After nearly a century underwater, historic Wixom Lake steam shovel reaches new home

Published: Oct. 25, 2020 at 11:41 PM EDT
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WIXOM LAKE, Mich. (WJRT) (10/25/2020)-Hidden beneath the water’s surface since the roaring 20′s, a piece of local history managed to roll out of Wixom Lake and may work yet again.

What May’s dam breach revealed may otherwise have been lost to history. The murky depths of Wixom Lake had been guarding a buried treasure: a historic steam shovel not seen since the 1920s.

Drone video sent in to ABC12 by Diana Casetti shows a team of volunteers working to dislodge the steam-powered relic from the lake bed Saturday. Its rusty century-old wheels still turned freely once the muck had been scraped away. Casetti later followed the curious cargo on the path to its new home around 30 miles away.

“Mike Oberloier… he’s actually the owner of it,” Harold Riggie explained. “We never expected that, really. To see it come out of there like that. It rolled out after 100 years.”

Riggie runs the Midland Antique Engine Association, the antique equipment’s new home.

The last time this shovel went to work, it dammed the very lake that would hide it from view for the next 95 years. So, there it sat as the story of the steam shovel embedded in the lake bottom passed into local lore...

Until May, when the water drained and sunlight touched its corroded surface for the first time since last millennium. Riggie says a wash next week could begin to peel back those layers.

“That’s number one,” Riggie related. “I guess number two is to make sure all the parts are working and spend the winter working on them.”

Calvin Coolidge was president the last time someone pulled these levers and yet its steam motors still fired-up when its new owner removed and restored them a few weeks earlier. The plan is to get it back into working shape.

“I understand that there’s only three of them in existence out there right now,” Riggie explained. “This is one of them.”

The shovel – a piece of living local history -- will remain on display at the Midland Antique Engine Association, forever challenging visitors to answer the question ‘can you dig it?’

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