The International Steam Pages


Steamy Java Sugar Mill Tour 2010, Merican Blues

This series of pages from July and August 2010 records our travels from China to Malaysia and on to Java, Indonesia where we were hosting the 'Steamy Java Tour 2010'. Click here for the main Winds of Change index page.


Life has a habit of kicking you just when you think everything is going well. There were flags out all over Kediri and when we turned into what becomes Jalan Dhoho we soon found it temporarily pedestrianised - Kediri now celebrates its birthday every year and this was a pretty big one - 1131 and counting. The Gods clearly did not think any more of it than I did as it was raining. It didn't affect my mill group (we just literally drove into the mill itself so as not to get wet) but the other half of the tour was riding the Cepu Forest Railway barely 100km away.

I played the one way system based on previous knowledge and after 20 minutes we were at the Alun-Alun heading as near to the hotel as possible. When we were confronted by the expected 'no entry' it was just a matter of left, right, right and we were parked just round the corner. We popped into the Sari Agung for a spot of lunch only to be told everyone was going to the birthday party and it would be closed in the evening. They gave us a couple of rather larger (and no doubt more expensive) alternatives and I abandoned Yuehong who volunteered to go and check them out during the mill visit.

Getting out was a lot easier than getting in and we were at the mill just before the heavens opened. These days parting with your money and entering the mill is a smooth process and we were made very welcome in the engineer's office which was clearly equipped with some kind of WiFi judging from the odd lap top lying around and indeed later I uploaded the morning's report here. I whisked the group round the steamy bits and shot out to the delivery yard to see what was working. Initially all I saw was OK #8 in a fetching new blue livery but very soon another steam locomotive backed down which turned out to be DB #205 which just happens to have the honour of being the last (real) working Mallet in the world. Frankly, I've seen very many of these over the last 30 plus years so it was no novelty and even in Sumatra rarely have I had light as bad as this. But for those among my stationary engine group who were prepared to swing both ways a bit, it was something a bit special and I rushed off into the mill to summon as many as were interested. Not all came initially, but by the time we left they had all had a good look. Compared to the other group where quite a few have never been inside a mill out of choice this was very refreshing.

Inside the mill it was definitely 'no change' at all since my first visits in 2002/3. There is a single large Stork milling engine which I suspect was originally used as a dual drive engine.

Everything else here is some kind of pump. First up are three Cameron simplexes for boiler feedwater, the smallest was not actually in use: 

Next what I recall is a pair of Halle air compressors (the details are somewhere else on the site but it's too late at night to look). The flash makes it hard to tell, but the one on the left was not in use and the one on the right was.

Beyond that are a fine collection of vintage vacuum pumps, three in use and the fourth in reserve. First what looks to me to be a moderately early Stork:

Next an engine which is similar to the one above but of opposite handedness followed by a slightly later model.

The fourth is a real treasure, a clear centenarian built by Buckau in Magdeberg in 1909.

Rounding off traditional steam power here are a couple of vertical engines used as water injection pumps, their design also screams Stork to me.

It was a disappointment to me that we couldn't eat in our usual place, albeit the barn of a restaurant they recommended served us an excellent meal laced with deafening karaoke. In my younger days, schoolboys were deliberately exhausted by sending them on interminable cross country runs, these days they send them on sugar mill tours to Java.

I first stayed in the Hotel Penataran back in 1984 when I was gifted the leadership of a tour group, it seems amazing now but I did it for a free trip. At the time it was brand new and there is a stone to commemorate its opening by the then British ambassador (God knows why he was asked). However, since then the amount of maintenance done has declined exponentially and while the beds are clean and comfortable, the plumbing and other fittings are extremely tired and this time the bathroom ceiling was dripping. Every time I say to myself "never mind, it's the last time and it's only a short walk to the Sari Agung".

I think it very unlikely I shall be back here with a tour group. As far as the steam locomotives are concerned it's time to draw the line and the fact that I have heard on the grapevine that today's train at Cepu had less than perfect weather seems to me to be a signal from the heavens. And running a mill only trip would be lots of hard work for as much hassle as reward. I've had a great run and it's time to bow out.

Six nights to go and only another dozen mills to go...


Rob and Yuehong Dickinson

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