Old Gas Engines Found in Civil War Fort

Mississippi River

Situated on the Mississippi River below New Orleans, Fort St. Philip would seem an unlikely place to find old engines. The fort is visible just right of center in the upper portion of this photograph.

Content Tools

It probably no longer surprises or amazes you where and how engine enthusiasts find old, rusty, mechanical dinosaurs, but to find them inside an 1860s Civil War fortress, well, this story should perk up even the most skeptical or apathetic collector.

Below New Orleans, La., along the mighty Mississippi River, lies Fort St. Philip, a Civil War fortress constructed in 1861. It was, as the photos indicate, a massive undertaking, and the fort, it turns out, holds some engine treasures.

This engine adventure began when my friend, John Smietana of New Iberia, La., just had to go and check out an old boat to put his 1917 Kermath marine engine in. This old boat was alleged to have been built in 1900, and sure enough, the boat was a masterpiece. However, after John mustered up all the words listed in the Dale Carnagie School of Salesmanship, the owner, Leander Jurjevich, could not be convinced to sell the boat.

As John hung his head in disappointment and started to leave, Mr. Jurjevich asked if we would like to look at some old marine and stationary engines. In the spirit and enthusiasm of old engine connoisseurs, a resounding 'yes' was our reply.

Mr. Jurjevich informed us that these old junk critters were not in his backyard, but rather situated in and around his old hunting camp down the Mississippi River, and accessible only by boat.

Breaking Waves
As we boarded Mr. Jurjevich's 20-foot airboat (a boat specially made for navigating the marshes), John and I could hardly contain ourselves as the excitement built. The airboat, powered by a 200 HP Lycoming aircraft engine, roared to life, and we began our hellacious trip down the Mighty Mississippi at 40 MPH. We were soon at the old camp house, and we climbed out of the boat into a marsh/swamp environment, complete with Fiddler crabs scurrying around (along with other, not-so-nice critters lurking about). And there, sitting in the mud and muck, was a four-cylinder, early 1900s Laythrop marine engine, an engine Mr. Jurjevich told us was in like new condition until a hurricane played havoc with the house it was in; now it is a mechanical habitat for a variety of marine life. We quickly determined the engine was a 'Leavearite,' meaning, look at it and leave it right there.

We were then told that in order to see the stationary engines we would have to go to Fort St. Philip, the old Civil War fort further up river. John and I mumbled our suspicions to ourselves about the idea of old engines at a Civil War fort (no way!), and boarded the airboat for another hair-raising, white-knuckle trip through the marshland bayous, lined with what seemed to be 20-foot-tall marsh grass and wildlife of every description.

Lo and behold, we arrived at what first looked like the Mayan ruins of Mexico. After maneuvering into the hostile marsh land surrounding Fort St. Philip, we were amazed how time and nature had minimal impact on the massive cannon emplacement, and for a moment we could almost hear the Confederate cannons firing at the Union ships during the 1862 Battle of New Orleans.

We finally came upon the rusting relics of three stationary engines. One appeared to be a Foos or Otto, the others were a Bates & Edmonds Bulldog 6 HP and Fairbanks-Morse Z 3 HP. These engines were adjacent to Fort St. Philip's powder magazine, and we later learned that during World War I, United States troops used the fort for training, and this likely accounts for how the engines got there.

But these old engines will forever remain silent, waiting for another old engine enthusiast to visit them in another 100 years or so. We climbed back into that cardiac-causing contraption of an airboat one more time for our trip back up the Big Muddy. What old engine folks won't do to find these elusive, rusting relics.

Contact engine enthusiast Robert 'Bayou Bob' Mayeux at: 3728 Cactus, Pineville, LA 71360, (318) 442-0611, or e-mail at:  bayoubob@hotmail.com .