The International Steam Pages

More Irrawaddy Steamers, 2009

The vast majority of working steam engines in Burma's rice mills are in Irrawaddy Division, particularly in the southern delta area. Even before Cyclone Nargis struck in 2008 it was not an easy area for tourists to visit, facilities are poor, particularly the roads despite the building of a number of impressive bridges. In fact often a boat is the best option, it's very pleasant but time consuming which is bad news for those on a limited budget like us especially when an expensive taxi is sitting idle for most of the day awaiting our return from the rivers! Further, the trend here is for bigger mills and that means more and more standard Marshall 12" engines  - the treasures are there of course but they take a lot of digging out and there is no way to know in advance where they are. The only choice is to plod on (this year's record was 7 Marshalls in a row before we found even a workable Tangye). It requires a lot of perseverance and even more perspiration from me, not least because neither Han nor Yuehong have any interest in this kind of research. There is no time to investigate the 'people' side of things when you are trying to visit between 10 and 20 mills a day so as to avoid having to spend an extra day coming back to tidy up unfinished business.

I put up a first page on our 'Irrawaddy Steamers' after our 2007 bash. What follows is a selection of engines seen in the eastern side of the delta in October 2009, I am afraid that it is not a classic collection, but I cannot control what the owners put inside their mills! As always, comments and help with identification would be greatly appreciated.

In a veritable sea of Marshall 12" engines, this 12" one bears no identification, it has some common features with Marshall standard engines, it is not impossible that it is an early version. There again it could be from a completely different builder!

By contrast, this magnificent specimen (at least 14") needs no identification, we had seen elsewhere in store in 2005 but unfortunately we caught it having a day off. All the Marshal plates we have seen (the oldest dates from 1892) refer to 'Marshall Sons'... This engine most likely predates 1862 when William Marshall died and the name was changed... In December 2010, we saw it running, which must surely make it the oldest commercially working ('real') stationary steam engine in the world.

This very large Marshall 14" was being installed for a new mill, the Hartnell governor is driven by chains instead of the normal belts:

Of the Tangyes, most were very 'normal' but this unbadged one was #12531, by some way the highest number we have recorded anywhere (the previous top was #12389). It is labelled only 'Rangoon Electrical Stores' and has a slightly unusual valve gear which is similar to many slightly older machines which are badged for 'Hosain Hamadanee':

We saw several engines which are almost certainly Robeys although only a couple carried plates. This one may be the only one I have seen with a double eccentric, it has an unusual governor which I guess is original (we saw another similar dismantled for repair):

This Douglas and Grant engine had been working during our 2005 visit and no doubt will be working again when the main season starts:

We saw several engines from 'T.Shore', the first is more typical with a single eccentric, the second more unusual. The curved slope down from the crosshead guide is very characteristic of this builder although some other makers have similar features:

On a scale of 0-10, this very old 13" Ruston scores a maximum for both steam leaks and dusty environment, it was a nightmare to photograph and video and added to my mounting lung problems:

And as always there are the 'MacDonald' engines with no markings or that of just an agent. I have now dedicated a whole (and very large) page to these engines. They are all old and often leaky and almost always difficult to photograph, especially on the 'valve side'. Here is another one at work in this area:

One of my favourite engines in this area is another MacDonald engine, badged for 'The Rangoon Docking & Engineering Co Ltd.' because it is well looked after and nicely placed for photography, we had seen it working in 2005:

Note the absence of small engines in this collection, in the area we visited, nearly all the small mills seem to have been closed or rebuilt. Almost all the mills are on the riverside, paddy arrives in small boats and goes out processed in larger ones. On the other hand the fact that new mills are being commissioned in 2009 and will be steam powered is good news indeed for future visitors.

The full list of 2009 trip pages is on:

Our earlier explorations are described in pages linked from:

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson