The International Steam Pages


Steamy Java Sugar Mill Tour 2010, Steam in Retreat

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.


Some time back much of the old mill at Pagottan was abandoned and replaced by the corresponding parts of a mill from South Sumatra. This reduced the amount of steam power here to a small rump. It was obvious this year that there is no daily steam power, but such was the overwhelming hospitality that no less than four engines were set running for us without even asking. The Chief Engineer explained that his policy was to keep those engines in an immediately runnable condition. He also complained bitterly about the quality of his new Chinese vacuum pumps, a sentiment I hear again and again whenever I talk with engineering people - on this trip alone I have heard about disastrous experiences with buses in Penang and trains in Sydney. The people in suits are buying on price and driving quality manufacturers out of business. 

A while back, Pagottan held the unenviable record for the longest wait ever to get into a mill (one hour, even with a permit) but today was a doddle. The young lady who was appointed to serve me spoke excellent English and I knew one or two of the others in the office from previous visits to other mills. So it was a 'natural' to show them this blog on one of the office laptops while someone wrote out a receipt, of course, I asked them to check it in a day or two's time so they could see their own mill there too. Normally, I give my people a whistle stop tour before photography is allowed, but as soon as we stopped by the delightful Sangerhausen air compressor, it was clear that it would be run for us. The excitement of the occasion was almost too much and when the steam was applied nothing happened. Fortunately, someone remembered that the drain cocks needed opening and the engine will live to run another day. 

Next to it is another Sangerhausen pump which was also run.

All of which was much to the delight of the young girls from a local school who were here to see some practical technology at work. When I first came to Java, the only ladies in the mills were in the offices. Now they are to be seen increasingly in the chemical laboratories and even occasionally in the engineering department. With the exception of a couple of mills near Surabaya where amazingly they work the centrifugals they do not work on the factory floor.

The power house was a potential disaster as the three steam vacuum pumps there had been taken out of use in 2008 following the arrival of the aforementioned electrically powered Chinese vacuum pumps and the Belliss and Morcom generator is normally only used in busy periods. While the Fijenoord vacuum pump has probably breathed its last, the twin Manlove, Alliott and Fryer pumps are still 'connected' and one was run for us. They were built about 120 years ago, I think their Chinese successors will be lucky to last 10% of that before they are recycled.

The B & M may only have been ticking over, but it was clearly of the traditional 'sewing machine' ilk and absolutely immaculate in its newly restored traditional light grey livery.

Before we left there was just time to inspect the remains of the old mill, amazingly the John McNeil engine was still present - or at least part of it. These days this part of the mill has been fenced off as it is a bit of an eyesore, but there was no problem going in. I had planned a 30 minute visit, in practice we were there for well over an hour.

When I first investigated the inside of Rejoagung in 2003, it had a second mill line which was steam powered by 'modern' Sangerhausen slide valve engines from 1956 which started their working life at Madukismo near Yogya. When I last saw them in 2008, they were in appalling condition and in May 2010 on my recce trip I had found them cut up outside in the mill yard. Similarly, the Weir boiler feed water pumps, the air compressors and the Sangerhausen kultrog engine have 'disappeared' leaving only a solitary Halle vacuum pump representing what must once have been a wonderful array of steam power - to be fair I was amazed to find anything at all in this very large mill as I had seen pictures from the 1920s of electric motors in use on their mill line. On the same basis I have never looked inside Jatiroto...

We were whizzed in and Ray Gardiner went off to find the works number of this 1974 Schoema diesel which was of course hiding from him by the mill's unloading point. Meanwhile,  we inspected the new turbines (I wouldn't sully this page with a picture of them) and we had completed a far more successful morning than I had anticipated. 

The mill disposed of most of its steam fleet in the 1980s, but this Mallet survives outside. A couple more members were exported initially to Australia from where one is said to have gone to the USA and another to the Rampton Trust collection in the UK. The hope was to see Merican's Mallet at work (the last 'real' active one in the world).

By 10.30, we were on the road to Kediri and an appointment at my favourite Chinese restaurant in Java.


Rob and Yuehong Dickinson

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