The International Steam Pages

Stationary Steam in India 2006/7

Many video clips from this vist are being added in stages on my YouTube Channel (28th December 2013).

In July 2006, I took 9 members and friends of the International Stationary Steam Engine Society on a Thomas Cook's style tour to see stationary steam in Java. Dare I say it, the organisation was superb, they saw 500 stationary steam engines in a fortnight and no-one plucked up the courage to complain about anything. 

Of course, that is doing it the easy way..... Yuehong and I don't have the resources available for our own trips to travel in such luxury and, to be honest, we do enjoy getting off the beaten track and making discoveries even if it means some discomfort along the way - for a flavour of our travels read 'A Day in the Life'. A little bit of hardship hurts no one and it certainly helps make the good times even better.

Having cracked Burma/Myanmar and more or less got our act together in Thailand, it was time for us to make a serious attempt at India and on balance it seemed West Bengal was a good place to start. We set off more in hope than expectation as we had found few sugar mills further west with active stationary steam in 2004, we had yet to see a photograph of an active steam powered rice mill and our only report of colliery winders powered by stationary steam engines was 20 years old. There are no direct flights from Beijing to Calcutta and the connections are so poor with 'value flights' that we were condemned to spend 22 hours at the new Suvannaphum airport in Bangkok which had opened in late September 2006 to universal hoots of derision from international travellers ("worst new airport in the world"). Believing in properly equipping ourselves for a hardship posting, we just about drunk Thai International's galley dry and headed for the Economy Transit Lounge which is one of the airport's best kept secrets. In October the hot weather had made the AC totally inadequate, by December we were wishing we had brought blankets, but there were plenty of long sofas available and we slept adequately. Next day, owing to (correctly) reported ridiculous food and drink prices there we 'self-catered'. Yuehong got the low down on the real Chairman Mao and I plugged my lap top into the bank of sockets they had thoughtfully provided, so time flew by. Unfortunately, the onward Thai flight to Calcutta was the worst I have ever had on the airline (I have a very satisfying history going back to 1978 with them), only our charm got a late dinner just over one hour before landing, the crew tried their best but management had failed to give them the numbers and facilities to service a full Airbus. It took a determined effort to adequately sample the liquid contents of the trolleys but of course we were more than mellow as we disembarked to find Dum Dum refreshingly 'unmodernised'. A (quite) quick phone call established that we did indeed have a hotel booking and we headed off into the night in an Ambassador - a big yellow taxi, whose meter was mysteriously defunct. 

Next day we got body and soul back together and relaxed. People kept asking me how much Calcutta had changed in the 30 years since I was last there; they looked a little surprised when I said 'not much' - I hastened to add that, in my opinion, this was a compliment. The trams still run (but not across the Howrah bridge):


We did the tourist thing (but on principle we declined the 1400% tourist tax to go inside the Victoria Memorial):

And we enjoyed Indian food at it very best:

And then we headed off for the real India. This guy must have one of the shittiest jobs in the world - if you don't know what he is doing then don't ask!

Hang on, "What about the stationary steam?", I hear you ask. That wasn't too bad either, we recorded well over 100 engines of which more than 60 were actually working and half that number again warm between shifts not to mention those taking a few days off for repair or being installed in new mills, in fact we saw very few derelicts at all... And to those of you who haven't met Yuehong and doubt her interest (and my sanity):

In case you need reminding, we are serious researchers, we are acutely aware of the 'Lonely Planet Effect' and we have consciously withheld any locational information which could lead to an unwanted influx of visitors to sites which by their nature are anything but set up to be tourist attractions. If you share our philosophy and want to help further that research by making your own visits both here and elsewhere in India, then please get in touch. If not, then please just enjoy the pictures and the narrative and don't waste our time and yours asking for more information. Now use the links below:

A Reason to Return - a brand new steam powered rice mill in a green field site. 

Marshall Heaven - we always go the extra mile to bring you working stationary steam.

Just Another Marshall (Part 2) - too bad it wasn't working!

Just Another Marshall (Part 3) - drop valve action...

My Other Steam Engine is a Marshall too - if you're going to be different then don't do it by halves.

Make Mine a Robey, Please - as common as in Burma.

Many Happy Returns - unexpected returns to old gricing spots.

All I want for Christmas... - anything but another bloody Marshall.

The Loose Ends - the bits and pieces that ask as many question as they answer

Robert Clive's Sugar Mill - well, it's not quite that old.

Rob and Yuehong  Dickinson