In my opinion, the visit to Sumberharjo mill would be the pinnacle, or the most significant mill that we will visit.
There are several reasons behind that:
- Sumberharjo mill is the only mill throughout our journey that still operate their field lines
- Not just that, it is also regularly deploying its steam locos into the field lines. Making it as one of only two sugar mills in Java who remain to do so as in 2014
Combined with the fact that I had driven a long way to reach this place, I do personally have high expectation on my visits (we allocate two days for Sumberharjo mill).
We did actually made some survey at our first night in Pemalang. But we didn’t see much as it was already dark. But we did explore some parts of its western field lines.
Unlike the previous mill visits in the area, this time we don’t have to endure a long drive through the busy highway. I even joked that if we want to, we could actually walk all the way from the hotel to the mill. Apparently, Paul took it as a challenge, so he decided not to join Hayden and Geoff in the car and instead, he walked! Yup he really walked all the way from the hotel to the mill!
So it was three of us who eventually travel by car to the Sumberharjo mill, while Paul walked!
It wasn’t really difficult to find the mill. It is located to the south west of the town. And thanks to the assistance by GPS, we could eventually find the way to the mill. At some point we did came across abandoned tracks, but eventually we find the one that still remain in operation. We followed the track when we eventually found this one!
This is an excellent start for today! Apparently the number 10 is shunting some empty wagons.
We crossed the river to get a good shot of the locomotive, while it departed into the mill.
Soon we returned back to our car and chased after the loco. Since it traveled at speed similar to walking pace, it wasn’t really difficult to overtake the train.
We stopped at one spot near the mill where we took the photo of the train as it entered the yard.
Apparently there was another foreign railfans in the spot. His name is Wilson, and he is from Australia. He said had been in the area since the previous day. He did mentioning several things about the locomotive activities around the mill, including the elusive steam field working.
We followed the train until it stopped in a double track section near the village.
We took the opportunity to photograph this beautiful train.
Apparently this train stopped to give way to the diesel loco who hauled the empty wagons.
Little did we know that it was actually a field working. Not just a shunting.
The locomotive’s unassuming appearance belies the fact that it is a “mainline” locomotive.
In the distance, we can see the smokestack of Sumberharjo mill as it puffed a column of smoke.
Once the diesel train left, the steam loco moved forward, then reversed to put its train of empty wagons into a line branched from this yard.
Moments later a tractor appeared and finishing to job of bringing the wagons into the line.
Once all of its wagons are cleared, the loco reversed into a shady place in the yard, where its driver went out and relaxing.
The loco might be a remnant of steam age, but the sign of modernization is apparent in a form of mobile phone. The driver even receives his order through his mobile phone!
I did asked him whether if the loco will do some field lines working. He said it will, but the work will be done in the afternoon.
So we just decided to photograph the loco as it made return journey to the shed.
Once we finished photographing the loco we returned back to our car, where we decided to obtain official permit from the administration office. This time we came as good boys!
When we went to the car, we came across some school boys who are returning back to home. They’re happy to see foreigners coming to the village.
Later, we came to the administration office, which is located in an old former elite housing area (but now in a rather dilapidated state). The admin building itself, I believe, might once a very beautiful and grandeur building but now in a need of repair.
We were received by the security which then took us to the person who normally handles foreign visitors in the mill. He welcomed us in friendly manner, and charged a reasonable amount of money for our visit: 150.000 rupiahs. The smallest amongst all the mills that we visited in the area. He also offered us to hire the steam locomotives with additional fee. When we asked about the amount of money needed, he asked us to see the shed master personally.
So once we completed our matters with the admin, we proceeded to the mill. After I found a shady spot to park the car, we entered the mill where we first visited the locomotive shed.
It seemed that number 9 is being prepared for today’s work. The engineers have just starting the fire when we visited the shed.
Just like most steam locos in here, it was built by DuCroo & Brauns.
As we entered the mill, Geoff and Hayden started taking pictures of the locomotives. I went to the shed master’s office, where he accepted me in a rather bored but expecting mood. We talked about the locomotives allocation, operation, and the field workings.
He mentioned that at the moment there are about 7 steam locomotives and 2 diesel locomotives in working condition. Of all 7 steam locomotives, three are capable of field working while the other four are no longer allowed to run on field working as their tenders have been withdrawn. All of the steam tender locos are normally deployed for field working near the mill. The number 7 is said to be the biggest and most powerful loco, and it is the only steam loco capable of reaching the furthest point in their field lines. The diesels are normally used for long distance field working, as its economic fuel consumption allowed them to do so. The locos who work in a field working also have unusual working pattern. While in the sugar mills in East Java the loco would only dropped the empty wagons in the field, and returning back to the shed, and return back again in the afternoon to pick up loaded wagons; in Sumberharjo the locomotive would wait for the whole day in the field until all of the wagons are loaded!
When we discussing about renting the steam locomotive, he deliver shocking remark: “Since you came in four, then I will charge you all 800.000 rupiahs! You pay 200.000, and each of them pays 200.000, so it will be 800.000 in total!” Yikes! So expensive! So I decided to left him, and returned back to the other When I returned back t Geoff and Hayden, I mentioned the story and they were utterly shocked. So we decided to document whatever actions available for today, rather than spending our money excessively just to see a fake working.
We browse inside the shed, where we see some locomotives inside in various condition.
This number 2 Schoema locomotive is a rare breed. It is essentially the wide body version of the small Schoema diesel locomotives normally found at other mills.
It was retired, probably sometime in 1990s, and it has since been left derelict in the shed. Some off duty employees used the loco as a resting place.
The narrow body Schoema locos can be seen behind the number 2.
The number 11 is seen in good condition, although it was not lit when we were there.
Nestled at one corner of the mill is another wide body Schome locomotive, the number 3.
The star of Sumberharjo, the number 7 is not lit today. Maybe due to the lack of work at around this time, which didn’t necessitate the usage of big and powerful loco.
Number 4 seemed to be in a good condition, but it is not working today.
The steam number 1 is painted in different color: yellow! Judging by its condition, it has probably been retired.
Number 5 is a unique loco. It has sloped tank, and curious design.
Only when we returned back to the hotel later that I learned that the loco is a rare breed: it is the only narrow gauge Alco built locomotive known to exist in Indonesia, and probably the last Alco steam locomotive remain in existence in Indonesia! American steam locos in Indonesia are rare, and its rarity is enhanced by the fact that it is made by Alco!
The Schoema diesel at the corner seemed to have had its paint peeled off. But the sinister fact about this loco is the graffiti on its front body.
If you understand Indonesian, you realize that some disgruntled employees venting their disappointment about working in the mill by writing their opinion in the loco. I wonder if the mill managements often hindering their pays? And if it does, would it translate into the closure of its railway system in the near future….?
We went out to see the departure yard to the Northwest of the loco shed, where they would assemble empty wagons before hauling them into the field. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the sight of engine number 6 approaching.
Just like most of the steam locos in Sumberharjo mill, this loco was built by DuCroo & Brauns.
Suddenly number 3 came from behind while hauling empty wagons.
Unlike number 6, number 3 was built by Orenstein & Koppel.
The word “Surabaya” looks interesting for a native of Surabaya like me. Does it mean that this loco was built in Surabaya?
Right next to the departure yard is a row of disused locos and tenders.
This particular loco looks longer than other locos in Sumberharjo.
Apparently this loco is an articulated Mallet locomotive, and its rear cylinders set is partly hidden under the grass.
I later learned that Sumberharjo actually owned two Mallet articulated locomotives, although none remain in operation. I wonder if the other still remains in existence.
The number 3 and 6 is seen having a break between the duties.
We walked further to the North.
Although located inside the mill compound, parts of the track between the departure yard and the entrance door is surrounded by sugarcane, giving impression as if it is located in the field.
The receiving yard looks very busy.
As we reached the exit door, we meet Paul who is resting in a hut after completing two hours walk from the hotel! We congratulate him on this unusual achievement.
It was already a lunchtime, so we decided to have a coffee break in a small coffee shop near the entrance gate. The owner kept one little monkey as his pet.
Once we finished our lunch snack, we returned back to the hut, where the number 10 is waiting.
We talked to its driver. He said that the loco is waiting for an order to pick up loaded wagons in the field. He also mentioned that the loco will depart into the field sometime around 2’o clock. It was still midday, so we decided to spend two hours before the loco departure to see around the mill.
We went inside the mill where we met Hayden and Wilson stay at one corner of the mill to wait for approaching train, with their handycams ready.
Me and Paul decided to walk further to the departure yard.
As we arrived at the departure yard, the number 3 is apparently steaming up and ready to depart. We took the picture of the loco as it hauled a train of empty wagons out into the field (or somewhere around that).
I believe Hayden and Wilson might get a great picture of the train.
We walked further where we came across this small goods wagon, parked near where they cut the woods.
I assume that these wagons were once used to haul the sugar from the mill to Pemalang station, before the line to Pemalang station was closed, probably in 1970s. If we looked at satellite map, we could see the former right of way that branched to the east of Pemalang station, which then curved to the west before joining the northern field line.
As we returned back to the shed, the number 9 is now fully brewing.
But I later learned that the loco wouldn’t work on any duties throughout our visits in Sumberharjo.
Number 6 suddenly popped out from the shed where it stays stationary in front of the mill building.
We had a snack at a food stall near the shed while waiting for the activity to start. We enjoyed local snacks served in the foodstall. Paul also had some conversation with the owner and some mill employees.
After we finished the snack, we returned back to our trainspotting activities. Geoff, Hayden, and Paul went somewhere, while I went to relocate my car to a spot closer to the field line starting point.
As I parked my car, I suddenly came across the number 10 moving along. I quickly locked my car and chase after the loco. Geoff also followed the suite, while Paul and Hayden had already been ahead of the locos.
When it slowed down, we manage to hop onboard the loco, where we ride this locomotive.
A few hundred meters later, the loco stopped in the middle of a village.
Apparently they waited until for the gate to open.
I initially thought that the loco would be employed on its distant field lines. But it turned out that it is only employed to work on a nearer part of the field lines.
It is actually located just next to employees housing!
While waiting for the loco to enter the gate, I decided to browse on the eastern field line.
This line is actually a scenic one.
The space next to the track is wide enough for the motorcycle to pass through.
Apparently the distance to the loading point is very far.
Just after I crossed a small bridge, I decided to give up, despite the fact that the loading point is probably a few hundred meters from where I stood.
The absence of water provision also contributes to my decision. So I decided to walk back to the place where the steam loco is now.
On the return journey, I came across small agricultural machinery which is used as a vehicle by farmers.
When I returned back to the previous spot, the loco has apparently entered the premises.
I met Geoff who seemed to have a chat with a senior security officer over there. When I approached, the officer engaged conversation with me. He said that he used to have adventurous life when he was younger. He admitted that at one point he was also involved in a gangster life around Javanese north coast, and even all the way to Jakarta. At one point he made his way to the top of the ladder and become a gangster boss, before being defeated by his rival. This, combined with the pressure from his family led to his decision to return back to Pemalang permanently and became a straight person. Although he has long abandoned his gangster and criminal life behind, he is still pretty much respected figure around Pemalang, especially the area around Sumberharjo mill.
Moments later, the sun is in the right angle, so we politely asked the driver whether he can move the locomotive a bit to the right angle. The driver happily accept our request and moved the loco a bit backward, so I can take these pictures.
I walked further to see the loading point. Along the way I see many beautiful colonial-era houses.
Traditionally speaking, the houses are mostly reserved for managers or visiting dignitaries.
These days, as new elite housing complex and excellent hotels popped up in Pemalang, the houses began to be abandoned, and only used by managers who don’t want to spend extra money on lodging around Pemalang.
Just in an open ground in the complex, there are some water buffaloes whose are prepared to haul loaded wagons on temporary tracks.
These houses are actually located next to a scenic ricefield, where inhabitants could see the sunrise.
Some wagons have been prepared, as well as the temporary tracks.
I walked to the middle of the field to see some activities over there.
In the distance, we can see the smoke stack of Sumberharjo mill puffing a column of smoke.
Apparently not all wagons have been loaded. Most of them are obviously empty.
Just near the place, there is a block of ricefield.
Back during colonial era, all agricultural lands around sugar mill are dedicated solely for sugarcane planting. But after the Indonesian independence, farmers are given freedom of choice, which in some cases caused the decline of the sugar mill production.
After several minutes waiting in the middle of windy place, the water buffaloes eventually arriving ready to haul loaded wagons into the railhead.
Water buffaloes have been used to haul sugarcane since the earliest days of sugarcane plantation. Even preceding the existence of railway itself! And since the locomotive cannot travel tracks on boggy soil, the water buffaloes are really handy form of motive power.
While I returned back to the locomotive, some buffaloes are mooing simultaneously. I didn’t know why did they do that?
Some loaded wagons have been attached. The driver said the train will depart as soon as the number of the wagons reached 12.
I decided to return back to the main road, where I would like to take the picture of the train as it crossed the bridge.
On the way, I was quite surprised to see buffalo poop dropped at the switch point. Could it cause derailment….?
Once I arrived at the spot, I prepared my camera and get ready to photograph the train. However, the wait turned out to be longer than I anticipated. I waited for more than an hour and still no sign of the train arriving….
While I waited for the train, one person in plain clothing stopped his motorcycle when he sighted me, and approached me. He asked “Did you remember?” Before I could answer his question, he suddenly said “I told you that you should not be here by now. Your visiting time has expired! Get out from here!” It’s the greedy shed master! Instead of debating with him, I gave him a ferocious gaze while I clenched my fist. My message is clear: “F**k off! You don’t own this place!” He seemed to be deterred by my response, and decided to left immediately.
It’s already dark, and there are no sign of approaching train!
It was only when the sun completely disappear that the level crossing keeper told me that the steam train is approaching. We waited in anticipation. After several minutes the train eventually appeared. But it was very unfortunate moment; the light was too dark that my camera fails to focus, and fired at the wrong moment!
I was totally disappointed. Hayden tries to console me by saying that at least; we have another day on tomorrow. And we were very lucky today that we saw a steam loco on the mainline when we approached the mill. That was pretty much a blessing and good start for today.
TO BE CONTINUE