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Locomotives At The Bottom Of The Ocean Have Historian Puzzled

A Pioneer locomotive, owned by the Smithsonian. (Credit: Smithsonian Museum)

A Pioneer locomotive, owned by the Smithsonian. (Credit: Smithsonian Museum)

John Ostapkovich John Ostapkovich
John Ostapkovich brings humor and wit, and a wealth of experience...
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By John Ostapkovich

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Philadelphia Chapter of the Explorers Club hears tonight from a Central Jersey man who has spent years investigating two mid-19th Century locomotives in an unusual place — the ocean bottom.

Technical illustrator Dan Lieb wears other hats too. As Director of the Sunken Locomotives Project for the New Jersey Museum of Transportation, he’s dived to these two train engines, deteriorating on the ocean floor about five miles off Long Branch.

“I was already in the New Jersey Historical Divers Association, researching shipwrecks, and, well, we figured locomotives on the bottom, this has to be cargo, this has to be from a ship, and when I first saw them I was impressed at how they exhibited technology from a bygone era.”

Lieb says it appears these machines, with 2-2-2 wheel configuration, had pushed small locomotive design about as far as it could go. Though the wooden parts have rotted, the metal reveals design characteristics similar to the 11-ton Pioneer engine owned by the Smithsonian (pictured).

“Our locomotives dwarf the Pioneer. Our locomotives are big, much bigger than the Pioneer and yet nobody thought that they made little 2-2-2’s that big.  We’ve got a small locomotive built as big as it could possibly get before you just had to start adding more wheels.”

He says the museum got title to the locomotives as salvage and seems likely to pull important parts to the surface, in an attempt to solve the mysteries: where were they built? And where were they going?

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