The International Steam Pages

Sawahlunto's Other Museums, 2012

This is part of our report on our visit to West Sumatra in late 2012.  You can read about the rest of it from the links below.

There is a well advertised heritage trail round Sawahlunto and the tourist offices have a good supply of leaflets on the various attractions. We passed on the Go Karting and Zoo (at Kandi) and the Water Boom, but we did visit the Mbah Soero mining tunnel and the nearby Goedang Ransoem Museum, the admission fees are very modest.

The 'Info Box' building houses some more old pictures and will equip you with boots and a helmet to go underground into what was the first mining tunnel in Sawahlunto in 1898. Later abandoned, it took 3 weeks to pump the water out when it was re-opened and indeed the lower levels remain closed to the public. Among the various prohibitions listed we found that of photography not to be enforced.

Outside is an anti-colonial statement - Gerard de Graaf assures me that the wagon is probably original, a common design adopted by the Dutch based on one produced by the German firm Pfingstman in Recklinghausen. The tunnel entrance is kept locked when not in use.

Concrete has been used to replace wood where it was used as a roof support, but the brickwork appears original and sound.

Some coal has been left where it is needed to support the roof. These days there is forced ventilation and the air quality is monitored. Apparently wagons were used on the level and there was some kind of conveyor system to get the coal out. 

The original level went further but has been sealed off for safety reasons and return to the surface was by a second access tunnel which emerges on the opposite side of the road. It was an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.

Just down the road is the Goedang Ransoem Museum, I have to say I was attracted by the chimney at the rear, not the 'road train' which is very popular in Indonesia.

Its main use for a long time was as a communal kitchen for the miners, turning out up to 4 tonnes of rice a day. Food was a serious issue in the old days and eventually the Dutch turned to mass feeding to try to keep their workers in better health. The rice cookers (and some giant woks) are just about the only relevant artifacts.


.Quite what the role of the large boilers was is not explained, even that amount of rice would have needed something more modest.

The stone objects at the side carry a number which apparently indicated which of the miners was buried beneath it, such was the lot of those who worked here, often in chains in the early days. Altogether, not a very good advertisement for the Dutch colonialists at a stage where enlightenment was supposed to be the way ahead... Otherwise, the museum has the inevitable old photographs, an ethnography section and unbelievably poor presentation by the state of Malacca in Malaysia. 

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson