The emerald-colored waters off Long Branch, N.J., were "gloomy and spooky" as Dan Lieb swam toward the two hulking silhouettes, sitting upright and side by side about 90 feet down.
The objects were heavily encrusted with marine life, but Lieb recognized the unmistakable lines, the wheels and boilers of identical locomotives, 160 years after they fell or were cast overboard.
"It looked like they were steaming across the bottom in a race," said Lieb, 56, of Neptune, Monmouth County. "You could imagine them on tracks at a station with steam coming out of the valves, and people and luggage on the platform."
Five miles off the Jersey Shore, their presence is a mystery perplexing researchers. How did two pre-Civil War locomotives wind up there ? Did they slip off a sailing ship during a storm ? Were they purposely dropped into the deep ?
Lieb, a technical illustrator, diver, and member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Explorers Club, will describe the progress of the investigation at the club's meeting - open to members and guests - at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The event will be open to the public. Admission is $10.
He is the director of the Sunken Locomotives Project for the New Jersey Museum of Transportation, a nonprofit educational organization that took legal possession of the engines - through a federal proceeding - about nine years ago.
Research into the submerged locomotives also is being conducted by the New Jersey Historical Divers Association, said Lieb, president of the group.