It’s Tuesday 19th April 2016, and today we would like to spend the day exploring sugar mills in East Java area, especially those whose are within easy reach from Surabaya.
Our initial plan was to visit mills like Kedawung, Wonolangan, Gending, Gempokrep, and Tulangan. Since Tulangan have been visited yesterday, so we focus our time today to visit the remaining four. Christophe initially wants to visit the mills as early as possible, even asking if we can depart at 6 in the morning! While, I’m suggesting if we depart later at much more leisurely pace at 9am. After some negotiations, we eventually agreed that we will depart at 7am. So I picked him up in the morning at 7 am in his hotel. This time, his girlfriend does not join him. So it would just be two of us.
Unlike previous similar trips to sugar mills, on this occasion I did not (or more appropriate if I call it “fail to”) arrange prior permit with plantation company. The reason behind this failure was due to two things: the lack of time to prepare the tour, and the fact that I had other administration things to do in between the tour planning and execution.
The trip between Surabaya and Probolinggo was pretty much a breeze. There were very little serious traffic jams and overall it was uneventful.
The drama, as I expected would only took place once we made an impromptu visit to sugar mill’s management office.
First to visit is Wonolangan sugar mill, which is located right on the eastern outskirt of the town of Probolinggo. As I expected, upon arriving at the mill’s management office, they received us in nervous and hesitant manner, unaware that a foreigner (Christophe) would pay visit without prior announcement. In a mill with strict and tight management, they would deny us outright. But thanks to the relaxed culture of PTPN XI, they eventually gave us permission, with small fee to go with it. After arranging some personnel to help us, they escorted us to explore the mill.
It’s off harvesting season, so all of the activities are concentrated in repair and maintenance works. In the yard, there are many sugarcane wagons parked. Just like most sugar mills in Java, Wonolangan have also abandoned its field lines, sometime in mid-2000s.
We went straight into its locomotive shed, where some maintenance works are being done.
Although this mill no longer has its field lines, all of its diesel locos seemed to be repaired in preparation for upcoming harvesting season.
It is also in this mill that Christophe encountered Japanese diesel locos for the first time. After seeing its Japanese built engines, he is not interested.
Instead we focused on the fleet of Schoema diesel locos in here.
This type reminds me with the one that I saw at Kanigoro sugar mill, as well as those operated by Krebet Baru sugar mill in Malang.
Christophe is also investigating its engine. This one is apparently powered by a variant of Deutz engine, although I can’t recall what distinct thing about this one.
Not all diesel locos are maintained. Some of them are stripped of usable parts to be used by other locos.
A move which I consider awkward considering that spare parts for Deutz engines are widely available in the market, unless if mill management is too stingy to purchase them.
In the back of the shed, there is a number of steam locomotives stored.
Although they haven’t been used for more than a decade, their external condition looks good. They are not rusted, and their paintwork hardly peeled off. Note a track inspection vehicle on the left, which also looks in good condition despite the fact that this mill no longer has field lines.
It seemed that all of Wonolangan’s steam locomotives are of the same type: Orenstein & Koppel 0-8-0.
In some locos, its builder and ownership plate still remain intact as if they are brand new, or installed in recent period.
I was told by the crew that all of Wonolangan’s steam locomotives are largely intact. None of them have been scrapped. In fact one has recently gone into a museum in Probolinggo.
But apparently not all of them in really good shape like this no. 4 which lost its chimney and driving rods, as well as parts of its boiler.
But this one, which is parked right in front of track inspection vehicle, is probably in the best shape. The only thing that has gone from this loco is just….number plate!
I assume that this loco was once used to entertain foreign visitors who want to see steam working, perhaps on chartered basis.
Not really satisfied by our visit at the locomotive shed, Christophe is asking whether if there are any old pre-war tractors in the mill. The mill crew said there are some old tractors in the mill, but whether if they belong to pre-war era is something we need to find out.
Upon arriving at the shed, we found some old tractors. Some of them are already wrecked, or just a bare frame. When Christophe investigated, he found that all of them are actually Ford tractors that dating back from 1970s or later, definitely not according to his expectation.
While we rummaging around there, the mill employees also showed us an English cemetery in this mill. The tombstones are all written in English, with 19th century grammar.
They said that this English family was the founder of Wonolangan sugar mill. Their descendants would sometime come and do some maintenance on this site, although when we came here this cemetery is in a bad shape. The surrounding area is akin to landfill, and even worse we can see some human feces in the area! Yuck!
Well, we think our visit in Wonolangan has been completed, and now it’s time for us to move along.
Next stop: Gending sugar mill. Christophe is excited upon hearing this, because according to his data there were many tractors delivered to this mill. He also added that this mill was among the first mill in Java to receive diesel locomotives; some were even delivered in period around First World War! So we have a very high expectation on our visit to this mill.
After a few minutes’ drive, which include passing through scenic backstreet (as this mill is located well away from main highway) we eventually crossed some narrow gauge lines which indicated that we are near a sugar mill.
Upon arriving at the mill, we were greeted by the same style like what we encountered in Wonolangan: the mill management looks a bit nervous when seeing a foreigner visiting their premises. They asked us to wait for a few minutes, because they need to phone and asking a clearance from the mill’s manager which is away in Surabaya at the moment.
We waited for some time, and when the mill employee returning back he delivered shocking news: we were denied entry! Much to my surprise, and Christophe’s disappointment! Apparently, unlike most PTPN XI mills, Gending management seemed to be a rather stiff one! He told us that we should have arranged the permit with the central office beforehand. But when I told them why no such fuss existed in Wonolangan, he blame Wonolangan management for being unable to handle foreigners properly (although in my opinion it is the opposite).
When we asked whether if there are any old tractors, steam locos, or old diesel locos in this mill, he replied that there are none of them. All of the mill’s road and rail vehicles are dating back from 1950s onward. To add the salt in the wound, he also said that starting from this season, the mill have also abandoned their field lines altogether.
Oh well, apparently there is no reason why we should stay longer in here. So we bid farewell and jump into the car and head back to the west to visit Kedawung sugar mill.
The rejection at Gending does let us down. It’s just unfortunate that they can be that stiff, despite the fact that it is not a vital military object and does not contain any sensitive items. And it is very unusual for any mill owned by PTPN XI which is known for its relaxed and cooperative culture.
Hoping that the same predicament wont befell us in Gending, we eventually arriving at Kedawung. I like visiting this mill because of all mills that we visited, only Kedawung feature field lines. But I don’t think that would be a plus point for Christophe.
Just like in previous mills, we had to undergo lengthy wait at the gate before eventually allowed to enter and meet the management. In the management office, we were greeted by usually nervous staffs. And just like what we see in Gending, they dealt with us with hesitant and slightly uptight mood. They called their boss to find out whether if we were allowed to visit. After a few minutes of tense moment for us, they deliver the much awaited answer: they approve our request! Yes! So we are finally allowed to explore Kedawung sugar mill!
After they make little preparation for us, we start exploring this mill, accompanied by some staffs and securities.
In the main yard, the Japanese built loco no.1 is seen busy hauling engine part.
Since it is off-harvesting season, there are not much visible activities outside the locomotive shed.
But inside, there is a hive of maintenance works at locomotives.
Some locomotives are stripped to almost bare metal frame.
Christophe is quite disappointed by the fact that all of the Schoema locomotives have had their MWM engines replaced by Mitsubishi truck engines.
All of the German locomotives in this mill were delivered in 1951, and made by Schoema which at that time was part of Krupp business empire.
The other half of Kedawung’s diesel locomotives were made by Keio Yashima, a Japanese engineering firm. These locos obviously do not draw Christophe’s attention.
The shed staffs also showing us a Dutch era jack which is used to assist derailment recovery. It’s amazing that this small tool is still in working order despite of its age.
But in the back of the shed there are remains of Kedawung’s once venerable fleet of steam locomotives. When I visited this mill in late 2014 with a group of Dutch steam locomotive experts, they said that this no.14 is in working order. That is despite the fact that the loco haven’t been used for more than a decade.
The loco number 16 is parked in an awkward location, right in the middle of the door. I later learned that this locomotive was built by Breda, the same Dutch engineering firm who built “Si Mbah” at Gondang Baru and “Doon” in Tasikmadu.
I also found out on that this locomotive was originally delivered to work in a tin mine at Bangka island near Sumatera, before being transferred to Kedawung sugar mill.
The rest of the locos in the shed are mostly identical to no.14 which is an Orenstein & Koppel built 0-8-0 loco.
Contrary to what we saw in Wonolangan, the shed at Kedawung is muddy and dirty. The locos, although outlived their colleagues in Wonolangan by several years, are seemed in poorer conditions.
This locomotive looks slightly different as it has shorter cab. I later learned that this loco is O&K 0-6-0 type.
But the Dutch language sticker in the cab looks curious for me. Looks like a logo of a Dutch tour company. It seemed that a long time ago this locomotive was used to haul chartered tourist train, carrying Dutch tourists, across Kedawung’s still present field lines.
One of the mill staff added that back then the reception for this Dutch tourist group was elaborated and rather grandeur one. The Dutch tourists were greeted with traditional dance and many local art performances. They were invited to see the old houses here, as some of them were actually born here and spending their childhood here.
They rode the tourist train hauled by this steam locomotive along its field lines, before being picked up by their bus somewhere along the line where they visited hot water spring which is located near the field lines network.
Considering the mill’s close proximity to Surabaya and even the famed Bromo volcano, I asked them why they did not continue to steam tourist train operation, considering that other mills in less strategic locations such as Olean in Situbondo and Semboro in Jember does run chartered steam tourist trains. They said that the reason for the suspension is due to lack of demands, as well as the management is not interested to run such thing.
A few weeks later I learned what is probably real reason behind the discontinuation of such popular service was the failure of the last tour operator to pay the fee. Apparently the success of the first tours had led to a strong mutual trust between the mill management and this tour company. In turn the mill relaxed its payment policy to this tour company, which allows them to complete the payment after the tour. But I assume that in the latest tour, things didn’t go well. Perhaps the tour company fails to settle the debt due sudden bankruptcy. In fact when I searched this tour company on the internet, I found that it has long gone out of business.
Not all of the retired steam locos are grouped together. This rare Maffei built 0-4-2 loco is parked right in front of the shed.
And one loco is parked inside what is now a storage room, full of disused items.
One of the diesel engine in here caught Christophe’s attention, and he stayed quite long to study it. He said that the type of this Deutz diesel reminds him to one of the old tractor that he saw back in Europe. The staff who learning about this suggesting us to see a diesel pump engine that is being run in the nearby pond. However upon reaching the engine, we found out that it is a different engine.
Kedawung sugar mill is an impressive one, it has a huge machinery and all of its associated facilities. But unlike Tasikmadu, this sugar mill still retains its network of field lines (although the number of its mileage has dwindled in recent years).
We kept searching around the mill, and somehow we came across this giant Deutz generator engine.
Obviously it’s too big for a tractor engine, and probably won’t fit in a locomotive either. It’s even bigger than the GE 7FDL8 engine that is normally used on mainline diesel locos!
Since there are no more things to be seen, we decided to conclude our visit at Kedawung and bade farewell to the (somehow) hospitable mill management.
As we are returning back to our car, Christophe was stunned by this big sign. He is totally perplexed on how perfectly formal the grammar of this French language sign. An oddity, considering French people hardly visited this place.
We’re getting hungry, and decided to sample the local cuisine at Pasuruan. One famous menu in this town is “Sate Komoh” which is lean beef grilled on skewer. Very tasty, although sometime it is full of fat.
Since it’s getting dark, and the distance to Gempolkrep is very far (not to mention a rather strict PTPN X management), we decided to call off our plan to visit that place and head back to Surabaya. We have already felt tired after a long journey today. I feel that Christophe was quite right in asking us to depart as early as possible, due to the fact that it took the whole day just to explore 3 sugar mills whose are not very far from Surabaya.
On the following day, on Wednesday 20th April 2016, it’s time for Christophe and his fiancée to catch the return flight back to Bangkok.
I picked them up from their hotel and took them straight to the airport. Along the way, Christophe said that last night, after I delivered him to this hotel, he and his fiancée had a very long walk from Pakuwon City, all the way to the hotel, which is probably 10-15 km away! That was because they were running out of money to hail the cab, so they decided to walk!
Christophe said that he is actually disappointed, because he couldn’t find any single old tractors throughout his trip. Unlike in Eastern Europe where he could find old tractors easily, finding them in South East Asia is a merely impossible task.
Unlike previous specialized tours that I ran, I have to admit that this tour is a flop. But it doesn’t mean that Christophe doesn’t want to hire me anymore. He said that if I can find any old tractors anywhere around, he would be glad return back to have another tour with me.
Considering my complete lack of knowledge regarding of this subject, I found his request a rather tall order…..