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My Family Spent 4 Months Playing Battleship in a Cornfield

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 26, 2024 3:04 am

My Family Spent 4 Months Playing Battleship in a Cornfield

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 26, 2024 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, the story itself is the stuff of legends...a sunken steamboat, buried treasure, and the drive of a group of AC repairmen to become "rich beyond rich" even if it meant going into over a million dollars worth of debt. Matt Hawley tells the story of his family's quest to dig up the steamboat Arabia from the middle of a corn field.

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Next is here, February 29th through March 3rd on NFL Network and streaming on NFL Plus. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. To search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeart Radio app to Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Up next, a story about a modern day treasure hunt that involves whiskey and in an interesting place, the fields of Parkville, Missouri. Here to tell the story of the hunt is Matt Hawley of the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Take it away, Matt. Believe it or not, there's not a lot of people looking for steamboats. It takes a certain blend of crazy to go after steamboats and the Hollies have just that right blend. My dad, David, he, my uncle, Greg, and my grandfather, Bob, they worked in HVAC. They fixed air conditioners, refrigerators, AC units for people in the Kansas City metro area.

Just a blue collar family. One day, my dad took a service call to fix an air conditioner. He met a unique guy. You know, we would probably look at him and say he's kind of a conspiracy theorist. My dad walked into this guy's house and passed a room and saw pictures of Bigfoot on a wall, UFOs on the other, and tables with maps just everywhere.

Just scribblings, notes, kind of just all over the place. And my dad, he wasn't really interested in Bigfoot or the UFOs, but he's looking at these maps all over the tables and he just said, you know, what are all these little dots that you've indicated? And the guy says, well, these are all steamboats that have sunk in the Missouri River. And if someone goes down and if they find a boat and they sell everything they find, they will be rich beyond rich. And my dad thought that was a pretty cool idea.

That sounded more fun than fixing another furnace or air conditioner. So my dad fixed the guy's unit, gets in his truck and calls up my grandpa and my uncle on their little CB radios and says, guys, meet me at Jerry's. I got a story for you. So they all go to a fast food restaurant named Highboy. He was owned by a guy named Jerry Mackey. Now Jerry Mackey and my grandfather were good friends. They learned to fly helicopters together. They went on, you know, treasure hunts together in their own rights in Colorado. They'd go through they'd go through old abandoned, you know, gold mines.

So everyone meets at Highboy and Jerry comes out from the kitchen and sits down in the booth with the guys. And my dad kind of recounts the story of his morning and they all were pretty excited about that. They said, Dave, if you go find a boat, if you find one that you like, we'll go dig it. So my dad researched for years, learned the story of steamboats. In the Missouri River, there's roughly 400 sunken steamboats. Now, back in the heyday of steamboats, the Missouri River was notoriously wide and shallow, which made it very easy for the river to shift its course one way or the other. Of the 400 boats that went down, 75% went down because of tree snags. So boats would hit these submerged trees and they would sink very quickly. And around the turn of the century, the Army Corps of Engineers realized that we have a problem. Like all these boats are still sinking and the river is still pretty untamed.

So they started dredging the river, getting rid of snags, and they made the river consistently narrow, more narrow and deeper, which took the Missouri River, which is very wide and made it considerably more narrow than what we see today. So now all these steamboats are no longer in the river itself. They're all in farm fields.

But you can't just start walking in farm fields. You need to know what you're looking for. So my dad started trying to figure out where these boats are. Came across the story of the Arabia. And the story of the Arabia was general goods in the 1850s. Sank just a few miles outside of Kansas City. It went down on September 5, 1856. And it was the perfect steamboat to go for. Sank quickly, quickly enough that all the cargo was taken down with the boat, but all 150 passengers were able to get off the boat safely. We didn't want to have to deal with the people who didn't survive.

So the Arabia, perfect. So we figured out who owned the land. The landowner was an old Wyandotte County judge, Judge Norman Sorter. And so my dad, these guys go knock on the judge's door and they say, Judge Sorter, we're not crazy, but we think there's a steamboat buried in your cornfield. And the judge kind of looks at him for a second. He says, Oh, y'all are talking about the Arabia. Come here.

I'll show you where it is. The judge knew all about the boat. His great grandfather had purchased the land from the Wyandotte Indians. And they had told him that a great white ship is buried under your land. And the Arabia was kind of famous because when it sank in 1856, it was reportedly carrying 400 barrels of Kentucky's finest bourbon. And when that boat sank, everyone was writing stories about the Arabia and the whiskey barrels. What happened to them? Are they still on the boat?

Who's going to get them? And there were several attempts to get the Arabia's whiskey. So when we showed up, the judge, he was like, all right, it's another group of you guys. Come here.

He took us in the field, pretty much showed us. He said, it's somewhere right about here. And so my dad walked the field with a device called a proton magnetometer. We call it a fancy metal detector, but he was able to use this magnetometer to pick up the large iron boilers on board the Arabia. So we were able to pinpoint its location in about two and a half hours of actually walking the field.

So pretty quick. We talked to the judge and we structured a deal and he said, if you all want to waste your time and your money, you go right ahead, but you will never get down to that boat. We know where it is. The problem is 10 feet below surface, there's an aquifer, basically an underground river running through this field.

And everyone who's tried to get to this boat, they've hit the water and they've not been able to de-water the field enough to get down to the boat, which is 45 feet beneath the surface. So we said, well, we'd like to give it a shot. So he said, you guys go right ahead. And you're listening to Matt Hawley tell the story of these crazy men trying to dig up the Steamboat Arabia. And it took crazy men to endeavor to do that, as you just heard. And why, when we come back, what happens next? Do they dig it up?

Don't they? The story of Steamboat Arabia with Matt Hawley continues here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories.com. With the lucky landslides, you can get lucky just about anywhere. This is your captain speaking. We've got clear runway and the weather's fine, but we're just going to circle up here a while and get lucky.

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February 29th through March 3rd on NFL Network and streaming on NFL Plus. And we continue with our American stories and we return to Matt Hawley and the story of the Steamboat Arabia. When we last left off, Matt's dad and a group of fellow blue collar workers had decided they wanted to dig up buried treasure. Buried treasure in the form of a sunken steamboat called the Arabia and by the way sunken on a farm.

Let's continue with a story. So word got out that these this group of guys were wanting to dig up a steamboat here in Missouri and our fifth partner came along a guy named Dave Latrell. He owned a construction company here in the in the area and Dave Latrell got a hold of us. He called Jerry on the phone one day and said you know I read about y'all story in the newspaper and I own a construction company but I've always wanted to do one crazy thing before I die and he said I heard about you guys and I think that's exactly what I want to do.

I want to dig up a steamboat with you guys is that can I come on board and Jerry was you know it was a Sunday. Jerry was talking to him on the phone he's like actually I'm on my way out the door to a Chiefs game can I call you later after the game we'll talk then. Dave said what section do you sit in? Turns out Dave and Jerry were both season ticket holders they sat in the same section they're like three rows away from each other.

So Dave and Jerry got together at a Chiefs game some Sunday afternoon and that's when Dave Latrell became the fifth partner. So the guys started in the winter of 1988. Guys ever play the game Battleship? My family they played Battleship in a cornfield for about three days and what they would do is they would drill down if they tapped on the boat that hole would get an orange surveyor flag and they would move over a few feet repeat the process if you missed you get a white flag so after a few days of doing it you've got enough orange flags surrounding the boat you can make a chalk outline to determine not only where the hot spot is but how the boat is laying in the field itself. So sure enough 10 feet down we hit river water and so at that point we knew you can't just start digging you have to get rid of the water so we set up a series of wells we bought 12 and each well could pump out a thousand gallons of water a minute and we thought oh surely that'll be enough to get you know the water table down we'll get to the boat no problem. It ended up taking 20 to get us down to the boat itself each pumping a thousand gallons of water every 60 seconds so for the duration of a four and a half month dig we were pumping 20,000 gallons every 60 seconds and that was enough to get you down to the main deck of the Arabia and once we got into the dig you know these guys were walking around sometimes in you know waist-high water and they said if one pump went down they were all diesel fuel generated so they said if one of those things ran out of fuel and just shut off you could feel the water start to rise back up on your chest so we were truly at that tipping point but now we pumped down the water we got down into the boat and we started pulling up its cargo. Being an 1850s what we call general store collection a lot of these things are just the everyday things that people on the frontier needed general supplies food construction building materials things to put in the homes and these boats are kind of like you know UPS and FedEx trucks today you know they carry some nice things but not like probably a gold chest of coins and you know rubies and diamonds we weren't expecting to find things like that we were looking for everyday American history and the first barrel of things we found we opened up the top and underneath were these beautiful china dishes dishes from England so during the dig these five guys are all married and you know all the wives are pretty good sports letting their boys go out and dig up steamboats you know again blue-collar guys through and through so the idea of digging up a steamboat is kind of different so all the wives are a little nervous when you're spending thousands hundreds of thousands of dollars to get down just to maybe find something you know is there really something on board this boat we don't know but when we got down there and opened up this first barrel and found these dishes right off the bat that's when all the moms and wives were like you know what boys this is a good idea you keep digging I think this is going to be an okay thing so that set off a four and a half month dig that pulled up things that truly can't be found anywhere else in the world nature had preserved the collection so remarkably well we found food on board that was still edible again Jerry is a restaurant owner and these guys are notorious for eating just about anything Jerry tried pickles butter cheese salt pork we actually found bottles of champagne still had carbonation inside them not surprisingly four of the guys were willing to try that one so again just an incredibly well-preserved collection and just a story of American history that you can't find anywhere else now when you're when you get together with your buddies and you say you know let's let's go go on let's go on this adventure together you know of course the conversation becomes how are we going to pay for this you know what is it going to cost to dig up a steamboat no one's really done it before so what do we think and they're all again blue-collar guys they work with their hands you know they have tools and Dave Latrell owns a construction company so this guy owns bulldozer so we're thinking oh between all of us if we each chip in 10,000 a piece 50,000 total that's going to be all the money in the world 50,000 lasted a week and a half of the dig so we just had to start borrowing from a bank the dig ended up costing about a million dollars all borrowed at that point and then of course we're thinking well once we got in the collection we realized we can't sell these things the story you know the idea originally of selling it making a bunch of money that was the driving force at the beginning but when we found those dishes and we got into the collection we were finding all these just incredible stories we said you can't sell something like this you've got to keep the story together but we just borrowed a million dollars to do it so how are we going to recoup our money from this in a museum was just the logical choice so we had to go to the bank and borrow another sum of money about half a million to build the museum that we currently reside in so we opened the doors three years to the day that we started the excavation november 13th 1988 we started the dig we opened the doors here at the museum november 13 1991 about 1.5 million in debt but we are proud to say we've paid back all loans and we've kept the museum open 100 on ticket sales we brought up 200 tons of lost cargo and we looked at all this stuff and these guys are saying you know we're fast cleaners you know so we'll get through everything we'll have it clean preserved on display it won't take more than eight or nine years to do we have been now cleaning the arabia collection for about 33 years and at this point i think i heard a little while ago we have somewhere i think between 40 and 50 tons still to go and at this rate we think that'll take probably another 10 maybe 12 years of non-stop preservation the question of what happened to the whiskey or where is the whiskey i get that every single day and i always kind of laugh at folks and i say sad story we never found the whiskey we believe all those barrels had been stored on the main deck of the boat so when it started to sink the river wiped them all downstream now i hope my genuine hope is some good old boy farmer was just downstream fishing that night kind of relaxing doing his thing and he saw one barrel float by and he's like well that's interesting looks up sees 400 more coming down right behind and oh he had one heck of a party that's that's what i hope happened and a special thanks to katrina hind and to monty montgomery for gathering that story and producing it and a special thanks to matt holly who is the self-described and glorified museum tour guide and the museum is the dean boat arabia museum in kansas city missouri if you're ever in that neck of the woods drop by this is the kind of americana that we love to tell stories about we've done a story about the toaster museum the salt and pepper shaker museum the neon light museum and of course our lawnmower racing show our tank collector we have a guy who collected tanks i'm talking tanks like real military tanks and my goodness what a story this is as matthew mentioned it takes a lot of crazy to want to collect steamboat and my goodness the story of how the missouri river well it led to a lot of sinking of steamboats was fascinating in and of itself 400 sunken steamboats and then the army corps of engineers went to work narrowed that river deepened it the next thing you know those sunken steamboats were sunken in farm field and my goodness one and a half million dollars later this little adventure well it turned into this museum and how the wives managed to stay on board and how these guys kept their marriages intact maybe that's another story the story of the steamboat arabia museum here on our american story from football playoffs to basketball madness tcl roku tvs are the best way to stream your favorite live sports with all the biggest sports channels a sports zone with all available games in one place and apps like i heart radio with sports podcasts such as the herd with colin cowherd cheering on your favorite team has never been easier a big screen tcl roku tv offers premium picture and sound quality so you'll feel like you're right in the action find the perfect tcl roku tv for you today at go dot tcl dot com slash tcl roku tv hey hey it's malcolm glaubel host of revisionist history ebay motors is here for the ride your elbow grease fresh installs and a whole lot of love transformed a hundred thousand miles and a body full of rust into a drive entirely its own 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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-26 04:30:49 / 2024-02-26 04:39:34 / 9

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