Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Its Really Erie

I've got a mule, her name is Sal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal

We've hauled some barges in our day
filled with lumber, coal and hay
And we know every inch of the way from
Albany to Buffalo.

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor, you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

We better get along on our way ol'gal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal

'Cause you bet your life I'd never part with Sal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal.
Git up there mule, here comes a lock,
We'll make Rome about 6 o'clock
One more trip and back we'll go, right back home to Buffalo.

No more mules on the Erie Canal, but a lot of dedicated people keep the old waterway working. Actually, the original canal was completed in 1825 as a means to open the country west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers and to offer a cheap and safe way to carry produce to a market.  It was 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide, and floated barges carrying 30 tons of freight. A ten foot wide towpath was built along the bank of the canal for Sal and her friends.

The original canal was mostly filled in when the current canal was built nearby in in 1918.DSC_0405 This is actually the third version of the canal since #1 was widened and deepened substantially in the late 1800s. The current Erie Canal is 12 to 14 feet deep, 120 to 200 feet wide, and 363 miles long, from Albany to Buffalo. 57 locks were built to handle barges carrying up to 3,000 tons of cargo, with lifts of 6 to 40 feet. Today most traffic is recreational boats rather than cargo-carrying barges.

DSC_0411 Our 5 mile tour from Herkimer, NY went through lock #18, then back to Herkimer.


The lock dropped the tour boat more than 20 feet. Well, dropped sounds a bit abrupt. Its more like descending on a very slow elevator.DSC_0414  Our captain, who retired from working on the Canal after more than 30 years, referred to Erie as “the best canal in the world.”DSC_0415  Apparently it was the first canal using this type of lock system, which has been copied around the world. Current canal workers maintain the 1918 equipment and operate the locks from spring through fall. The canal is closed down in winter months.

DSC_0410Adventurous boaters can actually travel from Lake Erie to Key West Florida, by cruising east on the Erie Canal to Albany, then down the Hudson River to New York City, and south on the intracoastal waterway.   But it would take a while. This boat that passed us was from Ft. Lauderdale. Houseboats can be rented on the Erie Canal, and the captain said they are actually quite comfortable. 

The captain kept referring to work on the canal in the first person. “We polish the brass on the electrical equipment so it looks new…” “we sometimes have to replace the wood edges of the lock doors.” When I asked him, since he’s retired, why he still speaks of working on the canal in the first person, he said: “Once a canaler, always a canaler.” Just like the Marines.


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