#7 --The Ohio Canal

The Ohio Canal was of great help in the settling of this valley. The boats going north were loaded with various grains, also coal; while on the return trip the load would consist of various kinds of merchandise, especially whiskey. In those days, a license was not required to dispense the fiery liquid; so many of the stores along the canal had a keg of whiskey on the counter with a tin cup chained to it. For a three-cent piece, you were entitled to fill the cup with liquor.

There were two grain storage elevators that I recall. One stood on the corner of Bridge and Main Streets; the other, on River Street where the Eureka Hardware store is located. By the way, this is the same building from which I saw boats loaded with wheat. At that time the building was owned by G. W. Miskimen.

It was not too much of a task to load a boat; because you just ran a spout from either the second or third story of the building to the boat, and in a few hours it would be loaded, ready to start the journey north. It was more trouble elevating the grain. To accomplish this, on the first floor was a horse hooked to a merry-go-round contraption. The horse walked 'round and 'round, turning a shaft, which in turn transmitted power to a gearbox, which in turn moved an endless belt with small leather buckets on it. In this manner, the grain was moved to the upper two stories.

A canal-boat crew generally consisted of four persons: first, the captain, then the cook (generally his wife or some other woman), the bowsman, and the driver (commonly known as the mule skinner).

All duties are easily understood, with the exception of the bowsman, whose duty it was to be located in the bow of the boat and look out for floating debris which might punch a hole in the boat. His next task was the hard one, for it was up to him to jump off the boat when they were about a mile from the lock and hurry there and get the lock ready for the boat. For instance, if his boat was going north, he would have to close the large gates at the upper end of the lock, then open the small weir gates in the large gates at the lower end of the lock and drain the lock. After this was accomplished, he would open the large gates at the lower end of the lock; and it would be ready for his boat. As soon as the boat was in the lock, he would have to close the large gates, as well as the small weir gates, open the weir gates at the other end of the lock; and soon the boat would be raised to the upper level so it could proceed.

To be a good bowsman you had of necessity to be a good fighter; for quite often the bowsman on a boat coming in the opposite direction would decide to take the lock for his own boat. When this occurred, a fight would always ensue, with no holds barred - biting, gouging the eyes, jumping on a man when down, and kicking in the ribs with their heavy boots. Anything went, and to the victor belonged the lock.

Next week's story: Superintendent John Duff and Annie, the "Gentle Cow". Stories are reprinted from a series is stories by former NCTnews contributor, D.B. Moore. The historic tales are from Moore's book, My Hometown, Gekelemukpechunk. The book is a collection of true stories that Moore recalled from growing up in Newcomerstown.