The International Steam Pages

Those were the days... (Java sugar steam 1975 - 1997)

These days (2009), it is common knowledge that the rump Java sugar mill operations represent the second greatest 'real steam' experience in the world after China. Its survival in any shape or form is nothing short of miraculous and today's visitors should marvel at what has survived into the 21st century and enjoy what is left on that basis - if you have never been to Java you ought to go while it is still possible. It has been my privilege over the last 25 years or so to take some 200 enthusiasts there, those who came with me in the 1980s and early 1990s will now look back fondly at the quality and quantity of narrow gauge steam that they saw. I have been rescanning my slide collection taken between 1975 and 1997, later I will scan those taken up to 2004 - after which I parked my trusty Olympus OM1s (and their Kodachrome 64 which is now going out of production) so I could just stand and watch instead of being pre-occupied with trying to get yet another master shot when, tell the truth, there was almost nothing new left for me to record as activity had declined so much.

Eventually I hope to produce a CD-ROM which will update our existing Sweet Dreams, but in the meantime enjoy a small number of my favourite pictures from most of the mills at about 750 x 500 pixels i.e. at a lower quality and lower resolution than used on our CDs. The quantity of steam around then was such that no-one could hope to have a comprehensive photographic record of every system (let alone every loco and every line) but I guess there are few people (I could name a couple) who would have the kind of record that I managed. The choice of images is arbitrary, not every one will be a great photograph, but each represents a very special experience to me...

The coverage moves roughly from west to east through the state owned mills followed by a similar progression for the private mills - and some mills with steam are omitted because I never had time to do justice to them. What every image will have in common is the fact that they are totally unrepeatable today; either the mill has closed, the particular operation has ceased, maybe the field lines are defunct or simply the locomotives are part of history. With that wonderful thing, hindsight, I could have better used my time - for instance if I had known that Olean would last well into the 21st century I would have covered the other steam mills round Situbondo better in the 1980s. During the much shorter 1970s visits I rightly concentrated on the then vanishing main line steam and it was inevitable that, by the time I was able to return in the 1980s, I would have missed out on much of the best Kediri and Probolinggo area action. The field trains round Madiun were available but challenging in the 1980s, maybe I should have sacrificed a few days at Gondang and Tasik Madu to try harder with them. On the other hand, the interior workings of the raft of mills that closed in the 1990s represent a massive lost opportunity, albeit recording them would have been very difficult, time consuming and not to mention expensive before the advent of digital photography. 

Click here for a developing series of YouTube clips of Java sugar steam filmed between 1991 and 1999.

Click here for a historical survey of narrow gauge diesel locomotives in Java's sugar mills.

A full list of mills extant in 1975 is given below:

PNP 14 (now PT Rajawali II) - West Java, Cirebon Area

PNP XV (now PTPN IX) - Central Java, North Coast

PNP XVI (now PTPN IX) Central Java, South Coast

PNP XX (now PTPN XI) East Java, Madiun Area

PNP XXI (now PTPN X) East Java, Kediri Area

PNP XXII (now PTPN X) East Java, Mojokerto Area 

  • (Cukir, insufficient pictures)

  • (Jombang, insufficient pictures)

  • Gempolkerep

  • (Krian, insufficient pictures)

  • (Watutulis no steam locomotives)

  • (Tulangan, insufficient pictures)

  • (Krembung, no steam locomotives)

PNP XXIV (now PTPN XI) East Java, Probolinggo Area

PNP XXV (now PTPN XI) East Java, Situbondo Area

And this is where the story really begins...

Private Mills

You ain't seen nothing yet. This is where the fat lady really gets to sing...

  • (Madukismo, no steam locomotives)

  • Pakis Baru

  • Trangkil

  • (Rejoagung, insufficient pictures)

  • (Candi, no steam locomotives)

  • Kebonagung - save the best for last!

  • (Krebet, no pictures) 

Rob Dickinson