Gamboa News

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Underwater Salvage: Operation Golfball
October 16, 1949

chronicled by
Ralph Skinner

Therešs a boy in Gamboa who upsets the often-heard statement that Canal Zone young people are lazy and without initiative because of the regimented way of life on the Zone.

He is James Shobe, a 17 year old senior at Balboa High School.

More than a year ago Shobe decided to make a diving helmet and took his plan to the metalshop at school. The result was a professional type diving helmet, with wide view front window, air hose connections and pockets to put extra lead for deep diving.

Then there was a pump to be made. This has a double cylinder which works surprisingly easy, with a direct air hose connection at each cylinder. In order to make it mobile, the long pumping handle comes off by simple arrangement.

Did it work when Jim Shobe finished it? Wešll say it did! He used it frequently, absorbing the instruction about diving furnished him by R. A. Mitchell, of the Dredging Division. He made dives in the Chagres and in lakes, etc., no to mention the Panama Canal. In the Panama Canal, he went down to a depth of 40 feet.

There are some principals of engineering involved in the outfit which are not generally known to laymen. For example, the air is not fed into the mouth of the diver through the hose. No, the air is turned loose in the helmet and it acts to keep the water out simply by its native pressure.

Actually the helment is too heavy to be lifted easily by one man. And its weight and metal edtges would cut the shoulders of anyone who put it on, on land.

The trick is to lower the helmet into the water, have the pumpman start pumping, and fill the helmet with air. Then you dive under water, come up inside the helment filled with air, and then you go about your business under. Sounds simple, doesnšt it?

The diving operation to which the Sunday American photographer was a witness was carried out at Gamboa Golf and Country Club. One of the holes there has a water hazard between tee and green. Needless to say, plenty of golf balls end up in this lake.

Jim, his brother Dick and a friend, David Henderson, all like to play golf. Not being adept at it, they lose many balls in the rough. And also in the clusters atop palm trees, they admitted. Golf balls cost money so Jim figured to dive for his. Also, the Clubhouse manager stated he could use 80 recovered balls at 10 cents each, someone else wanted 30 more at the same price, etc. So the average operations started Saturday morning.

Jimšs brother Dick realized the importance of the pump operations so he handled the pump handle most of the time. Davidšs strong fingers were used to keep the air hose fastened onto the pump where there was a missing coupling. And Jim did the diving.

First he went in along the weeds on the shore. There were lots of perch in the water, some a foot long, as well as many smaller fish, he reported. But only one golf ball was here. There was so much muck on the bottom, almost a foot deep to places that he had to feel for the balls in the slimy stuff.

Then the pump and helmet were toted to the bridge across the lake. This seemed a better location. There was a rowboat as a mobile source of operations but a padlock on it kept it safely for its owner.

However the first dive from the bridge brouight up 11 golf balls. Then Jim decided that his work was hampered because the air line was too short. So he hopped on his motor scooter and off over the ridge to get superior equipment.

We learned from his helpers that this is not the first time that Jim has made this salvage operation. He did it before and made quite a killing at 10 cents a ball.

If you have anything from buried treasure to golf balls in a watery place not too deep and not too full of alligators, call Jim Shobe and his two helpers. Hešs ready to try anything and hešs resourceful. And, in case youšre curious about how many golf balls he recovered this time. the official answer is ŗsomething over a hundred.˛ You see there are business secrets even in the diving game!

This story has been formerly featured in CZ Brats, Parakeet Voyager and Gamboa News.


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