The inexorable rise of the diesel locomotive and the decline of steam means that opportunities to photograph steam hauled
cane trains in Java has dramatically reduced.   Not that it was ever easy - on many systems the returning trains of loaded
wagons began their journeys back to the mills at sunset or even after dark although those with the knowledge managed to
find daylight trains on certain systems.  The start of the 2004 season saw the end of field trains at Sragi, leaving only Olean
and Asembagus mills to carry on the tradition.  Photographing cane trains on the move is fairly easy since their rate of
progress is severely limited by the state of the track.  Indeed at Olean it was possible to travel on the footplate of the
locomotive, jump off the moving engine to run ahead of the train, take the photograph and get back onto the footplate again
ready to move on to the next spot.  Its certainly a great way to keep fit!  The only downside from a photographic point of
view is that the locomotives make very little smoke or 'clag' as the bagasse burns very cleanly.  Therefore it is sometimes
difficult to tell the difference between a photograph of a train which is on the move and one which is actually stationary!
If there is such a place as heaven for steam enthusiasts then it must be Olean.  The mill is located at the eastern end of the
island close to the city of Situbondo - where there are several perfectly adequate hotels - but for those in search of paradise
the nearby beach resort of Pasirputih offers hotel rooms with balconies opening straight onto the beach, spectacular
outrigger sailing boats for hire and dramatic views of the sun sinking into the ocean.  A short bus trip into Situbondo and a
leisurely ride in becak (cycle taxi)  is an ideal preparation for a day of steam action.  The mill itself has an incredible collection
of stationary steam engines powering the mill machinery and it would be entirely possible to spend a whole day wandering
around the various buildings.  Early morning visitors are likely to find the locomotive depot deserted as the four Orenstein and
Koppels will have already taken long trains of empty loris out to the fields running bunker-first.  However by about 10.30 most
of the engines have returned to the yard where they are prepared for the serious work of the day.  From mid-day onwards the
locomotives begin to leave the yard and head off light engine along the Gelung or Semiring lines to collect the loaded cane
Orenstein and Koppel 0-8-0T
No.1 returns towards Olean
having taken a train of empty
cane wagons out to the fields
near Gelung
The locos operate according
to where the cane is being cut
and during my visit the
Semering line saw the majority
of the activity with cane being
cut very close to Olean mill on
the other line - which also
happens to face straight into
the sun!  Orenstein and Koppel
No.7 'Hiyang' runs alongside
the road through the village of
A rare display of smoke from
Orenstein and Koppel No.4
'Semeru' as it comes round one
side of the  triangle between
Tribungan and Karang Malang
No.5 'Bromo' standing in the
main mill yard at Olean.  As
well as cane brought into the
mill by the locomotives there is
also a continuous stream of
lorries offloading in the
adjacent sidings - a potentially
ominous sign for the future of
rail operation at the mill.
Another day and another train
passing through Tribungan -
this time it is No.4 'Semeru'
which is attracting the
interests of the locals as it
makes its way back to Olean.
Although the main railway tracks are permanent it is necessary to get the cut cane from the fields to the line.  To do this temporary
tracks are laid across the fields and the loaded loris brought to the main line by means of buffalo traction! Teams of four, six or even
eight buffalo are used to pull one or two wagons. (above left)

Inside the mill the cane is firstly chopped, washed  and then gradually crushed to extract the sugar from out of the cane.  Much of
the machinery inside the mill is still steam powered by large stationary engines of Dutch or British origin (above right)  
The bemused look on the
face of the local says it all
having just watched me
jump from the footplate of
No.4 and run along the
road in order to get a shot
of the train running
alongside the road just
north of Karang Malang.
Orenstein and Koppel No.1
stands in the main yard at Olean
having just brought in a train of
loaded wagons from Duwet on
the Gelung branch
The becak is a standard means
of travel in many villages,
towns and cities across Java.  
The becak riders are willing to
travel quite long distances and
it is an excellent way to
observe local life at a leisurely
pace.  Here a becak passes
No.7 as it waits to move
wagons near Tribungan
Having run alongside the road
through the village of Tribungan
the line then crosses the road   and
turns west, running along a
narrow lane towards Karang
Malang - scenes like this and the
one below make Olean totally
Having taken the shot above I
elected to stay on foot and run
on ahead of the train.  With
legs turning to jelly and lungs
fit to burst I was just about
capable of photographing
No.7 as it crossed a tiny river
bridge between Tribungan and
the triangle north of Karang
Journey's end as No.7 brings its
train across the weighbridge at
Olean.  I had enjoyed an entire
afternoon on the footplate of the
locomotive and all for the price
of a couple of packets of local
cigarettes.  To my way of
thinking, avoiding corrupting the
local goodwill and ensuring that
the practices of the working
railway are in no way
compromised is essential.  
Working steam in C21st is an
endangered species and needs to
be treated with care and respect.
No one can be certain how
much longer scenes like this
will continue to be enjoyed.  
The falling price of sugar on
the world markets makes the
future of the industry
uncertain and the steady
inroads made by the diesel
salesmen adds to the pressure
on steam.  In 2005 at least it
has still been possible to see
No.5 hard at work but who
knows what the future holds
for Olean .........?
Located some 20km to the east of Situbondo is Asembagus mill.  This is the only other mill in Java which still regularly uses
steam to collect cane from the fields during daylight although trains are far less reliable than at Olean with some days seeing
no steam action at all.  I waited for most of the day before an engine left the mill to collect loaded wagons and chose to ride
the locomotive to take my pictures.  After a pleasant run of some 6 - 7km we found the loaded wagons and I took up position
ready to make my shots.  The driver opened the regulator .... and with a sickening crunch the rails under the locomotive
collapsed sideways!  With no chance of the engine being re-railed before sunset I resigned myself to a long walk back to the
mill but fortunately managed to find a young man working in one of the trackside fields who had a motorbike ............. and the
natives are very helpful!
Orenstein and Koppel 0-8-0T
No.10 standing in the fields at
Asembagus.  This locomotive is
something of a hybrid with the
frames of one locomotive being
paired with the boiler of another
to create a 'new' engine
No.10 stands at the head of its
train ready to haul the loaded
wagons back to the mill. Just a
few seconds after this shot was
taken,  disaster struck (see above)
and it was game over at
Orenstein and Koppel 0-8-0T
No.5 'Bromo' returning home on
the Semiring line just north of
Karang Malang on the Olean mill
system on 20th August 2004
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