Saturday, February 20, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 28

After July 4, 1986 each day Bob Alcumbrack and crew saw fewer spectators. The Cannonsburg cannon's nostalgia was wearing off fast, but it was the best news for Bob Alcumbrack. The human pressure was off and the crew could now fix the broken machinery without spectators. He was more relaxed, his mind and body being more sound and his dowsing skills were better. Spectators and the media took their toll on his psyche, but what many do not understand is that it took Bob and crew 24 days more to get the box down to its maximum depth of 9 feet, which wasn't enough. We fought broken equipment daily and the box sidewall presssure was showing signs of metal fatigue. The missing cannon kept defying men with modern machinery from its image. The boxes depth wasn't enough. We couldn't go any deeper and still the cannon was 4-5 feet deeper. The boxes depth was two feet above grade level and the cannon was out of recovery range because of shifting sand.

Each time Bob and crew returned to the coffer box it had to be dewatered entirely before the crew could dig and probe the bottom with long metal rods. Bob had only one bilge pump. It had good suction, sometimes too good, and when it pulled up stones that's when the impellors were chewed and damaged so badly it lost suction. The influx of water like an open fire hydrant made it seem almost impossible to get water levels down to bottom and soon it was up to experienced scuba divers to dig and probe the bottom sediments with long iron rods.

As divers entered the water Bob would stand above them on planks and rechecked cannon disposition. Each diver used lead weights to get them to bottom, but the swim fins caused such turbulence they had to place their masts within three inches of bottom. The divers were 8-feet underwater and we only saw rising bubbles and we could hear them trying to probe the bottom with metal rods as I listened with my Emergency Medical Technician's stethoscope like the doctors and nurses use to take your blood pressure, heartbeat and respirations. I was eavesdropping on the box by listening to the stress noises and the diver's chattering and earth music. I got pretty good at deciphering the different noises made when the probe struck them, but gun metal wasn't heard.

The coffer box was being stressed - the creaking made the diver's nervous and the diver's finally got scared and refused to dive until more bracking was installed. What was interesting was the diver's reported they were striking larger stones and as fast as they removed sand, the holes would collapse more sand to replace what was removed. The rod sounds of probes striking stones was duller than metal and metal to stones was distinct. Metal to metal wasn't what we found and pounding probes underwater was almost impossible. Work stopped. Bob borrowed more bilge pumps which finally allowed him and Allen Janose to dig and probe on solid bottom without the water. Whenever Bob would pound down the metal rods and hit something solid he insisted the cannon was below. It increased out adrenalin and we dug harder and faster when we thought the cannon was within reach.

Bob's mind had convinced him that the five men rolled the cannon and carriage into a natural wash, it flipped and they covered it with soil and stones and it sunk into the spring. That's in the same hole as previously buried. His dowsing skills had indicated the cannon was upside down because the wheel rims made or iron hoops were closer to the surface, but we didn't find any and we thought the entire carriage with wheels was made of oak and that's why the wheels squeaked loudly. If metal hubs why didn't the men oil the carriage wheels? They could have made a better secret get away, but as it was the squeaking wheels is what woke Estella Ward from a sound sleep on July 5, 1885. She saw the five men dragging the cannon away passing he folks house.

Finally, the end of Bob's first streamside excavation site was in sight. Sorry to report he didn't find the cannon at the bottom. I provided Bob with a core sampler - a hard plastic tube that when pounded down where the cannon went under the box wall showed no soil disturbances, but it did capture many small granite, quartz, tungsten and blue and green stones stained and encrusted in heavy deposits of iron ore. A layer of black sand was laced with flecks of fine placer gold. The tungsten, blue and green stones were magnetized. This was Bob's worst day (July 28, 1986) as a cannon hunter. He was glad the public and news media didn't witness his humiliation. I couldn't imagine how he could misinterpret an underground streambed with connecting feeder streams of ice-cold water for a cannon and carriage? This was surreal.

Bob had assumed too many things in his attempt to locate his wildest dream cannon. Had he done the basics of writing down what was repeated to him in person instead of what was repeated in his nightly dreams we wouldn't have wasted a month of hard digging He couldn't recognize fact from fiction and vice-versa. We were constantly hoping to learn some secrets to the burial site, but he became blindsided by his distorted dreams. The old folks in Cannonsburg, the eyewitnesses were good bluffers and he couldn't get them to slip their tongues. He tried to trick them into revealing secrets and he thought Mr. Murray's constant tears were a dead giveaway to the cannon's secret burial site. Bob never gave up pestering the old folks -- he was the sandburr of youth -- a sticktight hoping to uncover a mysterious secret.

At the conclusion of Bob's big dig this site was not where the cannon was previously buried. The ground showed little disturbances one would expect if the cannon were buried by the five men. These men couldn't have dug a hole in one hour and sink the cannon, where we had spent 28 days trying to overcome shifting sand, magnetized stones and ice-cold water. We had to figure out how Bob could mistake the underground streambed for cannon and carriage. Bob's big dig was busted! We pressed onward into the future and in 1988 we found...


People in Cannonsburg reported that Bob Alcumbrack was a pest for more than 50 years. He had been interested in the mysterious cannon's disappearance when he heard some comments about the tragedy in his youth. He was a bugger - sort of like our cat named Libby, short for her real name Liberty Belle. She can be sweet and a pest when hungry. She does all she can to make us get out of bed in the morning to feed her. We can't lay in bed peacefully if she knows we're awake. She hops up on the bed and walks on us, knuzzles and purrs. If that doesn't work she jumps to the nightstand and chews on the phone antenna until we chew her out. When she quits but still hasn't gotten us up she pushes her nose hard against the touch lamp twice and we get blinded by the light, jumps back to bed and trounches us and attacks our every movement. Libby knows how to get our attention and if we do get up she won't stop pestering until she gets what she wants 'Chicken and Salmon" in gravy. Libby and Bob Alcumbrack were pests -- but are well remembered as friends. Next time the journey to find the Cannonsburg cannon continues and I'll share what more secrets Bob and friends uncover.

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