Nothing intrigues me quite like uncovered history. I love the way accidental discoveries reveal the past and challenge long-held beliefs. My favorite news source the Huffington Post has an “Unearthed” section dedicated to uncovered history. The articles could keep me entertained indefinitely.
Imagine my bliss when a huge piece of history was unearthed right here in Central Florida, just a short backroad drive from home. At first, subcontractors digging on reclaimed phosphate mining property near the city of Mulberry thought they had uncovered an old pipe. Then turning wheels appeared, and they knew they had found a rare piece of history. Local historians determined the monstrous rusty relic was an 1880s Manchester 4-4-0 locomotive that had spent the better part of the past century underground.
Polk County experts believe the 4-4-0, originally designed for passenger service, was purchased and adapted to haul phosphate rock mined in the area. Years later, when it became obsolete and no longer serviceable for the phosphate industry, it was simply pushed from a spur railroad line into a great hole and covered with earth.
When I read the story in the local paper, I knew I had to see this piece of history in person. I also knew Jerry had connections in the local phosphate industry and that he could probably find out the locomotive’s exact location. My bliss turned to sorrow when he told me the train was sitting on posted property, and we would be trespassing if we tried to find it. Although I am a rule-follower by nature, my curiosity overpowered my trepidation, and Jerry seemed up for it, too.
So one rainy summer afternoon we turned onto a dirt road, passed through an open gate, and went to see what we could find. My detective eyes were scanning, but not seeing when Jerry said, “Look!” I had no idea our quest would end so quickly. This was too easy. But there she was, rising in the distance, like the resurrection of some mythological creature. We put the Mountaineer in park, hopped out, and spent the better part of a half-hour checking out the old relic from every possible angle. Definitely my kind of backroad adventure and practically in our own backyard.
We lucked out the first time we went to see the locomotive, with no one questioning our reason for being on the property. When we took a second trip to visit the train a few months later, we weren’t so lucky. Soon after we entered the open gate we saw a pickup truck headed our direction. Our pulse quickened, preparing for the spanking we were about to receive. We slowed to a stop, rolled down the window, and the kind gentleman asked if he could help us. When Jerry told him we just wanted to take a peep at the old engine, he waved us on.
Soon, you won’t have to take any risky actions to see the Manchester 4-4-0. In fact, you wouldn’t get to see much of the ancient locomotive the way it is now anyway. Our second trip revealed the locomotive had been covered by tarps to protect it from the elements. The good news is that state and city officials have come to an agreement, and the locomotive is set to be moved and displayed at the Mulberry Phosphate Museum. Tracks have already been installed at the locomotive’s new home, and it shouldn’t be too long until visitors to the Phosphate Museum will be able to see the latest addition to the museum’s collection.
Note: When we were designing the location map for this post (below), we decided to see if we could find the location of the locomotive on the satellite image. We scanned around the area where we thought it might be, zoomed in, and couldn’t believe our eyes to find the old locomotive in the image itself. Be sure to zoom in and check it out below.
To see a restored Manchester Locomotive 4-4-0, click HERE