A sunken ship near Breckenridge?
August 18, 2008
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” Scientists combining high-tech with history are creating a detailed, three-dimensional rendering of a fading “ghost ship” abandoned in a mountain valley near Breckenridge.
With scuba divers below, a crew of scientists using lasers and radio-controlled helicopters earlier this month took precise measurements of the century-old Reiling
Dredge as a first step toward preserving the story of the half-sunken craft.
“It’s like finding the dinosaur that ravaged the land,” said underwater archeologist David Conlin, who works for the National Park Service.
The $187,000 project to document the boat’s exact specifications was financed through a Colorado Historical Society grant and $90,000 cash match from the Town of Breckenridge.
The dredge operated from 1908 to 1922, pulling up rocks and gold from as far as 50 feet underground.
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The reasons for its sinking are uncertain, said town historian Rebecca Waugh of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.
The dredge now lies in shambles off French Gulch Road, in a small pond beyond several large piles of cobble it once unearthed.
Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said people referred to the structure as the “ghost ship” in the 1970s and ’80s because it almost appeared functional from a distance.
“When I moved here 30 years ago, it was a substantially larger structure than it is now,” he said, adding that some of its components have since fallen into the pond.
Although it’s probably unfeasible to return the boat to its “full glory,” Warner said that he would like to see it preserved the way it looked as a ghost ship.
Conlin said that over the past three weeks, the Western Mapping Co. has used lasers to gather details of the above-water remains, while the Park Service divers used tape measures and plumb lines to analyze the submerged hull.
“The technical problem is the laser doesn’t penetrate the water, so we had to come up with a mechanism to document the remains of the gold dredge that’s underwater,” he said. “We wanted to do a full documentation of the dredge itself, so that it’s preserved and documented once and for all.”
He said a presentation of the findings will be made to the town and historical society in the next few months.
Western Mapping Co. president James Holmlund, of Tucson, Ariz., said the mapping and sampling will give people an idea of what it will take to preserve the remains.
“The bottom line is: If they don’t preserve this thing, down the road it will, of course, decay and fall into the pond,” he said. The details gathered in the past couple weeks could be used to create models to any scale, Holmlund said .
“Taking the dredge drawings that we have here and historic photos, we can actually reproduce a three-dimensional reconstruction of this dredge. We can actually even show it working if we wanted to,” he said.
Once the results of the project have been analyzed, the next step will be to determine how to preserve the structure.
Breckenridge Heritage Alliance spokeswoman Larissa Enns said there are numerous possibilities for celebrating the history of the dredge, but there will certainly be an interpretive display added to the site.
Conlin said the cold, fresh water submerging the boat’s hull has preserved it well.
Asked whether divers found any artifacts in and around the dredge, he said there wasn’t much left.
“After the dredge sank, it was kind of stripped clean of everything that was useful,” he said. “And then of course, during the second World War, they pulled off pieces of metal as well for the war effort. So a lot of the material has been salvaged and recycled.”
The Reiling Dredge was one of about eight operating in the Breckenridge area during the mining era.
Trained ship builders constructed its hull of California redwood, Douglas fir and Oregon pine. It stood as large as a two-story building, frequently running 24 hours a day on electricity, according to documents provided by the historical society.
Its builder, Herman Reiling, built the first dredge in North America, Waugh said. Much of its machinery was brought in from Golden, Colo.