Wednesday, February 4, 2015
The mystery of the sky-high Rocky Mountain submarine
CENTRAL CITY, Colo. – More than a thousand miles away from any ocean, and 9,000 feet up in elevation, sits a century-old submarine. But how did it get to Central City?
In Central City, there's always been something interesting looming on the horizon.
"In a lot of ways it's very different from the way it was even 30 years ago," said David Forsyth, director at the Gilpin History Museum.
The town is now coated with casinos but way back when, it was rich in history. Ulysses S. Grant visited the town three times.
A lot of its milestones are recorded in the town at the Gilpin History Museum - but none more interesting as a submarine.
"The submarine very much catches people off guard," Forsyth said. "People cannot understand why there's a submarine 8,500 feet up in the mountains, 1,500 miles from the nearest ocean," he said.
The Central City submarine - as it's known - was created by a man named Rufus T. Owens. Little is known about Owens, other than the fact he was an engineer and a fairly odd fellow.
"When Rufus Owens built it he was very serious about it. It was not a joke to him," Forsyth explained.
As silly as some people think it looks, Owens' design was actually not that far off. He and a few of his friends brought the sub up to Missouri Lake in 1898. They filled it up with three tons of rocks to use as ballast.
"But if even one of those rocks was put in the wrong position, it would have thrown off the balance and sunk it immediately, and that's actually what happened," Forsyth said.
Like many people in Central City, Owens gambled. Unfortunately, his bet didn't pay off. The sub sat at the bottom of the lake for several decades, until one January day in 1944 when it was lifted back up.
"It had been underwater for almost 46 years at that point, which a lot of people to joked it was the longest crash dive in history," Forsyth said.
The first working submarine is believed to have been created in the 1600s. But no one else can lay claim to the first mountain sub.
"Who would have ever thought to build a submarine in the mountains?" Forsyth said.
No one really knows why Owens created the submarine. However, around the time he built the ship, the U.S. Navy was holding a submarine design competition. The mountain sub is currently on display at The Gilpin County Museum in Central City.