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Antique steam shovel pulled from Wixom Lake to undergo full restoration

Painstaking project of returning the 1925 relic to its former glory should take about five years

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Wixom Lake steam shovel to undergo full restoration

Mike Oberloier's antique Thew Type O Steam Shovel on display at the Midland Antique Engine Association

MIDLAND, Mich. (WJRT) - A rarity uncovered after last year’s Edenville Dam breach emptied Wixom lake is in for a full restoration: a century-old steam shovel pulled from the lakebed.

The Thew Type O Steam Shovel was submerged in 1925. It is believed to be one of only two left in existence. Its owner, who acquired the rights to remove it, is already making progress on repairing the relic ahead of his plans to display it for the public, but the lion’s share of that labor is about to get underway.

The process will be meticulous. From stripping and replacing the shovel’s wooden decking, petrified after spending nearly a hundred years underwater, to the work involving every bolt, strap and chain link, virtually everything must be removed, cleaned, restored and replaced.

The end goal is creating a time machine to the day this piece of antique Americana rolled off the factory floor.

“It’s always been referred to as the Loch Ness Monster. Before probably ’72, you used to be able to see the tip of the boom,” Mike Oberloier said.

Rumors of buried treasure in the murky waters of Wixom Lake captivated him growing up in the ’70s.

“My dad started to search first,” Oberloier said. “That was about 45 years ago. For the longest time, I just talked about it. I never really had any inclination about going after it.”

Just finding the thing, let alone pulling it out, kept his dreams in check. That is, until opportunity came knocking.

Drone video sent in to ABC12 by Diana Casetti showed a team of volunteers working to pull the steam-powered relic from its muddy tomb in the Wixom lakebed in the wake of the May 2020 dam breach that uncovered it. The shovel’s rusty century-old wheels still turned once the muck had been scraped away.

“It was emotional when I got it out, because I had a picture of my father on my shirt and brought him down there with me,” Oberloier said.

It’ll be this weekend’s No. 1 draw at the Midland Antique Engine Show, predicted President and Show Chair Harold and Sharon Riggie. It marks the public’s last chance to see the relic as is before it undergoes an exhaustive transformation.

“I really think it will be a good year,” Sharon said. “A lot of good stuff out there.”

“It’s a dream come true,” Oberloier related.

His dad passed away more than a decade ago and never got to see his elusive prize up close and personal, nor his son’s involvement in restoring the steam shovel to its former glory.

The first step in what’s been a lifelong journey -- rebuilding the iconic pilot house hand-sawn board-by-board -- will fittingly be a family affair. Oberloier said he feels his dad with him during the process.

“I know he’s got to be proud to see me keep on chugging,” he said.

The work ahead, according to Oberloier, should take about five years to complete.

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