Conservation Research Laboratory Reports

Conserving the hull of the Belle

La Salle Shipwreck Project
Texas Historical Commission


Mr. Jim Jobling and Dr. Donny Hamilton breaking ground

August 8, 1998.  Mr. Jim Jobling, Project Manager of the Conservation Research Laboratory, and Dr. Donny Hamilton, Director of the Conservation Research Laboratory and the Head of the Nautical Archaeology Program, got up early on this Saturday morning to ceremonially break ground for the construction of the concrete vat to be used to conserve the hull of the Belle.


The large backhoe arrived early and started to remove the concrete slab lying adjacent to a WWII air control tower that is long gone. However, the four buried leg supports would be encountered soon enough. 

Backhoe digging

Going through the small concrete slab of a former WWII building is an easy task with the right equipment. 

Dump trucks

Two dump trucks were kept busy hauling off the estimated 650 cubic yards of clay and sand that was removed from the excavation. 

Removing supports with backhoe

Removing one of the two concrete supports that were once the base of the control tower. The concrete support has a base 7 ft. sq. x 2 ft. thick and a 3 ft. sq. x 3 ft. high pyramid that comes to a 2 ft. sq. top.  We calculated its weight to be in the range of 17,000 lbs. The backhoe managed to get the support out and off to one side. However, we have not found anyone handy who can remove them. They are up for grabs, free to anyone who will pay the shipping charges. Otherwise, I guess the two of them will remain as permanent markers, or perhaps bases for statues. 

Excavated pit

The excavation of the pit was finished on Monday, August 10, 1998, and after doing some basic cleaning up by hand, work began on installing the 15 tons of reinforced steel!

Note the two cross trenches, which will form the large U-shaped bracing, which will  encircle the vat.  This will provide support for the winch gear boxes, which will lift the frame holding the reaseembled hull of the Belle as it undergoes conservation.

Excavated pit

Texas A&M University nautical archaeologists take credit for breaking the drought on August 13, 1998, that has ravaged most of the state for the past six months. 

Even in a drought, dig a hole, and watch the rain come. Needless to say, the rain brought all work to a halt and put off the completion date. 

Reinforcing rods and plastic sheets in pit

August 16, 1998.  After a deluge of rain and two days of cleaning out the mud, workers began installing the reinforcing rods for the floor and lower walls. Plastic sheets were left on the sides of excavation to protect the wall during the intermittent rain that continued to fall.

Filling with concrete

August 17, 1998.  It took a continuous convoy of eight concrete trucks (18 truck loads) to keep the hopper of the concrete pumper truck filled to spread the 160 cubic yards of concrete needed for the floor of the vat. 

Complete floor

August 18, 1998.  The floor is successfully poured, and now work will start on forming the walls so they can be poured.  Once the concrete is firmly set, work will begin on building the forms for the 12 ft.-high walls. 

The work should progress quickly if the weather and the rain cooperates.

Citation Information:

Donny L. Hamilton
1998, Conservation of the Hull of the Belle, Conservation Research Laboratory Research Report #7, Photo Gallery 2, World Wide Web, URL,, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University; La Salle Shipwreck Project, Texas
Historical Commission, Austin, Texas.
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