of Denbigh's Connecting Rod
A diagonal engine similar to Denbigh's from an 1862 engineering
As the 2000 field season drew to a close, plans were
finalized to recover the connecting rod of Denbigh's port engine in Excavation
Unit 3. As detailed drawings of the area were being prepared, it became clear that the
ends of the connecting rod had been detached from the piston rod and paddlewheel crank,
probably in an effort to salvage the engine's bronze fittings shortly after the ship
grounded and burned. This 19th century salvage attempt greatly simplified the recovery of
the connecting rod 135 years later.
The connecting rod is a heavy iron beam that transfers the
forward-and-back motion of the engine's piston into a rotary, round-and-round motion on
the paddlewheel shaft. Denbigh's connecting rod measures seven feet seven inches
(2.32m) long and is estimated to weigh about 1,150 pounds (520kg).
The recovery of the connecting rod was planned for
Saturday, July 22. Commercial divers generously provided by Superior Diving Company, Inc. of Houston made
the initial arrangements and supervised the installation of lifting bags on the iron rod,
located about eight feet below the surface. As the day wore on, however, an increasing
chop on the water and a falling tide made it increasingly difficult to manage the boats
involved in the recovery, and operations were postponed for 48 hours.
Efforts resumed on Monday, July 24, and the connecting rod
was safely cleared away by noon. It was subsequently hoisted aboard the work platform The
Opportunity, which returned it to a wharf on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Port
Bolivar. From there, is was loaded onto a trailer and taken immediately to the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas
A&M University in College Station, where it will be cleaned and treated to preserve
the chemical and structural integrity of the metal. Eventually this remarkable artifact,
along with others that may be recovered from the ship, will reside in a museum where they
will serve as testimony to the the engineering innovation and sophistication of the
British shipbuilding industry in the 19th century.
Click on any of the images below for a full-size
Co-Principal Investigator Tom Oertling (r.) uses a model to brief divers on the recovery
plan. Watching are (l. to r.) Carlo Jiminez and Mike Rentfrow of Superior Diving Co., Inc,
and Eric Van Velzen and Barto Arnold of the Denbigh Project.
engineering volunteer Gene Shimko (r.) describes Denbigh's machinery to Mike
Rentfrow of Superior Diving, Inc. Shimko has spent the last year researching Denbigh's
machinery, and recently joked that he might be ready to "ship out" as an engine
room officer on a coal-fired blockade runner -- if only he could find one.
Carlo Jiminez steps off the deck of Texas A&M
University at Galveston's research vessel Roamin' Empire to begin
preparations to recover the connecting rod.
||The British Red Ensign (l.) flies again over Denbigh, from the project's
||The jack-up work
vessel The Opportunity arrives at the Denbigh wreck site.
||The crew of The
Opportunity use a personal watercraft to check the depth of water around the wreck, to
see where the work vessel should be positioned.
||The connecting rod
first breaks the surface of the water. . .
||. . . and up. . .
||. . . and over to
engine connecting rod lies on the deck of The Opportunity.
engineering volunteer Gene Shimko (l.) assists as the connecting rod is lowered onto a
trailer for transportation to College Station.
Brandon Mouton of Port Bolivar, Texas lends a hand, wetting down the connecting rod as it
is being swathed for transport.
||Sara Keyes, Gene
Shimko and Barto Arnold complete the wrapping of the connecting rod before driving it
directly to the Conservation Research
Laboratory at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Houston, Texas 77257-1329