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Wednesday, December 12 2018 @ 04:04 PM UTC

The Marion is Declared a Landmark

History & Reference
A Steam Shovel in the Panama Canal Excavation
A Steam Shovel in the Panama Canal Excavation
By Lynne Belluscio - We have just received notification that New York State has accepted our nomination for the Marion Steam Shovel on Gulf Road to become a State Historic Landmark and it will be nominated for national designation. It represents the industrial technology that was developed at the end of the 19th Century. When I wrote the nomination I included a history of the development of the steam shovel, the history of the General Crushed Stone Company and the story of the limestone quarries in Le Roy. It is very unusual that the review panel accepts nominations for equipment like Le Roy's Marion Shovel. But I am now faced with a greater challenge. The panel would like additional information that would prove that the shovel was indeed a shovel from the Panama Canal. That's going to be tough. (more)

The records of the Marion Shovel Company in Bowling Green, Ohio aren't early enough but they have put me in contact with a man from Edmonton, Alberta who is an expert of the early excavating equipment. I talked with him on Sunday and he has seen the Marion Shovel but he doesn't have the critical measurements, so I will be sending him the size of the engines and the measurements on the house and boiler.

In the meantime, I have talked with the former President of General Crushed Stone Company, Julian Parton, who wrote the history of the company several years ago. In his book, he states that General Crushed Stone bought two shovels from Panama and one came to Le Roy. He has told me that when he first came to Le Roy, the son of the original president of General Crushed Stone told him the story about the shovel, but he hasn't ever seen any records to that effect. I also have the 1906 Le Roy Gazette article that states that General Crushed Stone bought a new Marion shovel in 1906. Both stories could be true, since a 1930s photograph in Parton's book, shows two huge shovels in the Le Roy quarry. In order to identify the machines in the photo, I will need to find the original so Julian is going to search his files. If he can't find them, we hope they are on file at the National Canal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania. I have talked with their archivist and perhaps I will be headed down that way to spend some time with their files.

Another option is the work that Walter Humphrey is doing to produce a working model of the machine. His detailed measurements and photos will help in the research. He also sent photos of the old "Dinky" engine that used to be on display with the shovel. The engine is being restored by a collector near Syracuse. I am pretty sure the shovel is a Model 91 and sixteen Model 91s were sent to Panama - at least that is what one book says but it is not footnoted so I need to follow up on that bit of information.

I also contacted a Panama Canal historian at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He has told me that the records are not readily available and it would be almost impossible to find out how many Marions were sent to Panama or what models were sent, much less what happened to them after the Canal was completed.

However, talking with all these people, it does seem that if the shovel is a Model 91, it is the only surviving Model 91. At this time, there is only one verified Panama shovel. It is in pretty bad shape and is in Costa Rica. The shovel in Colorado, was in Panama but not actually in the cut. It worked outside the Canal. If I can prove that our shovel was from Panama, (which is going to be really tough) then it becomes historically significant on a national scale. I have also been collecting postcards and photographs of steam shovels in the Panama Canal. I even bought three from a collector in Belgium. I wish I could drop everything and just do research on the shovel but I'll have to find time midst all the other things going on here. If I find anything, I'll keep all of you posted.

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