#13 --The Railroad, the Canal, and a Joke

With the coming of the Cleveland and Marietta Railroad through Newcomerstown, it was necessary for the company to establish a drawbridge over the Ohio Canal to permit passage of the canal boats. The bridge at best was a crude affair as compared to the present-day bridges, but it answered the purpose. It was hinged on the north end and was raised and lowered by one man's operating the ponderous gears.

There was a bridge tender on duty during daylight hours only, as canal boats did not operate during the night. The bridge tender I remember was a gentleman named Benjamin Burdette, a gentleman getting up in years and with very poor vision. The lenses in his glasses appeared to be a quarter of an inch thick, and without them, Benny could not identify anything, even at close range.

There were plenty of days when there was no traffic on the canal, and the time hung heavy on Benny (twelve hours a day and seven days a week) -- so he became an avid fisherman, sometimes catching a carp or a catfish. Before he would leave for home in the evening he would bait two or three hooks and set the poles in the bank, hoping that he might have an unwary fish on the hook when he returned in the morning.

One evening after he had headed for home, some boys fashioned a dummy out of a pair of overalls and jacket, stuffed it with straw, fastened a slouch hat where the head should have been, weighted it a little so that it would sink below the surface, and fastened it on one of the lines. Then they anxiously awaited the next morning to see what Benny would do. When the old gentleman arrived on the scene, he noticed that one of his lines was acting like he had a fish on it. Hastily setting down his dinner bucket, he grabbed the pole and commenced to pull. Imagine his surprise when the dummy came into view!

The old man threw the pole into the canal, crying, "My God I've caught a dead man!" The boys who were in hiding, watching the fun, commenced to laugh. One of them pulled the pole to the bank, with the dummy attached; and Benny saw that someone had played a joke on him.

In no uncertain words, the old man declared himself, telling what he would do to the person or persons who had played such a joke on him!

Next week's story: Fellow Mukpechunks and Their Shananigans. 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.