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By TONI C. COLLINS
Levy County historian
On Jan. 19, 1979, James Lancaster of Luraville, a small community in Suwannee County on the east bank of the Suwannee River, mounted a drive to retrieve a relic from the river. Remembering the engine’s location from early boyhood, Lancaster financed the venture to bring to the surface a 130-year-old locomotive from the river bottom.
Despite missing the bulging smokestack and wooden parts, the engine was displayed near Mr. Lancaster’s home at Luraville for several years. In 1982, businessman Jack Goyke, of Jacksonville, purchased the engine and presented it to the State through Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Conner.
The eight-wheeled engine was built some time between 1850 and 1855; however, extensive research failed to disclose the name of the manufacturer. In the 1890s, the engine was acquired by the Bache and Hagen Lumber Company and hauled logs to the company’s sawmill at Luraville.
The career of the Luraville Locomotive abruptly ended in 1898 when it plunged into the Suwannee River. There are two stories of how this happened. The first is simply that it jumped the track at a curve and wound up in the river.
The second, more detailed story is that the engine had been moved by barge from the east to the west bank of the Suwannee to tram logs to the riverside south of the present day community of Day. The tram rails it was supposed to run on proved too weak to hold it, so the engine was to be moved back to the east bank.
While being lowered down a bluff on a temporary track leading to the barge, it broke the restraining lines and freewheeled completely across the barge and into the water.
The engine stood upright on the bottom for many years but eventually was washed over onto its side.
Today, the restored work horse stands proudly on public view at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Laboratory Complex in Tallahassee as a reminder of the state’s early logging days.