The Atlas Engine

It started with Ray Artnz asking me “have you ever seen an Atlas marine engine?” Quickly followed by a YouTube video showing one of these “Atlas” engines working.

I did a little research about Atlas engines and found out some interesting information:

“Atlas-Imperial Diesel Engine Company was an American manufacturer of diesel engines based in Oakland, California. The company was created in 1916 when two early gasoline engine companies combined to manufacture diesel engines, following the expiration of Rudolph Diesel‘s patents. The company made diesels for tugboats, fishboats, coasters, yachts, lightvessels, and other ships. The company produced engines in a variety of sizes and ratings, from a 2-cylinder model that generated 30 horsepower (22 kW) to an 8-cylinder model that generated 600 horsepower (450 kW). Known for their reliability and serviceability, Atlas diesels were installed in workboats around the world.”


“Atlas-Imperial engines were considered one of the most serviceable diesels ever built in the US. Starting in 1916, Atlas built diesels for tugboats, fish boats and coasters. With engines in a variety of sizes (2 to 8 cylinders), their diesels became common on the West coast shore. Many engines that were built in the 1920’s continued to run into 1951. Soon after, Atlas closed its Oakland, California, doors.”

Note in particular the quote about the fact that the Atlas engines were common on the West coast shore which is where we were diving.

I also found an old picture of an Atlas Imperial engine:

Note the large flywheel at the far right side
Cool photo of a restored Atlas engine. Note the “Atlas Imperial” lettering on the round plates on the side

A week or two later we were headed to the site. As far as we know, there have only been two other divers on this site. What an honor!

I have been requested to keep the location and depth private which I will honor. The only thing I will say is that it is around the San Pedro / Palos Verdes area.

After dropping the shot line, Ben Lair and I descended down the line, unsure what we would find. The visibility wasn’t very good and after doing a quick scan we couldn’t see anything. Ben put a strobe on the shot line and tied off a reel ready to start exploring. I took another look around and literally 10-15 feet away saw the outline of a large engine. I shouted at Ben and we both had a laugh.

We spent a while swimming around and taking pictures of the engine. There was some other debris and bits and pieces but most of the original ship had disintegrated. What a fun dive and experience. Now we need to find out which ship sank.

Note the large flywheel

Another “side view” of the flywheel
Side view of the Atlas Engine
Larger side view of the Atlas engine
Another piece of the engine? Not sure what this is.

Here is a cool picture of the sonar while over the dive site. I believe the bubbles are from Ben and I as we were starting our ascent up the shot line. I have blacked out the depth.

Sonar image of the engine (and divers?)

What next?

I’d like to get another dive on the site and try to identify more details of the engine (model, etc) in order to identify the ship it belonged to. Also, I’d love to dig around and get a picture of the “Atlas Imperial” round plate on the side of the engine.

5 thoughts on “The Atlas Engine

  1. WOW
    Jealous for sure!
    Keep the pictures coming!
    Awesome and very cool!
    Wish I could still dive.
    Thanks for sharing

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