|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD||
© AUGUST 1974
DIESELS IN THE OUT - HOUSE
JOHN BENSON and KOH KA CHEK
Kampong Pasir Gajah slumbered in the Malayan afternoon sunshine. Only a few small children playing near the road, and some old men watching the peaceful scene from the shade of their thatched wooden houses saw the smart new Singapore-registered car pull up at a gap between two of the houses. The driver, a European, got out, and walked through the gap; he paused for a moment, to look around, then turned left, behind the houses... Quite a few of the villagers had aroused themselves to watch the visitor as he returned to his car, swung it round, and drove away, back down the road to Chukai and Kemaman.
Early in 1971, John had learned that a couple of small old diesel locomotives were lying derelict in an out‑house behind Kampong Pasir Gajah, some ten miles West of Kemaman and Chukai. The site was on the course of a former railway owned by the Japanese Mining Company (Ishihara Sangyo Koshi) that had operated before the War a few miles further up the valley. They had used the railway to carry iron ore from the mining site to a point, some five miles east, where it was transferred to river barges.
During June 1971 John made a preliminary visit, and found that there were in fact four 2ft 0in gauge diesels in the out‑house. He did not, however, investigate further at this stage.
Early in July 1971 John returned to Pasir Gajah, accompanied by Othman bin Mohammed, one of the Malay soldiers from the area who was serving with a Unit of the British Army in Singapore. The two terminal points, on the banks of Sungei (River) Pinang, were explored, and various traces found. At Machang Sa'Tahun, the former mining site, substantial traces remained of both Ishihara Sangyo Koshi (ISK) operations and subsequent, post‑War usage. Although, unfortunately, much of the course of the railway has now been obscured, its general line was discerned after discussions between Othman, the Penghulus (Headmen) and other older residents. It was learned that the four diesels in the out‑house belonged to Chye Hin Ltd, a large Chinese-owned Timber Company, whose nearest office was in Chukai. A visit proved abortive; no‑one spoke more than a few words of English or Malay, while neither John nor Othman spoke Chinese !
Two weeks later, John and Koh drove up to meet the Manager, at the Chukai office of Chye Hin Ltd. This gentleman has been with the Company since 1934, and is one of the last surviving pre‑War employees. We were privileged to be able to meet him, and record some Malaysian railway history that would otherwise have been lost on his death.
The story of ISK activities in the valley during pre‑War days has been reasonably well documented elsewhere. Mining operations ceased in December 1941, when the Japanese Army invaded Malaya. Railway equipment owned by ISK, including the locomotives, remained at Pasir Gajah after the start of the Occupation. It was moved, probably during 1943, to a bauxite mine in the vicinity of Batu Pahat (Johore); confirmation of the new location, and ultimate fate of the equipment and locomotives, has yet to be substantiated.
Chye Hin commenced operations during 1926, in the forests about ten miles north of Pasir Gajah. Their line started on the south side of the Sungei Ibok, at the northern edge of Kampong Peng Yak Yah, and ran north-west alongside the river. It was extended gradually, as logging operations moved deeper into the forest. By the time of the Japanese Occupation, the railway had attained a length of almost 30 miles, winding up the valley of the Sungei Ibok to reach Ulu Paka; at the edge of the Ulu Chukai Forest reserve. For the first few miles it remained on the south bank of the river; thereafter, it crossed and re‑crossed both the river and some of its tributaries. A loop, and two branches served logging sites distant from the main line around Pasir Belaram (about ten miles from Peng Yak Yah); it is likely that these are later additions, being shown on post‑War Ordnance Survey Maps, but not on the surviving pre‑War map still retained by the Company.
During the early years, the length of the railway was such that hand-operation was adequate for requirements. However, by 1936 there was a need for locomotives. The first was constructed by the Company in 1936. A four‑wheeled diesel was evolved by mounting a Newmans road lorry engine on a substantial frame. The transmission shaft was retained, and the cross-shaft at the rear was connected on each side, by means of cogs and chains, to the rear axle! As the chains are outside the frames and wheels, a very primitive appearance has resulted. The hand‑operated gear change from the road lorry was also retained in position, on the transmission shaft, just behind the bonnet. Although cumbersome, and not particularly powerful, this machine was a considerable improvement after hand‑operation of the line. It survived until cessation of the Chye Hin railway system, and remained derelict at Pasir Gajah during 1971. In 1937 an old steam locomotive was purchased second-hand from Singapore. It survived until the 1950's, but no records of its origin or identity have yet been traced.
1938 saw the arrival of a German 0‑4‑0 mine diesel, as well as the first Ruston & Hornsby 4‑wheel diesel. A second Ruston locomotive was delivered in the following year. The German locomotive was not really suited for work on a timber line, and was never used more than necessary. It survived derelict at Pasir Gajah during 1971. One of the Ruston locomotives was of 19hp rating, both being supplied through United Engineers, the Ruston agents for Malaya. Records of these locomotives have not been retained by the agents, and perusal of the builder's list has not provided positive identification. The two locomotives were sold during 1966.
During their occupation of Malaya, the Japanese took over the Chye Hin railway, and continued some logging operations. Company records were destroyed. The Chinese owner and his son were arrested; the father died in April 1945 as the result of years of torture and ill‑treatment at the hands of the Kempetai (Secret Police). However, the son survived to assume control of the Company at the beginning of 1946, subsequently remaining at work until his death in 1967.
A further Ruston was ordered in 1946, and delivered in the following year. As in the case of earlier locomotives from this builder, the identity has not been established. It too was sold during 1966.
Timber operations were disrupted by Communist terrorist activities during the early part of the "Emergency" in 1948. Later, the Security Forces imposed a ban on continuance of operations by the Company in the Peng Yak Yah area. However, new concessions were granted, in forests to the north-west of Pasir Gajah. During 1950, the rails and equipment were moved from Peng Yak Yah to the new site. The course of the old line was abandoned, and has since become completely over-grown; no accessible traces now remain.
At the time of the move, the bed of the former ISK line was still intact, although somewhat over-grown; it suited the needs of Chye Hin Ltd. The Company established its terminal on the west bank of Sungei Pinang, rather than take the railway across the river as the ISK had done before the Occupation. From the terminal the Chye Hin rails followed the course of the old ISK line west for some three miles, passing Pasir Gajah village. Near the Eleventh Mile Stone, at the west end of the village, the Chye Hin line diverged from the course of the old ISK line; it crossed the road on the level, and plunged into the forest where now the Company had its concessions. Once inside the forest, the course of the line tended to fluctuate, depending on the exact site of timber operations at any particular time.
Timber was conveyed on small four‑wheeled wooden frames that could be spaced under each trunk according to its size and length. These frames were connected by ropes, and ropes were also used to connect the loaded frames with the locomotive. A few 4‑wheel Hudson tipper wagons were retained, and used when any earth works were required for the line inside the forest.
Shortly after the move to Pasir Gajah, a further Ruston was ordered, again through the agents in Singapore; it was delivered during 1951. Unfortunately, the identity has not been substantiated. This locomotive was also sold during 1966.
In 1952 the Company constructed a second four wheel diesel. This had a transverse engine, with chain drive inside the frames. Although the engine had been removed, the remains of this locomotive were still at Pasir Gajah in 1971. During examination, it was noted that the axle boxes were marked 'MRTC'; the Manager was not able to say whether in fact the frame had originated from a locomotive built by Motor Rail.
The final locomotive to be purchased by Chye Hin arrived in 1963. This was Ruston & Hornsby 235676, which was acquired second-hand to provide spares to maintain the other Rustons. Records show that this locomotive was built new for the Ministry of Supply. In 1946, it was sold to A. Pollock, a dealer who seems to have supplied a number of locomotives to Malaya; however, details of its whereabouts until arrival at Pasir Gajah have not yet been established. It remained derelict in the out‑house during 1971.
In the early 1960's, another company attempted to resume mining operations on the former ISK sites at Machang Sa'Tahun. The site was cleared, and various new buildings were erected in 1963, but it did not affect Chye Hin or the railway; from the outset the new company used road transport for removal of the ore. After a short time, it was found that the ore was of a very low grade with only a limited market. Operations ceased in 1964 and the plant was sold by auction in the following year.
As will be realised, the road up the valley had been substantially improved by the time that operations to resume mining at Machang Sa'Tahun commenced. As a result, the economics of maintaining a railway for removal of timber were becoming unfavourable. By 1965 bulldozers and other plant suitable for use in the forest had been purchased; arrangements were made for removal of timber by road vehicles, and the railway ceased operation. Much of the rail equipment was sold, although four older locomotives, a quantity of rails, a few tippers and some timber-carrying frames were stored in the out‑house at Pasir Gajah in June 1971. A month later it was noted that the rails had been removed.
The warm, humid climate of Malaysia encourages rapid growth of vegetation. Much of the course of the railway has been obscured and in the forests very little trace now remains visible. The climate also encourages rust, so that it is now doubtful if any of the remaining equipment at Pasir Gajah will see further use.
We are indebted to E.S. Tonks and W.K. Williams for their assistance in endeavouring to trace the identities of the Ruston locomotives mentioned.
"We are in receipt of your enquiry of the 15th inst for Steam Locomotive for North Brazil, and in reply thereto, we have to say we have made all sizes and types of Locomotives, but not of the Garrett [sic] type, and for one locomotive only we should not be prepared to quote for this model, as we have no drawings or patterns."
(Extract from a letter, dated 16th March 1935, received by John Miller & Co. Ltd, Liverpool, from Hudswell, Clarke & Co. Ltd, Leeds. - TGT)
'The Administration of the Japanese State Railways possesses a large workshop at Kobe which has, so far, only been employed on miscellaneous jobbing operations. Now, however, it proposes to commence the construction of its own locomotives, but for the present the necessary materials for building engines will still be procured abroad.' ("Iron," 26th May 1893. The March 1906 Diagram Book of the Imperial Government Railways of Japan suggests that the first locomotive built at Kobe was 2‑4‑2 side tank No. 885, which appeared in 1893. Production seems to have been limited - to 1906 at least. - KPP).