-- — Recently, a group of local history fans, coordinated by Whitewater Canal Trail leaders, dug out and removed one half of a large, old wood and cast-iron gear from the Whitewater River near Morgan’s Canoe Livery.
“The gear is 10 feet in diameter and nothing is certain about its history,” says WCT President Tom Cooney. “The best guess at this point is that it came from the Champion Flour Mill that was located along the canal basin on the Brookville side of the river just a little upstream from Morgan’s.”
He said that the gear was brought to his attention by WCT board member William Kelley, who saw it in the river while wading with his family. He told Cooney about it and a “rescue” was planned.
Gary Morgan was consulted first since the gear was in the river through the Morgan property. He said that they were aware of something in the river, but did not know exactly what it was. He gave permission for the WCT group to dig it up, bring it through the canoe livery property and take some steps to preserve it properly.
Over the next few days, the WCT volunteers, together with local canal historian Paul Baudendistel, worked on the gear. They used shovels and their hands to move sand and stones to free it from the riverbed.
Next, they used pry bars, rocks and wood blocks to gradually lift the gear out of the riverbed and onto two long poles that were placed under it like sled runners. Then, Mick Wilz drove a truck into the river, hooked a chain to the sled and pulled it to shore at the beach where canoes are launched.
Next, the gear needed to be moved to a location where it could be properly taken care of. Bill Schirmer of Tom’s Sales and Service agreed to help with moving the gear. He took his rollback tow truck down to the river, picked up the gear and delivered it to the garage of the visitor information center at the south end of Brookville.
There, the WCT crew carefully leveled the gear on wood blocks. For a few minutes they enjoyed their success and then they re-wet the dry wood surfaces of the gear and covered it with a tarp. This will help to prevent the wood from splitting or warping as it slowly dries out.
What’s next? Cooney says that the gear can be maintained as is until experts can be brought in to recommend techniques to preserve it. For instance, the cast iron gear teeth are covered with a concrete-like mixture of sand and gravel. “It is desirable to remove at least some of that so we can see what the gear teeth actually looked like,” Cooney said.
Baudendistel added, “This is a significant find.”
Several other experts who were consulted confirm the materials (cast iron gear sections attached to a wood rim) and the design (90-degree bracing instead of standard spokes) used in this gear are very unusual.
Both the Indiana Canal Society and a historical mill association in Kentucky have expressed interest in publishing articles about this discovery.
As more information is gathered on this unusual find, it will be posted on the Web site www.whitewatercanaltrail.com.