458 Meylert St Laporte PA 18626
The covered bridge at Hillsgrove being demolished in 1906; Engine #4 has gone "in the drink" while assisting. See more photos here.
It isn’t often that you get to step back in time, so to speak. And when visitors are in the museum, imagination can take you well into the past while viewing the artifacts and written words within these walls. But for this reporting, we had to physically go to a location in history to retrieve just one artifact – the smoke stack from the 1906 calamity referred to as “The Dinky in the Drink”. This artifact was buried in the Loyalsock Creek for 108 years and really wasn’t exposed until last year! The floors of fresh running water in stream beds bring and let go of a multitude of debris, but it is seldom that we can actually get from these watery graves the artifacts of a particular incident.
This saga began with John Smithkors (formerly of Hillsgrove Twp.) of Cherry Twp. who has become an avid scuba diver. John had, just out of curiosity, decided to dive the waters of the Loyalsock in the vicinity of the old “Bridge of Spooks” location. One covered bridge was for railroad traffic and one was for public access of foot and horse traffic. The abutments of these long gone bridges still remain today so John simply swam around this location to see what he could see.
The story goes that a Climax Class B locomotive, Engine #4 broke through the wooden covered railroad bridge. The locomotive was in the process of dismantling the covered bridge and that action had gone beyond what remained of weight load capacity that the remains of the bridge could withstand – hence it fell into the creek. The smoke stack had four “ears” that attached it to the front body of the engine (two of which had broken off) where it was bolted on at its base. It would also have had a “cap” bolted at its top of cast iron that acted as a spark arrestor but this piece was no longer attached to the stack itself. The assumption is that the flood waters of 2011 from hurricane Irene may have contributed to the exposure of this pile of remaining debris from the wreck, and subsequent “rinsing” continued to add to this exposure until the time that John unearthed this treasure.
One of John’s first contacts, other than this museum, was to Adam Jenkins, Consulting Conservator for his expertise on how to correctly conserve and display the smoke stack itself. Adam is a professional associate of the American Institute for conservation of historic and artistic works. Next came Tim White, Ph.D.P.G. Earth & Environmental Systems Institute, Pennsylvania State University, along with his Penn State Dive Science class are volunteering their involvement. This group, with Adam Jenkins and John Smithkors, have conducted surveys and identification of the smoke stack for its removal. Then Jeffrey Erickson, Associate Clinical Professor of Law at the Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University had been solicited and has volunteered his time for the legal research required for this undertaking.
To actually extract the smoke stack, machinery and manpower would then be needed. To this end, Craig Harding, CEO of Sullivan County Rural Electric Co-op volunteered himself and Walt Tubach and vehicle equipment with an extending boom winch to gently cradle the smoke stack from its resting place, float it down the creek to a site for retrieval and load for bathing and transport. Transport is self explanatory. Bathing the smoke stack is crucial to its preservation in that it must go thru multiple baths to eliminate bacteria and other foreign matter and this must be done in a heated environment.
One thing of importance to mention at this juncture of the story is the kindness of the landowners to have access to this sight. In order to do the extraction, not only was much room needed for the equipment to do so but also the number of people on hand for the extraction. Two private land owners readily gave their permission for this to take place, but not to use their names. For any casual walk or hike, please keep in mind that it is not only good manners but also a legality that you obtain permission before entering on someone else’s property. So, to these two anonymous property owners, a heartfelt thanks.
Now the story gets even more interesting in that a location was needed to house the bathing apparatus. John had contacted the Sullivan County High School with the initial thought of this perhaps becoming a senior project for a student. This has now expanded into a Senior Class Project to be done at the high school under the direction of Cris Koschak, history teacher (with Advanced Placement History class) and Mike Vought science teacher, both of the Sullivan County High School. With them were many students who will be named in a follow-up article as this project runs its course for completion to be displayed. As the water of each bathing is tested to determine the readiness of the smoke stack of eventual exposure to the air, the goal will be that it is bacteria free. Once ready to come out into the air, the smoke stack will then have to dry prior to being coated with wax. Following that step, shatterproof glass will be made into a cover box for protection of the smoke stack to then be on display in the Sullivan County Historical Society’s Museum, located behind the Sullivan County Courthouse in Laporte. To follow this process, watch for upcoming announcements when the smoke stack is finally placed in the Sullivan County museum for display and check the website of www.scpahistory.com., and more articles to come.
Support of this project started with the Society but to accomplish the retrieval, cleaning and housing, we needed more in the way of permissions and financial assistance. Through the efforts of the Bureau for Historic Preservation, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission for the legal guidelines for archaeological investigations in Pa. the Society was able to obtain the appropriate license for retrieval from state owned waterway. Next was the application to Endless Mts. Heritage Region for DCNR funding for major projects. Then there was the purchase of the tank/tub, lid, stock fittings and circulating pump which John Smithkors has donated, the costs of which now become the in-kind match money for grant application. Harrington Hotel in Dushore has had, through numerous postponements of this project, graciously kept a room open for Adam Jenkins to stay in Sullivan County. This stay was paid for by Tina Richlin who just happened to be in the museum earlier this summer and overheard the discussion about the smoke stack and the dollars needed to make this possible. To add to this legacy of help, while visiting a Sayre Historical Society functions, this writer noticed their very well made glass display boxes for delicate artifacts and asked after the maker. The reply came that he was a local man who happened to be in attendance. Later he came forward to explain that not only did he do these boxes made from a local glass maker and then he put them together but that he only charged for materials. And, that he would gladly do the same for us (Sullivan County Historical Society).
Friday, Sept. 19th: On the scene were the Sullivan County Rural Electric Coop boom truck with Walt Tubach operating and CEO Craig Harding acting as coordinator between divers and wench location. John Smithkors, Rich Best and Greg Delker were all in full scuba gear to perform all the underwater action with Tim White overseeing the progress. High School teachers Cris Koschak and Mike Vought, along with about twenty students observed with interest this whole process. Bob McGuire for the Sullivan Review and Michelle Smith for the electric company’s Penn Lines magazine photographed much of the action. Many more air bags were brought forth than originally thought to be needed because the wet weight of the smoke stack was now being estimated to over 300 pounds. As it first broke water a collective sigh and applause broke out. It teetered in the air just a few feet above the water’s surface when a diver called out “Can you put it back in the water!”. Walt Tubach responded “You want it back in?!” The explanation was quickly forthcoming that the stack was filled with a lot of silt that needed to come out, so back into the surface it went as the men tilted it to expunge silt, stones and dirt. Once this was done, it again came up and up and up, until it was above the awaiting tub that had already been filled with creek water for its transport. For that transport, sand bags had been provided to cushion the smoke stack in its travel. All this was done under Adam Jenkins supervision with explanations to the students of why and what each step taken would be towards the conservation of this artifact for display.
The immersed smoke stack now has to undergo a continuous washing to eliminate foreign matter and bacterial and unwanted minerals. This process is thought to take up to possibly six weeks with elements being filtered out until the water itself is completely clean. Then will begin the drying process and on to the waxing of the surface.
Meanwhile the Sullivan County Historical Society will be working with Charles DeRose for the safety glass box which will house and protect the smoke stack for display. Mr. DeRose makes these display boxes for the Sayre Historical Society, each of which is individually make depending on the artifact to be housed. In this case, the smoke stack is 16” around and 40” high. The corrosion that is on it will remain in place but curiously at the top lip of the smoke stack is a section about 3” long and a bit over 1” wide where the corrosion broke off at some point during the extraction, thus exposing the bear metal underneath. This section will easily be seen once on display.
This project to save just one piece of history has gone way beyond one man’s excited find while pursuing his hobby. The involvement of so many people and their individual efforts is inspiring and more appreciated than they may realize. And it is also heartwarming to know that history still contributes to our present-day daily lives in such a positive manner. To all those involved: many, Many THANKS.
Sept. 24, 2014
TOURING SULLIVAN COUNTY’S MUSEUM . . . while dusting
Copyright 2012 Sullivan County PA Historical Society and Museum. All rights reserved.
The Sullivan County PA Historical Society and Museum is a registered 501(c)(3).