Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Two 19th Century Locomotives Found on Bottom of the Ocean

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Two 19th Century Locomotives Found on Bottom of the Ocean

Article excerpt

The emerald-colored waters off Long Branch, N.J., were "gloomy and spooky" as Dan Lieb swam toward the two hulking silhouettes, sitting upright and side by side about 90 feet down.

The objects were heavily encrusted with marine life, but Mr. Lieb recognized the unmistakable lines, the wheels and boilers of identical locomotives, 160 years after they fell or were cast overboard.

"It looked like they were steaming across the bottom in a race," said Mr. Lieb, 56, of Neptune, N.J. "You could imagine them on tracks at a station with steam coming out of the valves, and people and luggage on the platform."

Five miles off the Jersey Shore, their presence is a mystery perplexing researchers. How did two pre-Civil War locomotives wind up there? Did they slip off a sailing ship during a storm? Were they purposely dropped into the deep?

Mr. Lieb, a technical illustrator and diver, is director of the Sunken Locomotives Project for the New Jersey Museum of Transportation, a nonprofit educational organization that took legal possession of the engines -- through a federal proceeding -- about nine years ago.

Research into the submerged locomotives also is being conducted by the New Jersey Historical Divers Association, said Mr. Lieb, president of the group.

"We had the option of bringing them up, leaving them on the bottom, or bringing up parts of them," he said. "We've been recovering pieces, examining them and trying to answer lingering questions."

The 15-ton locomotives, he said, are rare because they are Planet Class 2-2-2 T models, similar to one called the Pioneer now on display at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore.

Like the Pioneer, each one has six wheels, a pair of larger wheels flanked by smaller ones in the front and back, but the sunken engines are heavier and more powerful, what Mr. Lieb called a possible "missing link in locomotive technology."

"It's like the designers were pushing a specific design as far as it could go," he said. "There is no record of them being built and no journal or newspaper discussing their loss."

One of the few clues to their origin came from Paul Hepler, captain of the charter boat Venture III, who discovered the engines while mapping the ocean bottom with a magnetometer in 1985. …

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