The International Steam Pages

Those were the days... Trangkil Sugar Mill

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Trangkil was some kind of gricing heaven in the remote north of Java near Pati. The mill may have had just four smaller than average steam locomotives but they did the work of four times that number at other mills, in fact for much of the day (and they didn't work much at night for the most part) they hardly stopped moving. For many years the mill accepted trucks only from outside its natural catchment area but eventually the field lines started to be cut back. The end came when the powers that be in Pati decided that sugar cane was unfashionable and sought to charge the mill for running trains alongside the main  roads. The fact that the railways had probably been there when the roads were dirt tracks cut no ice and so the mill simply lifted all their field lines at the end of the 2002 season and that was the end. Sic transit gloria!

The mill was most famous for having Hunslet 0-4-2ST #4, the last 'real' steam locomotive built in the UK. Of course, these days it's a rich man's toy, regauged and looking like a Disneyland GWR loco running on a private estate railway in the UK for people most of whom never had the interest or the balls to see it when it was 'real' but that's another matter.

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A magic moment in my long term love affair with Java steam. I was riding out on a small bus from Pati (with Peter Nettleship) on 5th June 1978 when we spotted #4 sitting under some bamboo not far from the road. We got the bus stopped and dragged ourselves, luggage and cameras across to the locomotive. It was too much for everyone on the bus, they had had never seen such a performance and five minutes later they were still stopped gawping... (I have not edited out the scratch on this old slide.)

Largest of the mill's steam locomotives was post-WW2 DB 0-6-0 #1, not dissimilar to some of this builder's products in North Sumatra. Although it was nominally more powerful than its fellows, the mill thought very little of it and it was far less intensively used than the other locomotives. Here it runs past a delicious tree in August 1993, the road being uncharacteristically empty...

Once again the traffic has obliged for Jung 0-4-0 #2 this time, on 23rd August 1996, for every shot like this there were at least three totally wrecked and maybe half a dozen with vehicles which one would rather have not been there.

The last kilometre to the mill was away from the main road and less likely to suffer from intruders. After the previous shot, I caught #2 rounding the S curve preparatory to entering the mill.

While getting pictures on the roadside lines was more or less a lottery, gricing the lengthy rural south-east branch was simply a matter of confirming where the cutting and loading was occurring and sitting back and waiting. BMAG 0-4-0 #3 hustles its train through the kapok trees on 31st July 1994. It was blessed with an extremely good 'beat'.

There were ways of improving your photographic chances on the main road without resort to flashing money (heaven forbid in Java!). On 31st July 1995, the rear end of #3's train has only just cleared the level crossing which eliminated 50% of the traffic. Much arm flapping from the tour leader has persuaded the other 50% that they will lose very little by attempting to join the queue going in the opposite direction.

Compared to the rest of the fleet, #4 faced in the opposite direction, which meant it was smokebox first only on the lines which left the mill on the north side. Fortunately, the traffic staff understood my preferences and by a strange coincidence when I was in town #4 nearly always seemed to be allocated to these workings. Here it comes in from Nguren on 24th August 1995 by which time my tour group had been sent home safely. I was on cloud nine because I had finally quit my office job and all sorts of freedoms beckoned. Contrary to the crap which was printed in the UK railway press, for example 'Heritage Railway', which described it as "being rescued from a jungle" it was stored in good order as surplus to requirements and sold (at the mill gate) for a cool USD 100,000 to its current owner.

From time to time, it made sense to work the combined loaded cane loris as a single train with two locomotives. I was on my pre-tour bash sans gricers when I stumbled on #2 and #1 coming in on 7th July 1997. My cup overflowed with joy when I discovered there was a Japanese tour group in the area (with expensive guide in tow) which had followed a different train in to the mill.

And to maintain 'balance' here are #4 and #3 coming in together, racing a more traditional form of local transport on 20th August 1986 - a year when I had the sugar mills in Java almost without 'the great unwashed' to get in the way. Truly, "Those were the days..."

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Rob Dickinson