The International Steam Pages


A Month in Java, 1976 Part 2

These pages are a sentimental record of a long gone age when all that was needed to enjoy a good grice was a smile, a lot of patience and a willingness to put up with a small amount of discomfort...

Part 1: Introduction, Jakarta to Purwokerto (including Cibatu, Banjar, Maos and Kroja)

Part 2: Purwokerto to Madiun (including Kutarjo, Yogya and Solo)

Part 3: Madiun to Blitar (including Kertosono, Kediri, Pare and Tulungagung)

Part 4: Blitar to Cepu (including Mojokerto, Bangil, Malang and Probolinggo)

Part 5: Cepu to Semarang (including Kudus, Surabaya and Purwodadi)

Part 6: Semarang to Jakarta (including, Pekalongan, Tegal, Prupuk, Cirebon, Rangkasbetung)


11th May 1976

The day started quite well in Purwokerto, Hartmann 2-8-2 D5109 was station pilot, yet another class which had not been recorded in steam in 1975, unusual as they were a 'bargain buy' as their original planned destination, the similarly gauged Hedjaz Railway (1050mm as opposed to Java's 1067mm)  was no longer in the market for locomotives owing to the attentions of Lawrence of Arabia - 20 years later I had the privilege to have a cab ride on one of their earlier sisters in Syria.

The main reason to visit Purwokerto though, apart from its large steam allocation was to observe the reported service northwards to Prupuk. CC5022 - now hidden in the bowels of the Netherlands railway museum at Utrecht - was turned out but its lightweight train proved to be another anti-climax. As it struggled past me at walking pace, I swung around confident I could take both colour side and black and white print going away shots in succession as I had the approach. Tiredness took its toll and the second camera vanished into the mud and water of the padi field, a tumble which it never recovered from leaving me with just a single camera for the rest of the bash.

Fortunately, Mr. Olympus's OM1 rose to the occasion as it and its successors did for the best part of another 30 years until I lost interest. Still more than a little shocked at having absolutely no back-up system available, I hitched a lift on the caboose of a southbound ballast train. With the sun 'right up the arse' of CC5014, conventional photography took second place:

I took the day train from Bandung to Yogya as far as Kutarjo. Here, the delights of the only losmen in the village at a bargain price of IDR 200 were quickly tempered by the realisation that the 'facilities' were available only by wading through ankle deep mud and the rattan partitions between the stalls were the night time main road of the local rat population. For the first but not the last time I questioned my sanity, I repeated to myself that surely things could only improve...

12th May 1976

The object of this visit was the reported twice daily C27 4-6-4T short return working to Purworejo. Smokebox first departure from Kutarjo was scheduled just before dawn, but given normal timekeeping that should not have been a problem as the train headed into the sun... However, as we headed for the hills, the rising sun failed to match our progress and only as C2725 passed back on its run-round did the faint morning light approach respectability. 

Common sense allowed the camera to survive the inevitable frustration and another glorious failure was chalked up. The next working would be in the afternoon by which time the sun would have moved around and the light would be less than optimal. Back at the junction, I photographed C2706 simmering outside the shed. 

The tropical sun was getting higher and higher, but just before it got impossible D52074 whistled up and charged out filling the atmosphere with a mind boggling oily clag, it was more than a small compensation. 

My memory suggests I took a later train onto Yogya. As always seems to be the case in Java's larger towns and cities, there were plenty of cheap places to stay right outside the station. Yogya has never been my favourite location in Java, although as it is perhaps its cultural centre it has always been popular with tourists owing to what are now called World Heritage Sites at Prambanan and Borobudur. I wanted to view a different kind of historic ruin, the contents of the diesel works (Balai Yasar) at Lempujangan, the site of the old NIS station. This was a 'standard gauge' as opposed to 'cape gauge' railway before its conversion and some of its locomotives were reported by 'Power Parade' to be stored inside. I made my way to the east of the city and presented myself at the gate. It was a Friday afternoon and they were more than a little reluctant to let me in. "We don't have any steam locomotives here." they told me. I pointed out that my permit expressly included all the Balai Yasar and they eventually let me in. We walked passed a stored C24 2-6-2T without my making any comment and then as we got to the back of the works, there they were, a wonderful line up of golden rusty survivors. I took a few pictures concentrating on York Railway Museum's Gladstone look-alike 25 from Beyer Peacock of 1883 before I was whisked away so everyone left could go home. 

I have read that a significant percentage of PNKA's diesel fleet was laid up here but I confess that was a fact I had no interest in. At least the main drag, Jalan Malioboro, had a better choice of eating places than I had been used to so far on the trip.

13th May 1976

My next destination was Solo, but first I made my back to Lempujangan to photograph C2402 which was the under-employed pilot there. This was another type which had escaped the camera on the 1975 tour. 

Satisfied, I made my way to the main road and caught a bus out to the magnificent Hindu temple at Prambanan, which in those days was hardly the tourist trap it is now. There were plenty of shade trees and a half decent view of Gunung Merapi. 

Taking the bus on to Solo, I then headed for Solo Balapan station, nearby was the Losmen San Fransisco, which I still remember as by far the cleanest such establishment I have ever stayed at in Java. Dropping off my bag, I headed for the loco shed some way west of the station, the sun was dropping fast and there was little active steam to be seen. Inside were a number of skirt tanks which had worked local trains in the area until just a few years before, several of which ended up at the Ambarawa Railway Museum in due course. Asking politely, I got C1704 hauled out with a C28, but I despaired of ever seeing a skirt tank at work. 

The southern part of Central Java had not been a massive success, but East Java beckoned.

14th May 1976

At this stage, I wasn't really aware of how frequent and convenient were Java's buses so I got up in what seemed like the middle of the night for the next leg to Madiun on the overnight train from Bandung to Surabaya. As daylight broke, Gunung Lawu was visible to the right, not a perfect cone, but the way the line circles it made it seem we were going nowhere fast. Entering East Java signalled a significant improvement in my 'luck'. In 1975, we had hardly seen a steam loco which looked like it had been through the Balai Yasar at Madiun yet here was 'baby' B2103 acting as shed pilot in perfect light. 

Even better, I found that the B50s were working the Ponorogo/Slahung branch again and there was just time to get into the middle of town to catch B5001 arriving - one of the biggest disappointments in 1975 was to find this branch service suspended. 

The early start had indeed been rewarded. Before it left again at 11.00 there was just time for a flying visit to Madiun works where not a great deal was happening although I did catch their pet loco C2505 in steam - like B2103 it was another new 'working' class for me. Returning to the station, a footplate ride was in order and through the holes in it I could watch the large drivers slowly spin round as we made our way through town and out into the country, photography was limited owing to the vertical sun.

By early afternoon we had reached Ponorogo and as expected the loco was turned for the next leg of the branch - there were no turning facilities at Slahung and the watering facilities were at the end of the serviceable track and had to be approached tender first. 

The loco picked up an extra coach - a clear indication that road transport was thinner on this section. Checking with the crew, I found there was nowhere to stay in Slahung so with shadows lengthening I hopped off the train as it crawled along.

I jumped into a 'colt' - the generic name for a minibus - to get back to Ponorogo for another cheap but uncomfortable night.

15th May 1976

Next morning, my plan was simple. The train would arrive back in Ponorogo around dawn while the light was still poor, but it did make sense to wait in town in case it was late which it was not. Next I took a colt for a couple of kilometres out to where the track was clear and waited. I was armed with a pocketful of Rp 25 and 50 coins and intended to hop past the train as many times as possible before it got to Madiun using the frequent buses and colts on the adjacent road. In due course, the train rolled by and a couple of hours later I was in Madiun with several shots in the bag and a bevy of annoyed drivers and conductors who would have normally viewed the foreigner as a cash cow.

Here the train paused for breath on the outskirts of town and I was reduced to taking a becak ahead of it; while I waited for it to catch me up, a friendly shop owner brought me a chair and a cup of coffee, very welcome as there had been no time for any breakfast with such important business to conduct. 

By and large, finding somewhere cheap to sleep was very easy but on this occasion I was turned away by several losmen before someone took pity on me. I left B5001 to return south:

I headed for the sugar mill at Rejosari which we had visited in poor light the previous year. But there wasn't a great deal going on in the middle of the day. 

Next I tried Pagottan but I was rebuffed with instructions to contact HQ in Surabaya. The final visit was to Kanigoro with its attractive sky blue locos. It was time for the locos to go out into the fields so without really thinking I jumped on Borsig 3 and sat back and enjoyed the fresh air as it drifted through the sugar and the padis. Eventually some time around 16.00, it stopped in what was obviously the middle of nowhere and I tentatively asked how long they would be there before they went back. "A long time", they said. Knowing Java, I tried to pin them down. "About 5 or 6 hours..."This was the first time I had followed a sugar loco and I had no idea that it was common practice for the afternoon shift to put as much distance between themselves and their management as soon as possible.

I made a face, asked which direction Madiun lay in and headed across the fields rather than back track on the meandering course we had followed out. After half an hour I stumbled across another loco whose crew looked at me in blank amazement as I photographed them and walked on. 

Eventually, I reached a main road and got into town just after sunset. I was extremely hot, sticky and dusty and after the most cursory of washes I committed the cardinal sin of immersing myself in the losmen's large communal mandi to cool down. As I lay back, I became aware that I was not alone, I was sharing it with several large goldfish who were nibbling my nuts. Resolving to look more carefully before doing that again I retreated to Rumah Makan Wijaya in the main street, a Chinese restaurant which was still serving cold Bintangs in 2008. It had simply been a great day out.


Part 3: Madiun to Blitar (including Kertosono, Kediri, Pare and Tulungagung)


Rob Dickinson

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