Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 19

It's groundhogs day! In Michigan the rodent didn't see his shadow so it'll be early spring, but no matter what the prognistification the calendar it's seven weeks to Spring. That furry garden munching pest lives the life of a king in PA. CNBC's Squawk Box this morning made me laugh. Bill Murray driving the old red pickup truck with the groundhog steering told the rodent not to drive angry as the opening bell kicked off the days stock markets. In the stock market you have acquaintances, not friends. Needless to say, when hunting for treasure you need people you can trust so isn't it any wonder that Bob Alcumbrack chose to pick his cannon crew hunters carefully. Trust is what treasure hunters must have amongst each other to keep each other safe.

Bob Alcumbrack was neither poor nor rich. He bartered his time and labor digging the first big dig for equipment, such as a backhoe, compressors for air injection used to dislodge hard sediments and bilge pumps for dewatering the coffer box. Scuba gear was volunteered with divers, but despite all his failures of equipment at his big dig site he never gave up and was willing to find out what was wrong and take corrective measures. That's in dowsing, electronics and mechanical failures. Before he even started the expediton he understood that life isn't fair. He picked his circle of friends wisely.

Many of Bob's crew were lifelong friends who believed in his expertise to use the dowsing rods effectively. His childhood friend Allen Janose stood atop the coffer box and used the long air injectors to disturb bottom sediments so the box would settle into the hole or use the air to dislodge sediment from roots encountered that prevented the box from settling. Bob and Allen used hip gyrations like Elvis to rock the box. Bob used Allen's welding skills to construct the steel box. The box had bracing like roll bars inside a race car. Allen and Bob made sure that whoever was inside the box would be safe from collapsing sand. Harold and Matt McCarthy of Grattan Centre used their brawn to break roots so the sidewalls of the coffer box would sink. They also dislodged big stones and decaying woody debris. These two solved logistics and engineering problems.

Bob's brothers Chuck and Charlie manned the bilge pumps and sluiceways. No sediment ever got into the side stream on their watch. Bruce Bjorneth and Guy Lewis were dredgers at the bottom of the box. Lewis scooped up tons of water-laden sand and stones and used their scuba diving skills when the coffer box was flooded with Lake Superior like cold water. My goal was to research where Bob didn't go while he was digging. I provided my engineering and photography skills to document his progress; successes or failures and to figure out how to make sure another dig doesn't duplicate the first bad dig. Seven men were going to dig up Bob's wildest dream on July 4-5, 1986 just as seven men caused the cannon to go missing on July 5, 1885 when Walter Tompsett died.

What Bob knew was that nothing affects the moral of his crew worse than nagging wives of the men. He apologized several times to the wives for keeping their husbands attention more to him than them. The wives knew what the husbands were doing was extremely dangerous. "Why them?" They couldn't understand the drive to make Bob's dream a reality while sacrificing their time with them and the children. They saw how tired the men were when the sun went down and they saw the filth, smelled the body stench of sweat and saw the hordes of mosquito bites. When the sun set behind the hills the drone of mosquito wings almost drowned out conversation. It was almost unbearable when the lights came on deep in the woods. Blistering heat by day, coldness at night in early July.

So who was this Robert Alcumbrack? He was the most caring man who would stop what he was doing and help out strangers. He was short, muscular and had dark hair. He stopped dreaming at age 55 and age 57 he was digging for the cannon. He had the energy of someone in his 20's and it was a chore to keep up with his stamina. Bob lived in La-E-Ma-Land, no really, this was a Mobile Home Park just west of Cannonsburg. It was owned by Bob stepfather and Ellen (Bob's mom) Augustine. Bob's trailer, an older model, was the tird trailer north of the post office. It was a treasure trove of antiquated antiques, both inside and outside. Furniture inside was way past its primal beauty, but he was comfortable. The sight of it would make you squint, laugh or cry, but it was his castle. A structured woman would burn everything.

Bob was a divorced and lived like a hermit. Inside the mobile home it was wall-to-wall dust and filth and talk about musty. The smell wrinkled my nose and I sought out a box of Mr. Wipple's tissues. You could say that Bob's trailer was similar in character to Daisies and Onslow's two story British row-home in England's BBC show "Keeping Up Appearances" starring Patricia Rutledge and Richard Winslow on PBS. The walls inside the trailer were dirty, filmy windows and floors and a kitchen where anyone might be afraid to drink from a coffee douton. It wasn't the best place to eat so Bob at frequently at his favorite watering hole, the Honey Creek Inn or he visited Maggie and Harold McCarthy's home in Grattan Centre.

What else would you expect from a single, divorced man that lived life with hermit mentality. It wasn't fit for a wife unless she came from the squaller of the Blue Ridge mountains of Tennessee, but at least the trailer wasn't a drafty shack with an outside honey house dangling perilously over a cliff. Quaint isn't how you'd explain his trailer, but it'd be a step up from mountain living arrangements. The spiders and mice kept designing women at bay. Bob's living was similar to the hillbilly status of The Darlings or Ernest T. Bass on the Andy Griffity Show. To Bob it was his 'Home Sweet Home'. At least Bob's trailer wasn't as bad as my wife's hillbilly cousins in Grand Junction, Colorado, who didn't know that scratch pads were for writing down telephone numbers, but instead numbers and messages covered the walls. The outside of the house was immaculately clean, but the inside "Oh, My!"

Bob was unpretentious and did anything for neighbors and friends when in need. His sweet grin and soft gift for gab made everyone he came in contact with comfortable. He was shy and quiet and knew when to talk or just listen. He never forced himself on others, but treated all newcomers and spectators with respect. He valued the opinions of others when solving problems beyond his control. When Bob talked you could sense his physical energy. It was a strange cascading force that lifted our spirits and changed our moods. We were entering a new phase in our lives as the mysterious secret cannon hunters of Cannonsburg. After many hours of digging and slinging mud we nicknamed Bob as "President Manual Labor," because Bob dug more than one big hole between 1986-88. He wasn't fond of his dream distinction of being associated with manual work.

Being a treasure hunter is hard, demanding work. In our eyes the work was play and Bob's dream kept us energized. In the presence of strangers we studied the body language of outside listeners and knew when to stop talking in the Honey Creek Inn when the din went silent. The chatter increased when Bob and crew chomped down the Black Russian ham sandwiches and washed them down with soda. Alcoholic beverages were banned. We didn't need any slipped tongues. Too many inhibitions are lost just as it was for Fred Thomas on July 5, 1885. Late night fleas (media) chased us after leaving the Honey Creek Inn. They did their best to interrupt our late night paranormal investigations, but we shared our insect bites as they romped in the poison ivy. That put the kink in their night wanderings. Most treasure hunters don't want peeping toms showing and telling the whole world about our exploits in cannon hunting.

Our first Astro-Archaeological survey using high speed infrared Kodak filming in total darkness failed due to the indirect or wandering strobe lights of the paparazzi. Our second and third missions were successful, but it generated more mind-boggling scientific questions we couldn't answer and never knew they existed in the Cannonsburg area. The film was to record electromagnetic currents and see if Tompsett's ghost hung around Cannonsburg on dark nights. He died an extremely painful death. We had to make sure we weren't dealing with ghosts in areas that gave us nightly chills. Kodak scientists said we had "a 69% chance of filming ghosts. We were open-minded. We sought answers to problems when we needed the advice from others, but only on a need to know basis.

Whether digging up cannons or treasure they all require stamina, grit and determination. Without core values of trust all treasure hunters face failure before the nitty-gritty work starts. "Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life."

No comments:

Post a Comment