The International Steam Pages

Olean Sugar Mill - a candidate for a World Heritage Site?

70 years ago Java (in the then Dutch East Indies, now part of Indonesia) ranked second only to Cuba among the World's sugar producers. At the time Javan mills were 'state of the art' and the larger mills like Jatiroto were seen as a serious threat to producers in countries like Australia. Today those larger mills have undergone considerable modernisation, but the smaller mills, like Olean near Situbondo in East Java, have carried on almost unchanged through a World War and a revolution or two. Now mills like this are under threat of closure as hard economic reality bites and locally produced sugar cannot compete with sugar imported from a world where massive surpluses have driven down the price. Local farmers are voting with their feet and growing other cash crops, but the demise of Olean would be a disaster for the thousands of people who depend on it for an income, both directly and indirectly.

Readers of my International Steam Pages will be familiar with the railway system at Olean with its daily parade of steam hauled cane trains throughout the season. Unless you have visited the mill, you will not be familiar with the magnificent array of stationary steam engines which power the crushing/milling process. So feast your eyes on the pictures below and Email me with words of support as I try to start a campaign to keep the mill open as a 'living museum of the steam age'. What I have not shown here are the associated buildings, the offices, wharehouses and residencies preserved almost unchanged within a walled compound. Situbondo is well situated on the tourist route between Bali and Mount Bromo and I am sure with the right kind of management some kind of operation could be maintained here for posterity. What it needs is some kind of appropriate institutional arrangements to encourage civil society support and corporate sponsorship, without losing the accumulated know-how of PTPN XI who have operated the mill since nationalisation. I am pleased to say that the concept of conserving and maintaining the cultural heritage of Indonesia has many supporters within the country itself as well as overseas. If you are interested then I am more than happy to act as a conduit for comments.

Sweet Spot

Olean - Java's historic sugar mill :

For full details and how to order, click here!

Click here for a separate page of pictures of the mill's steam railway in action.

Click here for sketch maps of the mill and the mill railway system.

There is also an update on the current sugar mill steam locomotive scene .

Click here for the (very modest) International Working Stationary Steam Engines pages!

Fortunately Olean is very well laid out and it is easy to follow the process. The main juice extraction is done by a series of 6 stationary engines (one crusher and five mills):

First up is the crusher, a relatively late standard Stork 'drop' valve engine (3336/1930):

Followed by two 'drop' valve engines from Fijenoord of Rotterdam.

 Followed by a 'drop' valve engine from Werkspoor:

The final two engines appear to have Stork 'drop' valves:

Water is sprayed on the feed to the last mill to extract most of the remaining sugar and by the end the cane is totally shredded and (when dried) known as bagasse. :

Next to the crushing engines is this belt drive engine for the cane conveyor, origin currently unknown:

I believe this pump is used for raw juice pumping.

This appears to be the main juice pump to the weighing tanks:

Next is a boiler feedwater pump:

The two main vacuum pumps are from Fives Lille in France and I believed they were the oldest on the island (1891 and 1892) until I found the 1883 vacuum pumps at Cukir and Kanigoro:


Two small steam engines driving crystalisers massecuite and/or sugar conveyors, the horizontal one is a Tangye, the vertical one is believed to be a Marshall:

Centrifugals (made by Watson, Laidlaw of Glasgow) are driven by a vertical Belliss and Morcom belt drive engine:

Another similar engine drives some of the grass hopper equipment :

These are massecuite pumps for the low grade sugar:


These are small air compressors used in burning sulphur.

Meanwhile a conveyor is used to bring the bagasse the furnaces for the boilers, driven by a small engine from Five Lilles, France (1891):

This is the mill area

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This is the mill railway system (700mm gauge) as operated in 2000.

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Rob and Yuehong  Dickinson