antique steam shovel pulled from Lake Wixom to undergo a full restoration
MIDLAND, Mich. (WJRT) (7/7/2021) – A rarity discovered after last year’s dam failure emptied Lake Wixom is on the verge of full restoration: A century-old steam shovel taken from the lake bed.
The Thew Type O steam shovel was submerged in 1925. It is believed to be one of only two still in existence. Its owner, who has acquired the rights to remove it, is already making progress in repairing the relic before he intends to display it to the public, but the lion’s share of that work is about to begin.
In short, thorough. From stripping and replacing the wooden decking of the excavator, petrified after spending nearly a hundred years underwater, to the job involving every bolt, strap and chain link, virtually everything needs to be removed, cleaned, restored and replaced. The end goal: a time machine until the day this piece of ancient Americana rolled out of the factory.
“He’s always been called the Loch Ness Monster… probably before ’72 you could see the tip of the boom.”
Rumors of treasure buried in the troubled waters of Lake Wixom captivated Mike Oberloier who grew up in the 1970s.
“My dad started looking first,” Oberloier said. “That was about 45 years ago… For a very long time, I just talked about it. I never really wanted to go get it.
Just finding the thing, let alone removing it, kept his dreams in check. That is, until the opportunity presents itself.
A drone video sent to ABC12 by Diana Casetti showed a team of volunteers working to remove the steam relic from her muddy grave in the bed of Lake Wixom following the May 2020 dam rupture that uncovered it. The hundred-year-old rusty wheels of the excavator were once again spinning the scraped mud.
“Pretty surreal? “
“Yes it is,” replied Oberloier. “It was touching when I took it out because I had a picture of my father on my shirt and I brought it there with me.”
“It doesn’t get much better than that there. It will be a big attraction this year.
This will be the number one draw this weekend at the Midland Antique Engine Show, predict Harold and Sharon Riggie, president and chairman of the show. This is the last chance for the public to see the relic as it is before it undergoes an exhaustive transformation.
“I really think it’s going to be a good year,” said Sharon. “Lots of good stuff there.”
“It’s a dream come true,” says Oberloier.
Mike’s father passed away over a decade ago and has never been able to see his elusive prize up close. Nor was his son’s involvement in restoring the steam shovel to its former glory. The first leg of what has been a lifelong journey – rebuilding the iconic hand-sawn pilot house plank by plank – will rightly be a family affair.
“Do you feel like your father is with you?” “
“Oh, sure,” Oberloier said. “I know he must be proud to see me continue to breathe.”
The work ahead, according to Oberloier, is expected to take around five years.
For more information on the Midland Antique Engine Association, click here.
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