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Search Of Archives Turns Up Evidence Of Missing Train

May 3, 1989

DENVER (AP) _ A locomotive missing for more than 100 years in eastern Colorado has been found, but not by the 300 volunteers who searched for it in January with magnetometers and front-end loaders.

It turns out the train was recovered months after it was buried by a flood, said Craig Dirgo, spokesman for the National Underwater and Marine Agency, a private organization that sponsored the search.

″The train isn’t out there,″ said Dirgo. ″It was dug up at the end of August 1878 by a second search party. The initial search party quit.

″We know it was taken to Armstrong, Kansas, near Kansas City, and was rebuilt.″

The engine’s ultimate fate, however, remains a mystery.

Last January, best-selling author Clive Cussler, who founded the agency, Dirgo and 300 volunteers used magnetometers and front-end loaders to search a dry river bottom outside of Bennett, 30 miles east of Denver, hoping to find the missing Kansas-Pacific railroad locomotive.

But that hunt, and another involving about 25 people the following weekend, failed to turn up any sign of the train.

The engine, 19 cars and a caboose fell 30 feet from a bridge the night of May 21, 1878, when a flood struck the area.

Twelve cars and the locomotive were reported to have been buried in the sand. The front brakeman, fireman and engineer were killed. The engineer’s body was found about 10 miles downriver.

Cussler, who wrote the book ″Raise the Titanic″ and lives in Golden, has located 54 sunken vessels through his organization. His book, ″Night Probe,″ was written with the missing locomotive in mind.

But on Monday, Cussler learned that the engine had been raised more than 110 years ago.

A friend, Don Snoddy of Omaha, Neb., found the information from documents at a Union Pacific museum. Union Pacific bought Kansas Pacific sometime after the flood.

The documents Snoddy found indicated the locomotive was removed from the river bed in the middle of the night in August 1878, Dirgo said. It was rebuilt two years later and received a new number in 1885.

″We’ve been trying to figure out why it was covered up,″ Dirgo said. ″It was removed late at night, and they denied for years that it was uncovered.″

Dirgo said he and Cussler originally thought the locomotive’s recovery might have been part of an insurance fraud because Kansas Pacific had been in financial straits at the time of the flood, and the engine was valued at $18,000. But that theory didn’t seem right, he said.

″I don’t think it was insurance fraud,″ Dirgo said. ″In talking to everybody, they didn’t really have insurance back then.″

Many Bennett residents, including 79-year-old Emma Mitchell, whose father worked on the cleanup following the flood, had staunchly believed the locomotive remained in a sandy grave.

″How they tricked an entire town for a hundred years,″ Dirgo wondered.

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