Loco Search – Send for Dave the Detectorist

More than 100 years ago a train named the J G Kellogg fell from a ferry into the Sacramento river and was never recovered. In 1970 researchers delving into the history of the incident said that it was a very rare locomotive, being the second oldest in the State …

J. G. Kellogg-thumb-500x247-14974
The JG Kellogg was built in 1866 and toppled from a ferry into the Sacramento river ion the 1890’s.

Help from Detectorists

The train had been long hidden in the murky depths, and an attempt to locate it was instigated by a local salvage group. They recruited Dave Freeman, a private salvage contractor and a well-known detectorist, to help them in their quest.

Dave had been overlaying old maps onto satellite maps as well as examining charts and photographs. With the information gathered he thought the location of the locomotive would be easily found. Dave and other volunteer detectorists searched the shallows and sandbars hoping to hear a screeching whine from their detectors that would indicate a sizeable object. Alas, nothing was found . . . but the search for the steam locomotive in its watery grave chugged on.

I understand that the local distributor of White’s Metal Detectors also brought his expertise to the task in hand. He promised to use a ‘special detector that can penetrate 20 ft. into the ground’ (sic). Can’t imagine the cacophony in his headphones if the search had been successful! I’ve found several lost rings and keys in my time, but never been asked to locate anything so large. I can’t help but think that hiring a couple of scuba divers swinging a large magnet might be a better idea, but what do I know? Perhaps the engine has slowly disappeared into the mud and silt during the intervening years.

On a Mission

Historian Dottie Smith of Shasta County was on a mission. Using Dave’s maps she tried to locate the train, but also failed. After the search ended, several people came forward with additional information. Smith and other historians had hoped that those powerful metal detectors would verify that the loco was still there.

Steve Hartman, who used one of the metal detectors, said the search wasn’t a total loss. “Part of finding where it is, is finding where it isn’t,” he said. “There can’t be too many pieces of junk that are 30 feet long down there.” Smith and company certainly haven’t given up hope finding the locomotive!

In 2012 (the latest information I could find), a couple salmon fishing in the river found what they thought was some kind of cartwheel and presented it to the local historical society who were ‘very excited’. After taking measurements and researching locomotive data they tried to determine whether it was from the JG Kellogg.

Rod Miranda, Millville Historical Society president (left) and railroad historian Rick Marty pose with the wheel,

I’m not sure of the result and whether it was from the locomotive, but the Historical Society consider the wheel to be a significant part of Shasta County’s history. Meanwhile – I presume – the search continues. Maybe somebody out there can tell us more. Or perhaps an enterprising and proficient UK swinger could take a holiday on the Sacramento River and show those Yanks how it’s done.  🙂


This blog has been adapted from a 2011 post that was lost


5 thoughts on “Loco Search – Send for Dave the Detectorist”

  1. Not something I would want to recover, John.. But then, I have recovered a couple of cannons from old shipwrecks; and many people might think that is weird to the extreme.. LOL.

    It seems as though the search for the locomotive is on hiatus at the moment… but even if it were found, it would be a huge problem to excavate and then restore it

    Thank you again


  2. These days the devices towed by helicopters which are used to locate ore bodies would find it fairly quickly, unless a bridge was built nearby.

  3. Come on, who among us hasn’t lost a set or car keys, or a phone or a locomotive before?

    I bet if you look hard enough you could find an App for that……….Find My Loco?? Hahahaha……

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