The Adventure Begins
The first task was to determine the boat’s exact position. A series of test drillings located the hull. Then, its perimeter was marked with chalk, revealing where the Arabia lay underground. The summer and fall had been spent assembling equipment for moving earth and water. Bulldozers, backhoes, wells and well-drilling equipment, and a 100-ton crane were brought to the site by road and by river.
A well-drilling company from Iowa was hired to install 20 irrigation wells around the boat in an effort to drop the water level in the ground. These 65-foot-deep wells, operating around the clock, removed as much as 20,000 gallons-per-minute of cold, clear water from deep underground. Via pipes, ditches and an old slough, the groundwater was drained away.
Bulldozer and backhoe bit into the ground, removing topsoil, then mud and sand. Each day the hole grew larger, as did the anticipation of what lay below. It took about two weeks for the first parts of the Arabia to appear, which turned out to be the weathered timbers of her left paddlewheel. Then, excitement again filled the air as the first artifact was found — a small, black, rubber shoe was sighted lying on the muddy deck. The excavators were amazed to notice a stamp on the shoe reading “Goodyear Rubber Company.”
The shoe was only the first of countless treasures. Boxes and barrels held wonders almost beyond imagining. Crates of frontier merchandise held both the necessities and the luxuries available in 1856: castor oil and cognac, needles and nutmegs, windowpanes and wedding bands, eyeglasses and earrings, as well as long underwear, umbrellas and weapons.
Also stowed in the cargo hold were a few boxes containing some passenger’s belongings. These boxes held the personal treasures the pioneers chose to take with them. Carpenter’s tools and porcelain figurines, patched trousers and marbles, these items told a story of the people heading West, facing an uncertain future on the frontier.