Project01: Pickwick, TX

January 24 2016

Exploration for the sake of Exploration/ Project01: Pickwick, TX

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January 24 2016


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Mission Underway

Better late than never, right?

Sometimes work gets in the way of fun.

In my last post, I was hoping to have nice weather for tossing the drone up in the air. Well...nope. Turns out it got really cold and windy instead. But we're all intrepid explorers, right? We push on.

Despite the lake being choppy and stirring up a lot of silt, I was able to accomplish part of my goals for the day. The hope was to orient using some previous GPS waypoints, and see if we could locate any structures underwater. That obviously was not possible. However, I was able to shoot a lot of photos, and re-orient to the new topography. This was the first time I had been up to the northern(ish) end of the lake since it had flooded and refilled last summer. Turns out, catching 12-15 ft of water can really change the way things look (the northern end of the lake is flatter and shallower, so the water really spreads out).

I realized my original plan of hauling gear out in my 17ft canoe, and anchoring on site, will probably not work. The town's location is out in a highly trafficked area, and no longer near the bank...more right out in the middle. I am considering hauling the stuff out to the island and putting that 300ft tether to work. We'll see.

Dive time is here. Just need a free weekend with some good weather. Coming soon.

(In the photo below, the bridge site should be about 100 yards towards the camera from a point directly between the two islands)


We've had the same issue here in CA—rain changing our expedition plans. Still... Excited for the dive!

Preparation Stage

Getting ready to do some drone reconnaissance (droconnaissance!) this weekend.

Here is a pro tip for everyone:

Scratch that....Here is more of a weekend warrior tip for everyone:

If you're going to be fly an aircraft (and that does include drones or UASs as they are officially known), you should always double check if there is a temporary flight restriction (TFR) or NOTAM in the area you will be operating. I use for checking these kinds of things. It'll take you two seconds, and save you a heap of trouble if you happen to fly into a restricted area.

Also, take a second and make notes of any small airstrips near the area you plan on flying. There are a lot of private grass strips out there that many people don't know about!

That is enough PSAs for the day.

I'll be shooting the Mavic up on Saturday to do a little scouting. The lake is much higher than the last time I was out to the Pickwick site, so it is definitely going to be a little tougher to orient myself. Purpose #2 for the scouting is to determine what kind of water clarity we'll have for the dive. We picked up another deluge of rain over the weekend, so I'm hoping the turbidity hasn't increased too much.

Here's to clear skies and light winds for the weekend!


Good advice. Excited to see the video!

How'd the drone video go?

Hey David. It was super windy, but I did get out and fly the area. I'll have a post up soon very soon. Trying to get a couple projects to the publish stage for work...

Well, here we are.

I'd love to say I didn't forget about this ongoing project, but that would be a lie. A lot has happened since our last posting, and at some point, I did kind of forget about this project. Also hindering progress was a new job, and not one, but two floods in the Brazos watershed (which led to a completely full, and therefore deeper lake, and over a year of ultra-turbid water with zero visibility).

But lets move forward. In our last post, our hero was digging up a broken pipe under his house, but that isn't really important. Skip back a little further:

We were looking for maps.

My goal was to locate some local street maps of the Pickwick community that will give us some bearings based on known structures. I'd settle for some old photos. Well, thus far I've located neither. The local library, it turns out, has a lot of old local boxes...unlabeled boxes that are in no way organized what so ever. They offered to let me catalog the multiple boxes and find what I want. Thanks, but no thanks.

I have managed to get a lead on a local who "probably" has a lot of photos of Pickwick (his father ran a local store). I just need to make contact at this point.

The ROV?

Perfect. We are in good operating shape at this point. I've added a waterproof disconnect for the tether (for transporting purposes), and a wireless link topside. I'm in the process of transitioning my base station (computer) from a windows laptop to a chromebook. I hope it works, as the chromebook has much better battery life, is much lighter, and I won't cry if I drop it into the lake (most important)!

Last week, we also added air support. Or, as my wife would phrase it: I wasted a bunch of money on a toy helicopter (DJI Mavic Pro). It is a lot of fun, and will eventually prove very useful (I hope). My next plan is to take it out and try to survey the Pickwick site. I'm hoping the water has cleared enough to locate some building foundations from the air.

I've added a quick video I shot this morning while trying out the new equipment. Have to play around and learn what I'm doing, right?

Until next time....

P.S> Careful readers may have noticed I've changed my user name. At some point, I plan on connecting all of my online stuff under one umbrella, so I've changed my OE user name to match up with that.


Great to have you back! Excited to see the first dives!

What does the photo below have to do with this ongoing project?

The answer is nothing (except keeping me from working on this).

Broken water line under the house...

New post coming soon.



First of all, thanks for name suggestions. Somehow the significance of #1776 had missed me? #1776 will definitely be known from here on as ROV Independence!

Also, post may be coming a little slower right now. I'm EXTREMELY busy the day job. Wouldn't it be great to be paid to explore sunken towns! But, the story shall move on...I promise!

This is jumping ahead a little, but (hopefully) we'll be going to look at a boat this afternoon from Craigslist. Embarrassingly, Rogers Aquatic Exploration does not currently have a boat. Well, rewind that. RAX currently has a large fleet of boats, but none of them are motorized, and would be extremely hard to hold on site in a heavy chop with strong winds (pretty normal conditions around here). Anyway, fingers crossed.

Okay, on to the test dive.

The first couple dives took place in a concrete raceway where I work. You'll be able to see a small school of young striped bass in the video. No fish were harmed in the making this video (I promise). Actually, after a while they were following the ROV around.

The first dives were such a success, that the next day a second round of test dives took place. You'll notice there is no video from these dives ;(

They didn't go quite as well. We had control issues, and drive issues, and video uplink issues. Turns out all of those happen when the tether disconnects itself from the topside box. Yeah.


Great test dive, love the updates and the new name! :)

Whoa! Very cool to see the school of fish so close up!

I was going to come up with some long and convoluted story about the epic build of OpenROV #1776, but the truth is: it went together without much fuss.

#1776 is a 2.7 build, with a purchased (but not yet installed) IMU. I've only made one modification so far; we're only sporting half of a lightbar/camera frame. Mostly because I'm somewhat incompetent when it comes to fabricating/assembly, and I didn't get the acrylic frame put together straight. I just hacked about half of it off, and now it moves up and down just like it should. I like to say I lightened it to make it faster :)

Total build time was about a month, just working a little here and there every evening.

I still have a few things to do (a year later...I'm slow). I have a new cord reel to put the tether on, an IMU sensor to install (it's built, just have to add), and I recently picked up the wireless bridge and battery pack to connect via wifi.

Test dives so far have been a mixed bag. The first couple went fine. The next couple were a little less than...fine. We had a complete freeze up (turns out that happens when the tether disconnects from the topside adapter) and a complete hang up on a rocky river bottom. I'm not sure what to do moving forward (the available neutral buoyant tether is currently a little out of the price range), but we do have to come up with a better solution than we have right now. But, no leaks, and everything seems to work!

I'll post a test video soon.

Also, I've noticed that #1776 is incredibly buoyant. I've added a lot more lead weight than I expected to. There are plans to add a GoPro when the Pickwick dives start, so I'm hoping that helps.

Also, #1776 needs a name of some sort. Open to options...


Hilda? DU1?
Or try Wikipedias list of water deities

With #1776, Independence!

Tumbleweed =)

Upon arrival.


Oh goodie, Xmas 2.0.

The OpenROV build is coming...


Hi Rax
Thanks for linking to my expedition Mangrove Mania. All words of encouragement are welcome.
Your expedition is interesting because there is a similar situation in Australia.
In the 1960's a major hydro-power and irrigation scheme called the "Snowy Mountains Scheme" was developed which resulted in the submerging of at least one major community called Adaminaby.

It resurfaces from time to time when water levels are especially low and represents a time capsule of a remote mountain community. I am not aware of any other artifacts being discovered but I am sure there must be many littered over the reservoir of a time and lifestyle all but forgotten.
I think your expedition is a good way to develop techniques in "aqua-archeology" to assist the citizen archeologist to reveal the past.

Last one: side by side comparison of a historical (pre-lake) map, and the Google Maps view of the same area. The channel just east of Costello Island is where the bridge should be standing still. I'll be using it and the sawmill foundation to (hopefully) navigate the rest of the area, assuming I can piece together a map of the area.


When we were up at Lake Shasta looking for a sunken town, we landed in the middle of a sunken forest instead. Not ideal for the tether. Might want to look for old photos of the area if you can find them.

Absolutely. Plan on scouring the local library archives sometime in the next couple weeks, and building from there.

David, is there any way of posting more than one photo per post?

One photo for now, sorry. Feature request noted.

The dry lake bed had formed its own lake


Darn, only takes one photo per post? Okay. Just assume the next couple post were part of the big one!



Hang with me for a sec while I figure this posting system out. Okay. I guess you can't put photos in line with the text? We'll live with it.

Okay, here we go...

Post are going to come in two types for the research and prep phase of this story. Sometimes, I'm going to post research and history for the projects (oh yes, dear readers, I have more planned). The book work, if you will. Other times, I'll be posting equipment, prep work, and stuff from the field. Keep in mind, I'm not a historian, or an engineer, or (especially) a writer, so be a little forgiving with the critiques...but please ask questions, or post comments/info.

We're going to start with the history.

Pickwick, Texas, like much of this area, was settled in the mid 1800's, but didn't really take off until after the Civil War, when the U.S. Army made a solid effort to push out west (Native Americans really put it to the settlers for a long time). Really, "take off" might be a little strong for Pickwick. It was. Eventually it started to grow; there was a store, gin, sawmill, church, school, and post office. Apparently (I've read this many places, but I'm not absolutely sure it's true), when they were submitting the documents to establish the post office, the townspeople wanted to name it Westerville, but couldn't due to there already being a Westerville, so someone picked the name Pickwick from the Charles Dickens story, "The Pickwick Papers." I'll explain why this is important later.

So the town hummed along until 1916 when a cotton crop failed. The gin was closed that year, never to reopen, and it looks like things continued to shrink from there. In 1939 the Brazos Conservation and Recreation District bought up all of the land, in preparation to build the Morris Sheppard Dam, that would flood the area and create Possum Kingdom Lake. As best I can tell, a couple things were moved to some donated land (the school, a cemetery, and possibly a church), though it isn't completely clear what was moved, and what was just rebuilt. I'm guessing we can assume they actually moved the cemetery...

That is a very brief history of the sunken town of Pickwick, mostly put together from uncitable sources. Much of the town history has been hard to track down. Skip ahead a little--I've started looking for non-computer based resources, as I imagine much of the information that exist about the town probably doesn't live online, as it was flooded roughly 48 years before AOL logged us all in (that's right, I looked up when AOL started!). I've been able to track down some info from looking through the University of North Texas Portal to Texas History database ( That is also where I've found historical USGS topo maps that helped place the town. But largely, it's looking for a little signal in a lot of noise. I attribute a lot of that from the decision to name the town Pickwick, after an incredibly common book. There are a lot of Pickwick Lanes out there; most of the google searches pick up houses for sale on realestate websites.

So what do we have, so far?

We know an exact location of the town. I have good maps (see below) and have actually walked the foundation of the mill. Or at least what is believed to be the mill. Drought the last several years had the lake pretty low, and you could actually see it. Oh, and a well that is silted in. I didn't take photos. Sorry. I almost didn't leave with my shoes (the silty soil is incredibly soft underneath).

I have a 99% certainty of where the old iron bridge is still standing. I've never laid eyes on it, but I know the river channel pretty well (just to the east of Costello Island in the screen shot below), and I have coordinates that some fishermen have given me. It's supposed to be pretty good bass fishing structure!

What are we still researching?

I would really like to locate a town map of some sort. It doesn't have to be super accurate, but I would like to know where things were in relation to each other. If that isn't possible (likely not), I'd like to dig up some photos from the town. I may be able to piece together some information based on those. We'll see.

I've already hit up a local museum, but didn't have any luck. The next attempt will be the public library, which does keep a local archive. I just hope they don't make me use the Dewey-Decimal System...we'll never get anywhere.

I've borrowed a photo or two below from a local paper (Thanks Lake Country Sun! RIP)...I can't seem to find any of the ones I took that day, except one us walking around the dry area of the lake bed (eh, I'll just add it can see how low it was)

Next time: We build an ROV

Expedition Background

All stories should start at the beginning.

A little over a year ago, I was driving and listening to the Weird Things Podcast (, and heard an interview about OpenROV. My imagination went wild. I'm assuming I made it to my destination.

Shortly after the new year, I ordered the kit. And a while after that, it was built. It's been assembled for a while, but I have a day job, and a one year old. Things move slow.

Fast forward a little.

I've always loved maps. Especially old maps like those that populate yellowing pages of old National Geographics. I remember sitting on the floor, digging through piles of dusty National Geographic magazines I had pulled from a bookcase in my Grandparent's study. I dreamed of tough men (rugged adventurers and scientist) in pith helmets, advancing across the Serengeti in an old Land Rover. Exploring unknown lands, or tracking wild herds. I would tear out maps, and hang them on my bedroom walls, piecing together expeditions I would go on when I was old enough to fly on an airliner on my own, or see over the steering wheel of my Dad's jeep. Well, life has moved on, but that dream has always stuck in the back of my mind.

So imagine my joy when I found an archive of old documents on a University of North Texas website. All the old maps and photos I could eat (not actually eat, just download and look at).

I immediately started to research a specific old map: A USGS topographical survey of the area I live in. Why? Well, I had heard many stories of a town that was flooded when the Possum Kingdom Reservoir was filled. It definitely is not legend. It is there. Many fishermen have picked up objects on the their fish finders in the area, and when the lake was low during a drought the last few years, one of the structures actually came out of the water. But there is more. And I want to know how much more.

And so begins the adventure. I have maps. I have pictures. I have an ROV just itching to spin some props.

My plan is to catch you up to date, through post over a little while-there has been some movement on this project-as right now we're in a holding pattern. I'll explain when we get there. So hold on to your keyboards. We're going to have some fun.


Agreed! Great stories always start at the beginning! Excited to follow along.

This is awesome. I can't wait for your next update!

Following! This will be fun to watch.

WOW! Didn't expect comments already! Glad you guys are interested. If you have any questions, please ask...and stay tuned; there is more to come!

BTW, Kevin--I've been following your thread in the OpenROV forums. Good stuff!