

For the leg east of Surabaya, I drove my own car. After leaving my house, I visit the hotel where both of them are staying. Upon coming in front of their room, I knocked the door. But surprisingly, there is no response. I wonder if they’re sleeping or going out?  I return back to the receptionist and asking the reception the whereabouts of Paul and Hayden. He said that both of them are going out to the nearby Galaxy Mall and will return back shortly. Upon hearing that, I decided to return back to my car. As I approaching my car, suddenly I see Paul coming from the mall direction. He walk leisurely alone, and then greeted me.

He said that he is going to the Starbucks restaurant in the mall as the internet connection in the hotel is non-existent, while on the other hand they want to stay in touch with their family and relatives in Australia. Indeed the Corica hotel has been a disappointment. As I look around, the hotel seems to be poorly maintained. Dust covers many surfaces around the hotel, including stair railings. Putrid smell can be felt on the lobby. The TV in the room is diminutive. And in addition, I sometime see the receptionist relaxing on the guest couch, even as the guest arriving.

I regret my choice of accommodating my guest in this hotel. In the past it was a great choice as it had good and pleasant service, not to mention near my home, and within walking distance from Galaxy Mall shopping center. Yet all came with good room rate. But upon seeing the decline of the service quality, I think it would be a good idea to choose other hotel for the next tour.

After packing up, we board my car and then we drive to Pasuruan. The trip to Pasuruan is quite uneventful. I’m glad that the road is largely clear with very little traffic jams. Paul had plied the same route last January when I took him to see the Kedawung sugar mill and its steam locomotives. But he is quite surprised that now the toll way has extended further than on his previous trip.

While we were driving, I suddenly receive phone call from my contact person at Kedawung sugar mill. In the past it would normally mean they wanted to monitor the progress of my journey. But to my disbelief, they’re delivering shocking news: the steam locomotive is out of action! One of the fire tubes is leaking water into the firebox, making it impossible to raise steam. They find this out earlier today when they ran the loco into the field to haul empties.

Oh my God, this is really saddening. We have a high hope that today will be a special day. But today we have to accept the fact that our locomotive is not available.  Considering the misfortune that we have endured at Madiun (and also in Semboro for Paul and Hayden before they catch up with me) we wondered whether if our tour is jinxed?

But just like in Madiun, rather than skipping it altogether, we decided to just visit Kedawung sugar mill and see the condition by ourselves. Thanks to the new theme park at Kedawung, we can just go inside without needing to arrange permit letters. As soon as we get inside, I park my car in an office near the theme park’s toilet and also entrance door for field trains.

The theme park is largely quiet and all of the activities are just trucks traffic that hauling sugarcane. We head into the shed where inside the steam locomotive no.14 is sitting warm.

Although the firebox has been extinguished, the heat caused by this morning test run can still be felt. We can clearly see that water leaking from one of the fire tube. In this case it would actually extinguish the fire in the firebox.

While we were inspecting the train, one of the shed crew approaching us.

“You guys must be the group who want to charter this loco this morning” as he politely greeted us in Indonesian language.

I replied “Yes, we are. What happened with the loco?”

“One of its fire tubes is leaking. Me and my friend actually did some test running to haul some empties. But when we were about to return to the mill, I was surprised that the steam pressure dropped. Then when I check the firebox, I was shocked to see water leaking from one of the fire tubes. We were lucky that we could make it back into the mill before the loco expired” he explained the ordeal to me.

He showed us the troubled pipe, where it has series of small holes. Some of the holes are as big as baby’s arm. He also shows us the replacement pipe for our loco.

The pipe is actually not a new one. But it is taken from other disused locos and reconditioned before being installed into the no.14. They said that they can’t afford to buy new pipe because it’s too expensive for them. I wish if someone can help raising fund to repair and replace the loco’s spare parts with new ones. ….

Hayden, who have experience in maintaining steam locomotives, upon seeing this said that chance of having the loco reactivated while he and Paul is still in Java is almost nonexistent.  He said that he have had similar problem with his steam loco back in Australia. It took him 5 days to fully repair the locomotive, with assistance from some of his mates. Considering that we only have time until tomorrow for our tour, and no chance to extend as both of them must be in Bali by Friday, we would probably need to write off our steam tour in Kedawung…..

We withdraw to one food stall in the theme park where from there we can see a diesel locomotive who has just returned back from the field.

Just like in Pagottan, we also spending our time in Kedawung to photograph the static steam locos.

They’re interested to photograph this rare Backer & Rueb built Kedawung no.16 locomotive. Hayden said it reminds him to some Krauss locomotives back home in Australia.

The locomotive has a rich history that make it very unique. Aside of the fact that it was made in Netherlands, it was originally used on narrow gauge railway network at Bangka or Belitung island, before being transferred to Kedawung when its original railway network closed down.

Paul and Hayden entered the cab to see the details inside. They said that the loco is generally in good condition, but in need of major revamp to make it running again.

Although the loco now receive some attention from the mill management, I think the locomotive deserve a better treatment than what it is now. It’s just sad to see such very historic locomotive to be treated this way.

We walk back to the locomotive shed to see how everything is going. Apparently the mechanic who is the expert in repairing the steam locomotive has start working.

He is busy pumping the water into the locomotive to speed up the cooling process and also to detect if there are additional undetected holes.

It’s amazing that he can work alone fixing the locomotive, while Hayden would normally do similar task assisted by no less than 3 mechanics.

While we were watching, the shedmaster arrive and shook hand with us. He is a nice and friendly person who know me well as I have frequently visited Kedawung sugar mill, including hiring the steam loco in the past.

While we were having chat over the steam locos and also the state of railway operation in Kedawung in light of current tollway construction in the estate, one mechanic is busy welding the fire tube so it can be installed in the loco.

Paul also interested with one steam loco that is “stranded” in the middle of one storage shed. It is still part of the locomotive shed, but now turned into a storage shed. Even the access track is no longer visible. It’s either buried or even removed!

When we go out, the diesel locomotives began to depart to the field to pick up sugarcane trains. It’s already late in the afternoon.

The shed master invited us to drop by to his office where he treated us to nice cup of coffee (and tea for me). We have a pleasant and enjoyable conversation in here, and he is also amused by the fact that Paul understands Indonesian language.

A few minutes later, Mr. Huda who is the theme park coordinator arrives in the shed master’s office. I introduce him to Paul and Hayden and they’re happy to catch up with him. Although there is partial language barrier, we really enjoy our conversation. He apologized about the steam locomotive failure, but Paul assures him that it is actually okay. There is nothing to be worried about, as we are not upset about this.

We talked about the progress of the repair. He predicts that it would probably be fully completed by Saturday. If it’s true, it definitely robbed us chance to have great steam train excursion in here. Despite of our disappointment, we asked him and his crew to not to rush the repair process just to entertain us. It is wiser if they thoroughly repair the locomotive so the future visitors will not be disappointed.

While we were enjoying chat, Hayden seem to be distracted by the sight of large gecko (locally called “Tokek”) crawling on the wall, while I’m amused by the sight of old air conditioning units on the wall. The machine on the left is now considered as ancient and very rare.

But perhaps the most interesting sight has to be an old photo which showing a steam locomotive on the field lines. The photo was probably taken in 1950s, 1960s, or even early 1970s when color photography was still a luxury.

The shed master said that it was probably taken at Rejoso.

We truly enjoyed our conversation this afternoon, so much that it becomes something of a consolation after our failure to charter the steam locomotive today. After we’re satisfied with our visit, we decide to bid farewell to them and resume our journey to the east.

Tonight we will stay overnight at Probolinggo where tomorrow we will visit Semboro sugar mill where from there I will drop Paul and Hayden at Tanggul station where from there they catch the train to Banyuwangi and bus to Bali, while I return back to Probolinggo before returning back to Surabaya on following day.

Probolinggo is just a short drive Kedawung. The traffic is light, so much that within 45 minutes we reach the town without too much trouble.

Now I remember, in the town’s museum there is one steam locomotive preserved there. I wonder if Paul and Hayden are interested? I asked them whether if they like to pay visit, in which they say yes. Upon arriving at the town, we head straight to the museum where we visit the locomotive which is now displayed at one corner of the museum’s garden.

Built by Orenstein & Koppel in Berlin, Germany, in 1906, it was delivered to Wonolangan sugar mill on the outskirt of Probolinggo town at around the same year.

What is unique about this locomotive is the fact that it is a mallet locomotive. The locomotive was probably the star locomotive at Wonolangan sugar mill.

But what makes it special is the fact that the locomotive is really small for a mallet loco. It’s even smaller than Kedawung no.14.

Mallet locomotives are normally larger than the Klien-Lindner axle locomotives, but this one is smaller.

According to some railway historians, this locomotive is among the smallest mallet steam locomotive in the world. Or maybe it is indeed the smallest. Unfortunately, the information display is torn.

She was delivered in Java with her twin, who served at Gending sugar mill which is located slightly further away from Probolinggo.  Again the information display is torn.

Although twin, she actually have different gauge than her sister. This loco runs on 700mm gauge, while the one that delivered to Gending have 600mm gauge. Both locos were operated up until 1970s when they were sidelined due to unresolved technical problems. Maintaining mallet locos are more difficult than conventional ones, and smaller size probably adding the complexity of the task.

After being derelict for more than a decade, both locos were eventually preserved in 2 different places that are thousand kilometers apart! While the Wonolangan one is now preserved at this museum, the Gending loco is now at Frankfurt in full working condition! That loco was repatriated back to Germany in 1997 (with the help of German chancellor at that time, Mr. Helmut Kohl and also German-educated Indonesian agriculture minister) where it is now reside at Frankfurt Feldbahn museum, it was painstakingly restored to working condition and eventually return back to working condition in 2008 where it is still running until now.

Once we are satisfied with our visit, we head to our hotel which is actually located a block from where the museum is located. It is named “Bromo Park Hotel”.

This is probably the first decent hotel in the town of Probolinggo. Previously, all of the hotels in Probolinggo are old style “losmen” budget hotels with mediocre facilities and service. If you’re looking for something better you had to dig deeper in your pocket as those hotels are located near mount Bromo with exorbitant room rates.

And it also has reasonable room rate too, not exorbitant like those near mount Bromo.

As soon as I park the car, we head up where we checked in into our room.

The check in went smoothly and we are now ready to go up to our room.

This hotel is quite unique: despite of its lavish design, and rather high room rate, it doesn’t have swimming pool.

Indeed its ranking is unclear: is it a budget or middle class hotel?

We head up to our floor with the elevator.

I have to admit that this hotel is stylish. Although the maze of labyrinth made me struggle to find my room, especially the signs are poorly displayed.

At the end of the alley near my room, there is a window that overlooks mount Bromo. Thanks to the clear weather, I can see the volcano clearly.

Even mount Semeru, which is the highest mountain in Java, is also visible. Its summit can be seen slightly to the left of the photo.

I later entered my room, which is quite nice one.

It is indeed quite artistic, with minimalist style architecture that combine element of local culture and attraction.

My room’s window overlooking the northern part of the town where the Java sea can be partly seen in the distance.

The shower room is also nice and clean.

Although this hotel is around the same age as Swiss Bel Inn Saripetojo in Solo, it seem to be poorly maintained. So much that there are wear and tears visible.

Once we settling down, and cleaning up, we going out to have a dinner. We decided to have a dinner in one restaurant nearby named “Sari Kuring”.

We found that the restaurant bore resemblance to our hotel: despite of lavish appearance, their service and even their food menu is mediocre.

While we were having our dinner, we made discussion about what to do on tomorrow. Would we proceed to Semboro, or perhaps having second look at Kedawung.

Paul, who is still not satisfied with what we see in Kedawung propose us to revisit the place. Who know if they will miraculously fix the problem and can bring out the steam loco for excursion?

But Hayden is pessimistic. He said that for leaking fire tube, the process to fully repair it will take long. He said that it took him one day just to remove the fire tube from his steam loco in Australia. And then another day to have it repaired. Reinstalling the pipe would take another day. So, as Hayden added, the mill’s prediction that the repair work would be completed by Saturday might be accurate.

Well, it seem that our hope have steam excursion tour in Kedawung may not happen after all, and we probably have to write off our chance to have the steam tour there.

Or is it?


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2018 Java Steam and Sugar Tour. Leg 2 Day 4 (11 September 2018)

I’ve to admit that our visit to Madiun this year has been a disappointment. Our wish to see the steam locomotives in action have been ruined by early cessation of crushing season. We didn’t expect this because on previous years sugar mills in Madiun would stop crushing either in late September or even early October. My previous steam tour in Madiun in 2015 even took place in late September and we had a great times watching all of the steam locos in action. So this year’s early end caught us by surprise.

Today I woke up earlier than yesterday. I even able to photograph mount Wilis with more hospitable lighting than yesterday.

In our planned itinerary, today we will check out the hotel and catching the train back to Surabaya. Initially we supposed to check out in the morning, sometime around 9am, and then paid visit to one sugar mill to see the steam locomotives in action, before going to railway station to catch the train. But since all mills are closed, we decided to spend the morning with free activities around the hotel before going to station to catch our train.

Although the breakfast starts at 6, I decided to go out to buy some local snacks to be brought back home to my parents. I go out from the hotel and walked south to Mirasa snack shop. Along the way I was surprised by the sight of a group of students wearing colorful costume. It turned out that they’re celebrating Islamic New Year which fell on this day.

After I bought all of the snacks, I returned back to the hotel where I catch the glimpse of this large mansion. It’s probably the official residence of one government official

The receptionist of Amaris Madiun Hotel is quite unique where it feature mural  which illustrate Madiun railway station, complete with a departing train hauled by GE U18C (CC201) with elderly Indonesian State Railway logo.

Upon returning back to my room, I dropped my snacks and start packing up. As soon as I finished, I head down to the restaurant where I go to have breakfast. Paul and Hayden are already in the restaurant enjoying the breakfast.

Despite of yesterday’s shortcomings, they seem to enjoy the breakfast. Well at least we don’t leave this town empty handed. And the food menus are excellent too.

While we were enjoying breakfast, a loud music can be heard from the downstairs. Apparently the Islamic New Year parade is on. So, after we finished our breakfast, we head down into the main street to see the parade.

After watching the parade, we return back to our room where we packing up before checking out. The checking out process was no problem. Even better is the fact that they also provide transfer service from the hotel to the station. That saves our money from having had to hail the taxi.

Once we arrive in the station, we relaxed while waiting for our train to come.

Apparently they held a coffee event where several local café opened their booth in the station where passengers and visitors got their chance to sample the coffee. Paul, who is an avid coffee drinker, is very happy to sample some unique coffee varieties offered.

Since our train’s arrival time is getting near, we decided to get inside the platform. The station’s main entrance hall is now inside the sterile area of the station. Back in the old days, this is where people queuing to buy tickets and waiting for their train journey.

Now the ticket booth has been relocated to the former parcel loading facility, and this place is used purely to wait for your train.

As we entered the platform, a westbound Ranggajati train is waiting to depart. Our train is the one that head east.

Once the train departs, it’s all quiet in here.

I and Hayden wait in once corner of the platform while Paul head somewhere to photograph the train.

Although now is quiet period at Madiun station, there are still some shunting activities in here.

Like this petrol wagons who will be hauled into the branchline that feature street running section.

At 11.30, our train finally arrives.

I’m a bit surprised that actually there are a lot of passengers who embark this train from Madiun. Maybe they’re the people who work in Surabaya, who wanted to return back to city as the long weekend is about to end.

Our train is indeed packed. Its occupancy rate is said to be almost 100%. I think it’s a miracle that we manage to secure seats on this train. I initially plan to book cheaper economy class train tickets, but it was sold out before I manage to purchase it.

The journey to Surabaya was uneventful. I spend the journey by chatting with Paul or just sleeping. There is nothing special about our train journey to Surabaya. If there is a highlight, it has to be crossing with westbound Jayakarta express train at Boharan station.

Our train arrives just in time in Surabaya. Upon leaving the station we hail a taxi which took as to Corica Homestay where Paul and Hayden stay for the night in Surabaya. Since it is located near my house, it’s not difficult to go back home from there.


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2018 Java Steam and Sugar Tour. Leg 2 Day 3 (10 September 2018)

I woke up to one beautiful sunny and windy day in Madiun. Upon opening my window, I can clearly see mount Wilis in the distance. It’s truly a majestic view.

I went down stair to 2nd floor where they serve the breakfast. Since the hotel is a budget one, I expect the breakfast variety to be rather minimum. I’ve stayed in another Amaris hotel before and the food variety was slightly disappointing, so perhaps this hotel is no different. Yet, when I tastes some of its food, I found it quite delicious.

I enjoyed my breakfast on the outside, and I was really surprised by how strong the wind is. And the temperature was quite cool too, maybe in mid 20s. Perhaps the town’s close proximity to mountains made it susceptible to strong wind. But normally by midday the strong wind would subside and the temperature gets warmer.

While enjoying the breakfast, I also try to establish communication with contact person at Pagotan sugar mill, using Whatsapp. His name is “Fallen”. Quite a funny sounding name, but I guess it is related to “Valentino”. I asked him whether if I can get permission to visit the Pagotan sugar mill, and whether if they still do the milling and running the fireless locomotives.

His answer is quite shocking: Pagotan have ceased its crushing since a week ago! Obviously we will not see the fireless, and missing all of the steam workings at Madiun for this year. Fallen added that this year’s milling season has been unusually short. The competition with newly opened private sugar mills like KTM in Lamongan and GMM in Blora means the sugarcane supply from Madiun doesn’t just go to the sugar mills in Madiun, but also to those aforementioned mills. This is the reason why sugarcane supplies in Madiun runs out quicker than in previous seasons.

I was dismayed upon hearing this. What will Paul and Haden think about this? Would they get upset? I think it would be a good idea to conceal this first. I know Australians are not like Germans: while German hates (bad) surprises the Australian are generally more tolerant. And Paul’s good sense of humor often softens the tension caused by the troubles we faced. But still, I’m thinking about the right way to say this to Paul and Hayden.

No wonder why the government plans to reduce sugar mills in East Java. Combination of competition with private sugar mills and depleted farming lands means that in the future the number of sugar mills in Madiun would be much fewer than what it is now. There have been talks about upgrading one of the sugar mills in Madiun area to boost its production capacity. But this could mean the demise of other sugar mills and end of steam locomotive workings, making the place no longer attractive to steam locomotive enthusiasts.

So far one sugar mill in Madiun have fell victim to this: the Kanigoro sugar mill.

Not long afterward, Paul and Hayden turned up for breakfast. Apparently they have actually waked up earlier than I do. Paul has walked into the station to see the activities over there. Hayden visited one mall and tries to buy memory card for his phone. Although there are plenty of mobile phone shops who sell what Hayden needed, none of its employees understand English. This communication breakdown prevented Hayden from getting what he wanted.

Up until then, I decided to keep silent about the milling cessation and keep making small talks with them. I don’t want to ruin their breakfast, so I just try to make do the situation.

After breakfast, Paul returns back to his room while I accompany Hayden to the nearby shopping mall where  we buy memory cards for his phone. Upon buying his memory card, we return back to the hotel where start preparing our stuffs before we go exploring sugar mills (and whatever left for this year).

In our planned itinerary, our driver on yesterday will pick us up at 10.30 and then we will start exploring sugar mills in Madiun. In our initial plan, we supposed to visit no less than 4 sugar mills, but since the milling season have already ended we would probably visit just one.

Once our driver came, we board the car and head to Pagottan. It was during the journey that I began to open up to Paul and Hayden that Pagotan is no longer crushing for this year. In fact they have stopped milling a week earlier than Purwodadi. Both of them are obviously disappointed, but surprisingly not upset and even able to make joke about Fallen’s funny name.

Upon arriving at Pagottan, we tried to enter through its back door near the road yard and level crossing. But we found that the gate is tightly locked and there is no way to enter through here. Although we can clearly see the parked locomotives from this spot, they’re far deep inside the mill. So we have no choice but to enter legally through the front entrance.

We went into the front entrance, where from there we were directed into the main office. Once there I finally able to meet with Fallen. “Fallen comrade” in Paul’s joke.  He greeted us and once there we discussed about the state of current sugar industry in Madiun, and how the changing trend can threaten the future of sugar mill, and obviously the rare steam locomotives operation in here.

Personally, I’m already saddened by the loss of field lines operation in Madiun area. And the news about the threat to the sugarcane railway operation in Madiun already saddens me further. This means that the piece of my childhood days will disappear.

I remember when I was kid in 1980s I frequently visited Madiun as my father’s extended family lives here, and I could see how extensive the narrow gauge railway lines network was. But then upon returning back again in mid 2000s, after a long break due to my study in Australia, I notice all are gone now (in case of Pagottan, according to Fallen, they closed down their field lines in mid 1990s), so hearing the threat of the total closure of railway operations is just heartbreaking.

Alright, enough of the story. Upon clearing all of the administrations, we start exploring the yard where we see all of the fireless locomotives are parked.

Back in 2014, the loco no.6 was not used. But I believe that this year, the loco was used extensively. The loco, along with no. 7, is unique that it has inside frame.

Normal Luttermöller axle locomotive, like no.8, normally has outside frame, to make it easier to arrange this unique configuration.

These 3 locos are probably the last Luttermöller axle locomotives still in use in Indonesia.

Up until in 2014, Tasikmadu VI was the only other Luttermöller axle steam locomotive in use outside Pagotan, and probably the last conventional one as those in here have now been converted into fireless locos (they were converted in 2011).

And next to the steam locos are Pagotan’s fleet of diesel locomotives.

Unlike many sugar mills in Java, where their diesel traction are Japanese made, it seems that all of Pagotan diesels are German built, making Pagotan fleet of locomotives as all-Germans.

But perhaps the most unique of their diesel is the number 2.

Pagotan diesel no.2 is one of very few built by Orenstein & Koppel.

The builder have produced many steam locomotives for narrow gauge sugarcane railway in Indonesia, but very few of their diesels are seen in here, let alone in working condition.

Its driving console is unique as it features large levers normally seen on steam locomotives.

The locomotive still retain its builder plate, although it is partly covered in paint.

And just like many German industrial diesel locomotives in Java, it is powered by Deutz engine.

But uniquely, this engine was built in collaboration with Mitsui, a famous Japanese engineering firm. Other Deutz engines are either built by Deutz themselves or in collaboration with MWM.

We walk to the shed direction, where along the way we came across wreck of locomotives.

The diesel number 3 is one of the disused locomotives in Pagotan. And it is probably sidelined either due to irreparable damage or to provide spare parts to its siblings.

And next to it is steam locomotive no.1

This loco is not among those that converted into fireless steam loco. And it was probably retired around the same time when Pagotan closed down its field lines.

In the nearby hut, I found a locomotive tender is stuffed next to it. It’s just a sad sight.

And I also notice one locomotive buried under the thick vegetation.

Upon close inspection I realize that this is actually the steam locomotive no.3

Pagotan’s locomotive shed has unassuming appearance, and can deceive newcomers as it is located in a rather awkward position, as the track that lead to it has a very sharp curve and on our visit it is buried under the ashes. From the distance, you would mistake it as tractor’s garage.

But as we get closer, we can clearly see that it is a locomotive shed.

The shed is largely empty, and only one lone diesel loco is inside.

The diesel no.1 is one of the diesel locos that I saw at work during my visit in 2014. But now it seem to be in disused condition.

Generally there were very little to be seen in the shed. Even there are no locomotives roster board in the shed. So we decided to go out to see the locos again.

Paul wanted to see where the steam filling station is located, but our minder warned us against visiting the site, because it is cordoned by police line due to recent workplace accident.

What is not visible in the photos that I took at Pagotan is ashes that flying around caused by cleanup activity in the mill. It truly made us uncomfortable.

A few minutes later, Paul and Hayden returns back, and then we bid farewell to the mill management (including Fallen/”Fallen behind” in Paul’s word), and going out to have some lunch. We decided to have a lunch at a famous Nasi Pecel 99 restaurant in the town.

This restaurant is quite famous as it is frequented by public figures and dignitaries.

While we were having lunch, we discussed about how we will spend the remainder of the day in Madiun. Obviously there is nothing to be seen now as all sugar mills with steam locomotives have stopped crushing.

Then I remember something that we missed on yesterday: Purwodadi sugar mill now opens a new theme park in its premises. I’m suggesting to Paul and Hayden about visiting the place. After some discussion, they agree on that. Once we paid our food bill, we return back to our car and head to Purwodadi.

The theme park is located on northeast corner of the mill complex, right on the corner of the road junction near the entrance. Going in is not extremely difficult as now they open up some of the gates to make it easier to get into the park. Our first destination is to see Purwodadi no.1 which is displayed near the new theme park entrance.

This loco is among those that were withdrawn early. I believe it was probably retired around the same time as when Purwodadi closed its field lines.

Indeed, some remains of the field lines can be seen just next to the locomotive right next to the main road. When I visited the mill in 2015, this point was largely intact and it was even passable. But not it has largely been dismantled.

There is also a railway bridge near the locomotive monument. I wonder if this used to be an entrance for field trains who came from the north?

Just like in Kedawung, the presence of theme park allows visitors to go into the yard without too much bureaucracy. I believe this would have been a great place to photograph train movements, had the crushing season is still on.

The concept of the amusement park is quite simple, it is just a leafy corner of the mill complex that is added with gimmicks to make it “Instagrammable”.

There is also a food court at one corner of the theme park where visitors can have meal or drinks before exploring the theme park. They even have amusement train which travel along some lines inside the mill, although when we were there it didn’t run.

We walk deeper into the theme park where we found out that they have also built some “Tree houses” to allow visitors to see theme park from above…..for railway enthusiast this is really beneficial.

The theme park ends where the old weighbridge is located.

We climbed up there we can see this weighbridge building which was probably built in 1950s.

From above, you can see the theme park and the yard clearly.

The mill building can be seen in the distance. Although the sugarcane traffic have ceased for this year, I can clearly see that the mill machineries are still at work, even the smokestack still emitting some smoke.

I also catch the glimpse of where the locomotive shed is located. A tender of locomotive no.10 is now parked there. I last saw the loco at work in 2015, because when I visited Purwodadi mill again in 2017, it was not working.

Underneath the tree near the weighbridge, there is one diesel locomotive preserved in the theme park.

This locomotive was favorite workhorse in here during early days of dieselization.

But due to mechanical problems, it was eventually sidelined.

Indeed, I’ve never seen this loco at work throughout my visits at Purwodadi. I believe decades ago, she had passed through this spot too, hauling sugarcane trains from the field.

Although it is no longer serviceable, its driving cab interior seem to be largely intact. Even the builder plates are still there.

Now the days of field workings at Purwodadi are over and the weighbridge sat abandoned. All of the sugarcane are now weighed at the truck weighbridge in the road yard.

Even its interior looks almost empty. Only one weigh scale left in inside.

While I was busy looking at the weighbridge, Paul and Hayden suddenly jumped the fence and wandered inside the yard. I wonder if it’s okay as we didn’t “knock the front door” first.

As I walk along the yard, I can see some mud wagons parked near the weighbridge.

I believe when the field lines were still open, they frequently used these wagons to carry the mud to be dumped somewhere in the field.

But a few meters from the mud wagons, I came across the surprising sight of dumped locomotive boiler.

I wonder where does this boiler originally belong to? I know Purwodadi have scrapped some steam locomotives in the past, so this boiler must belong to one of them.

Paul and Hayden walked really quickly, so much that I struggled to keep up with them. They’re heading to the shed direction where the amusement train coaches are parked nearby.

The place is so quiet, and I don’t even see any security officers around. I was just hoping that we would be alright.

I’ve been to Purwodadi sugar mill before, and seeing their steam locomotives in action. But this is the first time I see their locomotive shed (albeit from the outside) and seeing their locomotives sitting cold.

Like this number 10, which was working hard in 2014 and 2015, but when I revisit the place in 2017 it was already out of action.

And other regular locomotives were there too.

Like no.16 and 15 which have been repainted into dark green color.

This is the first time I see them in the new livery, although unfortunately too late to see them in action.

Next to those locos, there are also other locomotives in blue livery that seem to have been out of action for long. One loco even only have the cab roof and cowcatcher left. But the loco on the right intrigued me: it is also numbered 15! It means that Purwodadi sugar mill have 2 locomotives numbered 15.

While we were busy enjoying the sight of locomotives, someone poked our back. It’s the security! Well, unlike in the road yard where you’re free to go in and out as you like, in the main mill compound it’s a bit stricter. He told us that we’re not allowed to be in here. And the presence of foreigners would surely add the drama, as some Indonesian sees them as “cash cow”. He quickly reported our presence through the HT radio.

But since his English is poor he only confronts me while paying very little attention to Paul and Hayden. So he didn’t do anything when both of them slowly returning back to the theme park. Paul said “C’mon Bagus. Leave him alone, it will be alright”. I replied “No Paul, I don’t think it’s a good idea. What if he reports this to Police? It’s okay Paul, I can handle this. I’ll see you later in the theme park.”

He asked me whether if I have permit to be here. And I show him the letter. I believe must be quite stunned to see an intruder like us turned out to have official letter from headquarter in Surabaya. Well, honestly, I do have official permit from PTPN XI headquarter in Surabaya. But since coming in officially means that I would have to pay hefty entrance fee, I decided not to do that. Is it worth spending IDR 250K per person just to see these silent locos? Especially since the shed crew are nowhere to be seen, it would be a ripoff to spend any money for entrance fee.

The wait for the security staff from main entrance is quite long. And I also notice that this security guy seem to be a bit slow and occasionally lapse to daydreaming. I was thinking about escaping slowly by pretending to act like making leisurely walk and seeing around the shed. At first nothing goes wrong, he doesn’t seem to mind when I walk into the shed and paying little to attention to what I do. Since I acted normally in relax manner, he didn’t put any suspicion on me and probably thought that I wouldn’t go anywhere. I’ve done similar trick in the past (notably during my high school days to escape unnecessary and tiring ceremonies) and it was normally successful.

But as I was getting further from him, his superior from the main security post arrived. Oh well, now I can’t escape!

He introduced himself, and then asking me to ride with him into the main security post in front entrance. Trying to be a good citizen, I just follow his instruction. While riding, I can see all of the activities inside the mill. The security guy said that although all of sugarcane has been crushed, they still do some activities where they process sugarcane juice into processed sugar.

Once we arrive at the main post, he asking about my companies: who are they, where they come from, and what is their purpose of coming. In order to avoid from divulging too much information that would reveal my status as tour guide who escort a pair of Australian railway enthusiasts, I told them that they are my friends from railway enthusiast community, they came from Bali, and their purpose is just for vacationing in here. I have to be really careful to avoid from going into further details and revealing to that I’m a paid guide who traveling with foreigner.

Amazingly, they’re satisfied with my answer, and decided to let me go. I wasn’t even required to fill “guest book”, normally mandated by any visitors. I bid farewell to them and walk in relaxed pace to avoid impression as if I’m trying to get away from them.

Upon arriving back to theme park, I found Paul and Hayden enjoying coffee in the food court. They’re asking how it has been. I replied that thankfully it went without further incident. It told them my story on how did I dodge the security by giving them “honest answer”. Paul and Hayden laughed upon hearing my story. Paul said “Well at least you’re telling them the truth. Selected truth that is!”

Once we finished our drink we return back to our car and head back to Madiun for overnight rest and relax and also saying goodbye to our drive that have been really helpful throughout our visit in Madiun.


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2018 Java Steam and Sugar Tour. Leg 2 Day 2 (9 September 2018)

Paul and Hayden are really pleased by how comfortable the hotel is. They’re really impressed by how opulent the hotel is, yet it is located just next to the Solo-Yogya mainline. This makes Swiss Bel Inn Solo as a perfect hotel to do trainspotting.

Paul commented that his wife, Laurel, is quite picky when it came about accommodation when traveling overseas. She used to accompany her husband, even when hunting steam locomotives in Java in 1980s during their honeymoon. Back then she didn’t mind to stay in rough and shady hotels. But as she grew old, she becomes less adventurous and would prefer only to stay in decent accommodation.

So I ask Paul whether if she would accept to stay in this hotel. Paul replied that she would definitely give thumbs up. Hayden joked that such accommodation should be called “Laurel-grade”!

In today’s itinerary, a driver from Madiun will pick us up from our Solo hotel, where after we checking out he will take us to visit Agrowisata Sondokoro theme park at Tasikmadu sugar mill and then taking us to Madiun.

After finishing our breakfast, we return back to our room to start packing up and having shower.  Once everything is completed, we go into the lobby where we arrange our check out process. Upon completing the check out, I made phone call to the driver from Madiun. Although we supposed to meet at 10am, it turned out that he has been waiting in the hotel’s parking since 08.30! He goes straight to the lobby where he introduced himself, and then we start loading our luggage into the car and head straight to Tasikmadu sugar mill in Karanganyar (about 30 minute drive to the east of Solo).

Upon arriving we were greeted by the sight of Tasikmadu X displayed near the entrance.

This locomotive ran on the same gauge as State Railway’s mainline, and was used to haul sugar and molasses between Tasikmadu sugar mill and Kemiri station. If I’m not mistaken, the service was suspended in 1988, at around the same time where Indonesian State Railway cut the contract with many sugar mills.

I’ve just found out that they have relocate their old steam roller into one restaurant building near where the excursion train hauled by Borsig loco normally depart.

There were no steam locomotives to be seen. Indeed none of the excursion trains are to be seen, despite of crowded activities in the theme park. I wonder if they have abolished the train service?

While waiting for the  progress in here, we visit the “Doon” steam locomotive monument.

This loco is one of 2 cape gauge steam locomotives preserved here (aside of Tasikmadu X). Built by Backer & Rueb in Breda, Netherlands, it originally belonged to Surabaya tram company, the loco was disposed by its former company and purchased by the Javanese royal family who own Tasikmadu sugar mill to be used for royal inspection train.

Since  there are no images of the loco working in 1980s or 1970s, we assume that it was withdrawn in 1950s when the royal family lost its influence in independent Indonesia.

A few minutes later, we hear sounds of whistle approaching us. Well, to my relief, apparently the steam locomotives are still in use.

And then a second whistle coming to us. It turned out the second steam train is operational too.

Well, it’s good to know that it is business as usual every Sunday in Tasikmadu.

They probably don’t haul sugarcane trains like they used to be, but at least having steam locomotives running is an interesting spectacle in modern day era.

One of the locomotives used for amusement train is a Borsig built steam loco. Built in 1908, she is 110 years old now.

The train looks packed today.

And when it departed we recorded the train as it start accelerating. It’s always a pleasant sight to see.

Hayden have just completed taking pictures of Doon loco, and keen to see something different. So I suggesting if we take the picture of the Borsig as it approached the theme park.

We walked to the southerly direction, leaving the theme park and then crossing the main yard, which is quite busy. And right on that spot we can take picture of the train, as if it’s traveling on the field lines.

Real field working have long gone from Tasikmadu. From what I gather from internet sources, the last field working in Tasikmadu probably took place in 2000 harvesting season, and it was just minimal and probably hauled by diesel. Land encroachment and looting of railway tracks is said to lead to the demise of field workings in Tasikmadu.

Interestingly, when Agrowisata Sondokoro theme park first opened in 2008, a stretch of field lines extending several kilometers to the west of Tasikmadu’s road yard was used for theme park’s steam trains. But that line didn’t last long.  Frequent stealing of rails and sleepers, combined with the closure of track that connect road and main yard led to the closure of this line, and the steam trains are now confined to run around the mill complex.

From there, we walk to the locomotive shed which is located nearby. I feel a bit worried to let them  go there as in recent times I heard foreigners are barred from visiting Tasikmadu’s loco shed without permission. That is due to the suspected news that an European railway enthusiasts wanted to buy one of Tasikmadu’s steam loco, but met with resistance from management.

To anticipate unwanted incidents, which would arose if a security staff turned up; I decided to stand up in front of the shed while overlooking Paul and Hayden who look around the shed area. In case of emergency, I must act as troubleshooter where I would have negotiated with security staffs to get out of the trouble. That is the reason why I don’t take many photos in the locomotive shed area.

If I did take a photo, it is the photo of this box van parked next to the main locomotive shed.

While many visitors would ignore this wagon, we are actually curious on what did they use this wagon for. Although it ran on 750mm, it is obviously used for hauling solid products, highly likely to be refined sugar, not freshly cut sugarcane or mud. The railway services that haul refined sugar products did exist, but it ran on 1067mm line and used State Railway’s box vans.

So what did they used this van for, and where did they haul it into?

Paul and Hayden eventually concluded their activities in locomotive shed area without any incident. I’m relieved! So we head back to the theme park.

Along the way we catch the view of tractor pushing sugarcane wagons.

This is actually a sad sight as the management’s decision to replace steam locomotives with tractor robbed the excitement of visiting railway enthusiast. The sight of giant Tasikmadu VI making loud chugging and whistle, assisted by equally loud Tasikmadu V, is now gone into the history.

Upon returning back into the theme park, Paul suggesting to ride one of the steam train. We eventually choose the one hauled by Tasikmadu I.

As soon as the train stopped, we get onboard the first coach, just behind the locomotive. We waited long on the train. We asked the crew why they wait so long. They said that they would only dispatch the train once the passengers numbered more than 10. Since we are the only one onboard, obviously it wouldn’t run soon.

The waiting time is so long that even at one point our train have to move to give way for the train hauled by the Borsig to pass through.

Once the Borsig pass, our train return back to its position. And not long after that, about 20 people turn up and boarded our train. And before long, we start traveling around the mill, and enjoying the bumpy and noisy excursion ride. I didn’t take any photo or video of the trip as I have done it several times before.

Upon completion of the journey, we disembark and heading to take picture of the Borsig loco.

And not just that, we decided to go out into the entrance way to photograph the train hauled by this Borsig loco as it rounding the curve in front of the theme park/mill entrance. The light is really good.

I recorded the video of the train as it travel around the mill.

We think we have enough for the day and head back to the theme park where we are preparing ourselves for the journey to Madiun.

The winding down of today’s theme park activity is apparent as Tasikmadu I is seen hauling empty train. It’s probably heading back to the shed.

The diesel hauled train is the last to run for today. It is seen traveling in front of employee housing complex, giving the appearance as if it’s traveling along the countryside.

As soon as we finished taking photo, we return back to our car where from here we head straight to Madiun.

Unlike previous tours where the journey to Madiun were undertaken on the main highway to the north of mount Lawu, this time we go through the hilly section at Tawangmangu, right at the foot of mount Lawu. It is the first time I traveled through this route since 1993, or 25 years ago!

Back then, I wasn’t a fan of narrow gauge sugarcane train, and probably traveled at night. So I didn’t pay attention to the Tasikmadu’s field lines at Matesih area. But now, although the rails have long gone, I’m still able to catch the glimpse of the former roadbeds.

I’m truly surprised by how hilly or even how steep the line is. Unlike the existing field lines in East Java,  parts of Tasikmadu’s field lines also served the hilly section near Matesih. No wonder why they bought big locomotives like Tasikmadu VI.  And this hilly terrain is the reason why there was a fatal runaway sugarcane train accident in 1990, which led to the closure of the field lines in Matesih.

Since I don’t do the driving, it allow me to take a lot of photos of the scenery since the clear sky makes mount Lawu clearly visible.

Back in the old days, taking picture of mount Lawu can be tricky as the mountain sometime covered in thick cloud, even in the middle of dry season!

Although it looks like a single large cone when seen from the train, closer inspection when we travel through the south clearly reveal that mount Lawu has multiple summits.

The rich and fertile volcanic soil, added with abundance of water supply allows the farmer to grow crops productively.

In a few minutes we arrive at Tawangmangu, the mountain resort town at the foot of mount Lawu. This is the first time I visited this place after decades of break. This town is famous for its cool climate, and also large waterfall. Tawangmangu reminds me of Lembang and Puncak in West Java or Batu in East Java: a mountain resort town that fell victim to its own popularity. You wouldn’t find serene and peaceful scenery in here. Instead the town is jam packed with ugly looking villas, hotels, shops, and restaurants that virtually blocking visitor’s view from the scenery, making it too urban for mountain resort.  If that’s not enough, sometime people organize noisy concert that would surely deafen almost everyone in the town.

The sight of majestic looking of mount Lawu truly fascinate us, so much that we decided to make brief stopover to photograph this volcano from “close distance”.

If that’s not enough, while we move further more beautiful scenery of mount Lawu began to unfold.

In Cemoro Sewu, which is the “nearest” point to the summit of mount Lawu (not that near because it still require 4-5 hours of climbing for able bodied climbers to reach the top) we can clearly see that mount Lawu is not exactly conical as it has two summits. Its active vent is located in the valley between the summits.

Beyond Cemoro Sewu, we couldn’t see mount Lawu as the road is mostly located in cuttings.

Our skilled driver knows the shortest way to reach Madiun, so he chooses to take the old main road which was last used as main highway 3-4 years ago.

He said that this road is probably the one that I passed through on my previous trip in here, 25 years ago!

The authority built new main road alignment to avoid this stretch because some parts of it feature very steep gradient where one can be clearly seen in these photos.

The remainder of the journey went uneventful. We passed through the town of Plaosan and Magetan and its surrounding countryside. Then upon arriving at Maospati junction, near Iswahyudi air base we head north to Purwodadi sugar mill.

Upon arriving at Purwodadi, we were shocked to find that it’s closed already! No steam locomotives nor sugarcane trains to be seen!

Back in the old days, or even up until 2017, we would see hive of activities where pair of steam locomotives assisted by diesels hauling and pushing sugarcane trains in here, as the milling season would normally last until end of September or even early October!

But today we see no activities in here. All sugarcane wagons sit empty and motionless, while the locomotives are nowhere to be seen.

While Paul and Hayden exploring the yard, I was met by one security guard who patrolling the place. I asked him when they stopped milling, because back in the past early September was still the peak season. He replied that the mill closed about 12 hours ago. Wow! This truly gave the phrase “a few hours late” to a whole new meaning!

I wonder if all mills in Madiun have closed. He said that Pagottan and Rejoagung might still do the milling. Since my permit is issued by PTPN XI, which owned Pagottan but not Rejoagung, obviously we will spend our time tomorrow visiting the former.

We head to Madiun afterward where upon arriving in the town, we checked in into the hotel and bid farewell to our driver.

For this tour we stay at Amaris Madiun, a budget hotel that is part of Santika Hotel Group. This hotel is strategically located right in the middle of the town where many of its shopping malls are within easy walking distance.

Being a budget hotel, its facilities are obviously no match with Swiss Bel Inn. But nevertheless, the facility is outstanding for cheap hotel.

I initially planned to accommodate our tour group at Aston Hotel Madiun. But upon learning that their room rates have increased a lot since the last time I stay there in 2015, I decided to look for cheaper hotel. Indeed the nominal value of Amaris room rate is equivalent to Aston’s room rate in 2015!

We spend the evening by looking for something to eat. Although there are some vegan friendly fare around the town (like the iconic Nasi Pecel), we eventually eat at street side food stall who sell fried rice and noodle.

We truly enjoy the menu. It tasted moderately delicious.

Although our hotel is located next to a restaurant, its menu doesn’t seem to be vegan friendly. So we never ate there.

I would actually love to eat there by myself, but it never happened as I would be too tired and my stomach is full.

We spend the rest of the evening relaxing and chatting in Paul’s room. Paul recall the days in past where he first come to explore the railways in Java in 1979 with his then girlfriend, Laurel. And also several years later with Hayden.

He remember back then he rode the Madiun-Ponorogo market train which plying the street running and also serving the sugar mills on that line. I asked him whether if he had rode some field trains in Madiun, in which he replied no. He also tell the story on how sparks emitted from B50 steam locomotive on a trip to Ponorogo damaging Laurel’s clothes. He said that she still kept that particular clothes in her closet. Madiun was a very colorful place for railway enthusiast back then as the place offer variety of steam locomotive attractions.

As we’re getting tired, I bid farewell to them and head back to my room to go to sleep.


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