The International Steam Pages

A Month in Java, 1976 Part 1

Part 1: Introduction, Jakarta to Purwokerto (including Cibatu, Banjar, Maos and Kroja)

Part 2: Purwokerto to Madiun (including Kutarjo, Yogya and Solo)

Part 3: Madiun to Blitar (including Kertosono, Kediri, Pare and Tulungagung)

Part 4: Blitar to Cepu (including Mojokerto, Bangil, Malang and Probolinggo)

Part 5: Cepu to Semarang (including Kudus, Surabaya and Purwodadi)

Part 6: Semarang to Jakarta (including Pekalongan, Tegal, Prupuk, Cirebon, Rangkasbetung)


I had just finished my post-graduate studies in Cambridge when I started work as a lecturer at the Science University of Malaysia (Universiti Sains Malaysia, USM) in Penang in September 1972. After 3 years of what was in fact an extended paid holiday my contract expired, an inducement to renew was 6 month's paid sabbatical leave, intended for academic studies and/or renewing ties in the UK but in practice it was 'free time'. My then wife (Marion) and I cashed in the IATA voucher and used it to buy a succession of air tickets and one-month Eurail and Britrail Pass which got us 'round the world'. We got totally pissed on the flight to Bangkok and then spent a week (all we were allowed) in Burma going to Mandalay and back, all paid for with a bottle of Johnny Walker whisky and 200 State Express cigarettes bought 'duty free'. We even got a couple of rubies with the loose change left over. Next we spent some 6 weeks roaming India with side trips to Sri Lanka and Nepal, of course there was a lot of steam en route but most of all I remember my daughter Tammy was conceived along the way, maybe the erotic temples at Konarak and Khajaraho had something to do with it... In Europe I had an unforgettable couple of days in the snow on the Vordenberg rack and some totally forgettable days with the ore trains between Rheine and Emden. It was easy to conceal the early pregnancy from UK relatives and friends and then we flew directly to Los Angeles and had a week each in Tahiti, Fiji and Australia - somewhere I caught Malaria but I didn't realise it at the time and it cured itself. Back in Penang, Marion had to return to work but I had a another two months to recover. It was not a difficult decision to go to Java as I had been entranced by the contents of Dusty Durrant's PNKA Power Parade but had been almost totally frustrated on my trip there with Dorridge Travel in 1975. We had rarely been in the right place at the right time, the local guides had no idea of what we wanted and what was on offer. Our tour leader was blinkered by his previous trip some time before and if he spoke a word of Bahasa Indonesia it wasn't obvious to me, although at the time mine wasn't up to much - it was soon to improve, it had to. We did have some successes but all too often we had to leave a station before we saw anything actually move. 'Satisfactory, but could do better' would have the politest way of summing up the experience - fortunately I had arrived two days before the group and had already discovered that Indonesian railwaymen were about the most hospitable and co-operative in the world when I not so much hitched a lift on as was dragged aboard a D14 between Padalarang and Cianjur in West Java. So it was that I made my way in two overnight stages to Singapore with an unforgettable day on the Port Klang (Port Swettenham) branch with a Malayan Railway 56 class rotary poppet valve Pacific. As Sellers, Milligan and Secombe (a.k.a. the Goons) would once proclaim, this is where the story really begins. Alas it seems I left my travel diary in Monmouth when I moved to China in 2004, but one of the advantages of going senile is that many important early experiences remain (apparently) totally sharp in the memory. Its absence excuses a certain poetic licence from time to time in the account that follows, but the pictures are all totally genuine and the slides have been used to confirm the chronology! Certainly, some of the dates I put on the slides are inconsistent by a day or so as I could not have been in two places in Java at the same time. (A fault which extends to some of the captions in our CD-ROM 'Incredible Indonesia').

6th May 1976

Fortunately, there has long been an Indonesian consulate in Penang (because of trading links with North Sumatra) so in the days before 'Visa on Arrival' I was empowered before I left home. Halim Airport in the south of Jakarta was not much more than a few shacks, but there was a 'Nasi Padang' warung next to the local bus stop for an early lunch. Afterwards the city bus took me to Jatinegara, the fare was an exorbitant Rp 35 (Rp = Rupiah = IDR, in 1976 USD 1 bought about Rp 400, my daily budget was USD 6, rising towards USD 10 on those rare occasions when a second beer was needed to celebrate a particularly successful day). I have no memory of crossing the city to Tanahabang, I guess I changed buses again at Menteng near Gambir which was the main interchange in those days. It was one of the least salubrious areas of a rather dirty and rundown city - 'tanner a bang' just about summarised it as did Durrant's famous picture of the lady with the fine pair of buffers on offer at the back of the shed. All I managed was B5105 and C2739 (the latter surprisingly being an Armstrong Whitworth product).

It was no more than a fleeting visit, I photographed C2705 from the road bridge, the absence of roof riders indicating that it was merely an empty coaching stock movement. 

I had to make my way to see old university classmate David Jenkins who was here making a lot more money than I was. More buses no doubt and, I think, reluctantly a taxi to find his mansion. At least he was paying for the Bintangs because, at over USD 1 each, they were otherwise a budget breaker. 

7th May 1976

With a thick head and the knowledge that a pal of David's would put me on up my return to Jakarta and save me the cost of a hotel, I boarded the train to Bandung. Then, as now, it is a 'Great Railway Journey', the windows may be totally opaque from the dirt but standing on the steps at the ends of the carriages affords a splendid view of the high viaducts and the amazing near vertical rice padis during the second half. There was little steam seen on the way except for D52s and a solitary C28 at Cikampek - a class which had once worked express passenger trains but now hardly ever turned a wheel in anger although I saw several of them in steam around the island, a couple of which were on trains. It took almost no time to extract the pure gold of a paper permit from PNKA head-quarters in Bandung, invaluable on those occasions when a policeman saw a chance of earning a bit of 'wang kopi' (coffee money) from an 'orang puteh' (white man) not to mention when wanting to enter Mecca (a.k.a. the workshops at Madiun). 

Outside the south side of Bandung station was an array of vehicles of vaguely American origin, I asked for 'Garut' and very soon I was heading for the hills wedged between a mass of what seemed tiny locals. Two hours later I was unloaded in front of the station, I was pleasantly surprised to find there was bargain accommodation in the 'losmen' (small hotel, no doubt doubling as a brothel, such places never cost me more than IDR 1000 a night) next door and after dumping my bag I found I was just in time to see the afternoon CC50 2-6-6-0 Mallet arrival from the main line junction at Cibatu and its onward departure to Cikajang, Java's highest station.

I must have passed on the shared cold 'mandi' (water tank with plastic scoop), after all I was not sharing my bed with anything except the bed bugs and cockroaches.

8th May 1976

In those days there were 4 trains a day between Cibatu and Garut, the first and third continued up the valley to Cikajang, a section which remained an unknown quantity for me until 1978 as there was too much else to explore. Shortly after dawn I boarded the loco of the first train down to the junction and was delighted to find Mallet 2-6-6-0T CC1007 being readied to take out the second train. CC5012 was also in steam:

After a visit to the shed, I made my way to the well known curve just south of the junction and sat and waited. After much to-ing and fro-ing in the distance and rather later than I had expected, the train departed. At the last minute, I realised that the 'Kepala Dipo' (shed master) had spotted me and had ordered CC5012 to pilot the train. Retreating rapidly through the semi-dried up padis to widen the angle, I just managed 'the' shot - alas some years later I was seduced by the offer of money for its reproduction and some jealous bastard at 'La Vie du Rail' pocketed the slide so it cannot appear here. All I can show is the second and third shots of separately CC5012 and CC1007 the latter buried in steam as usual for a CC10:

I retreated to Cibatu station and caught the afternoon (diesel) train on to Tasikmalaya, in 1976 steam out of Cibatu being limited to the branch. Tasikmalaya was (and is) a sprawling town with a religiously bigoted majority where I have never felt comfortable, the less cold water in the losmen was small compensation.

9th May 1976

An early morning visit to the station revealed that a steam loco was approaching from Banjar, it turned out to be CC5030 tender first which was a less than attractive subject for photography, but that meant the return working would be 'the right way round'. My bag was parked on the tender and for the first time on the trip I could truly relax, the journey being generally downhill and undemanding as the consist ran to merely a single coach. 

Just once more the camera was coaxed into action as we accelerated away with 'smoke to order' from a small halt as the line crossed from one side of the valley to the other.

A quick visit to the shed at Banjar confirmed that the BB10s no longer journeyed down the branch to Cijulang and other than D52 and CC50 only C2820 was in steam, so I jumped into the cab of the (diesel) loco on an express eastwards. 

By now we were leaving the cool of the mountains and the humidity was rocketing. I was half asleep as we approached Maos, but suddenly I spotted diminutive 0-4-0 B5226 on the spur to the river below the main line. This was an example of a class we had not seen in steam in 1975 and not to be missed. I baled out of the train without pausing for thought and walked back, it was going nowhere fast, the pipe on its running plate indicated it was resting from being used to pump water into the large tank. 

There was nothing else to do to complete a long day except to board another diesel hauled local train from Cilacap and head for Kroja where I arrived in the dark. I had been here the previous year with the tour group and knew that it was basically a railway junction with a stabling point. Knowing it was no more than a village in the middle of nowhere, I was pleasantly surprised to find a losmen in the station approach road. Suffice to say it won no stars and as seemed to happen all too often on the trip, I forget the details of my basic dinner except that I am sure that no Bintang was on offer - it was another very cheap day out in Java.

10th May 1976

Early morning brought me another new class in steam and another pumper - spindly Klien Lindner 0-8-0T D1008 was duplicating B5226's efforts but its diminutive cylinder size made an amazing contrast with the low pressure front end of the adjacent CC50. 

Station staff alerted me to the forthcoming departure of Krupp 2-8-2 D52100 (the last mainline steam locomotive delivered to Java) on the local train to Banjar. This was a long time coming and I spent the next hour or two in a field swatting away the local children like flies, at one stage I counted in excess of one hundred competing for my attention. After much begging, persuasion and ultimately threats of instant martyrdom, they retreated when the departure whistle sounded, alas while the sun shone the asthmatic D52 failed to do the business and steam and oily smoke enveloped it. 

D5104 was at the back of the stabling point at Kroja, this example was fitted with smoke deflectors for some reason:

By now CC5011 was out and about:.

I boarded some late afternoon or early evening and presumably unphotographable train to Purwokerto, acutely aware that while I had scored some interesting observations I had recorded very little memorable on slide film. The station at Purwokerto is some way west of the main town, it did at least boast a losmen opposite, my memory is that at a few hundred Rupiah per night it was horribly over-priced. Things could surely only get better...

Part 2: Purwokerto to Madiun (including Kutarjo, Yogya and Solo)

Rob Dickinson