One of the inspirations for visiting Java was provided by some Colin Garratt photographs which appeared in a book which I
was given many years ago. These included a series of images of Javanese locomotives taken at night with vast trails of sparks
emitting from the chimneys. The effects are extremely dramatic and are caused by locomotives burning bagasse. Because
the bagasse is so fibrous a considerable amount passes through the firebox and along the boiler tubes without being fully
burned until it is ejected from the chimney where it catches light. In daylight hours this process goes largely unnoticed except
for the tiny pinprick holes which appear in your t-shirt as the sparks land on your clothing! At night however it is a different
story! All that is required is for the crew to add some more bagasse bales to the fire or turn on the blower and suddenly the
sky erupts into a spectacular firework display! For the price of a local packet of cigarettes such moments can be had to
order, thus removing the unpredictable nature of such proceedings.
I had been advised that Merican was one of the best
mills at which to observe the night time fireworks
display. The mill always seems to have plentiful
supplies of bagasse and co-operative engine crews.
Spending the early hours of the morning enjoying the
sunrise at Mount Bromo and then travelling to
Merican by public bus meant that I turned up at the
gates fairly late in the afternoon and so didn't really
have enough time to enjoy the mill in daylight hours.
The situation was further complicated by the fact
that the office staff who would have normally issued
my mill permit had already gone home and the
security guards took some time to find a way of
extracting my fee and issuing the necessary
By late afternoon the main yard was full of loaded
cane wagons and most locomotives were sitting
patiently in the road delivery yard awaiting their turn
to move their trains. With lengthening shadows it
was only really possible to get half-decent shots of
the engines in their red and yellow livery before
waiting for the sun to set and the show to begin.
(Left) Orenstein & Koppel 0-8-0T No.8 (built 1927)
stands in the mill yard at Merican in the late afternoon.
My long journey to reach the mill meant avoiding
shadows was nearly impossible.
Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-2T No.5
(built 1923) stands in the main mill
yard at Merican. The red and yellow
livery certainly suited these engines
although by 2010 it had been
changed to a less attractive (in my
view) blue livery.
A case of confused identity? Orenstein
& Koppel 0-4-2T No.6 (built 1901)
bears the numeral 5 on its side tanks
but 6 on the tender - however
comparison with other pictures leaves
little doubt as to its true identity.
Late afternoon has turned into
early evening as Borsig 0-8-0T No.2
runs light engine through the mill
yard at Merican.
I really didn't have a clear idea as to how to
go about capturing the kind of shot that I
had gone to Merican to achieve and, since I
was on my own, there was no-one to ask so
it became a real case of experimentation.
Of course it doesn't really look like this - the
effect is achieved as a result of taking a time
exposure as the sparks fly up and out of the
chimney. The main problem is the almost
total lack of light in the mill yard. There are
no huge floodlight towers just out of shot - it
is almost pitch black and difficult to really
see what is going on.
My solution was to set my film camera up on
a tripod, open the shutter and then walk
round the locomotive illuminating it with
multiple flashes from my pocket digital
camera. Needless to say there were
numerous attempts and this is probably the
best of a whole series of different exposures.
There were actually two Orenstein &
Koppel's in the yard - No.4 which was
already an incredible 103 years old (above)
and No.5 which was slightly younger having
been built in 1923. In return for a few
packets of cigarettes both crews were
prepared to 'play the game' and give me
what I came for.
One of the interesting 'effects' of using this
type of photographic exposure is the
appearance of 'ghosts'. It is possible to
walk right through the shot without
actually appearing on the resulting
photograph - so long as you don't remain in
the same spot for too long. However one of
the crew has paused briefly by the side of
the engine and produced an almost spectral
effect - his white hat and light coloured
trousers being just about visible in the
bottom right hand corner.
Merican was one of a declining number of mills that was still using steam in 2011 although there is increasing road traffic and
the use of tractors to move the empty wagons. The roster has been joined since my 2004 visit by a Du Croo & Brauns
0-4-4-0T No.205 (built 1927). This is the only Mallet type locomotive still regularly working in Java and was brought to
Merican from Ngadiredjo sugar mill. As mentioned above the livery of the locomotives has changed from yellow and red to a