Marco Paul on the Erie Canal

CHAPTER V - Canajoharie

JUST before the boat reached Canajoharie, it had to pass through a lock. Forester saw this lock represented on the profile of the canal, which was drawn on a corner of his map. It was plain from the profile that the lock was only a short distance from the village, and so Forester proposed to Marco that they should get out at the lock, and walk the rest of the way along the bank of the canal.

"Well," said Marco, "I should like that."

"By this means," said Forester, "we shall see the place a little better; and, besides, we can warm ourselves by the exercise of walking."

So Forester got his carpet-bag and umbrella, and placed them near the stern of the boat, and he and Marco, taking their stand there, watched the progress of the boat as it glided along toward the lock. "And now," said Forester, " we shall have an opportunity to see exactly how they manage the business of passing through a lock."

The Lock

They saw that as the canal approached the lock, it suddenly narrowed and entered between two high walls of stone, so near each other that there was just room for the boat to go in. This was the lock, and at the farthest end of it were two great wooden gates, which closed the passage-way, and Marco did not see how they were to get through.

Beyond these gates Marco could see the canal again, but there the water stood at a much higher level than it did on that part of the canal over which the packet had been sailing. The water seemed to press heavily against the gates, and some of it spouted through the crevices. The horses trotted along the bank till they came to the lock, and the steersman steered the boat, so as to carry it exactly in. It seemed as if it was going with all its force against the gates at the head of the lock. In fact, Marco thought it must necessarily do so, for he did not see any possible way to stop it. If it had been a steamboat it might have been stopped by reversing the wheels, but there were no wheels to be reversed in the case of the packet.

At this instant, Marco observed a man standing near the bows, at the place where the towrope was fastened to a sort of iron staple, which was of a very curious construction. He had noticed this staple before, and wondered why it was contrived so curiously. He did not see why the rope was not fastened to a simple ring. Now, however, he saw the reason; for the man just touched a spring with his foot, and immediately the rope was loosed from its attachment, and fell off into the water; and as the horses were still going on, they soon drew the rope out upon the bank, leaving the boat entirely free.

As soon as the man had liberated this rope in this manner, Marco saw that he hastily caught up another large, rope, which was lying coiled up upon the bows. One end of this rope was fastened to a staple, in the bow of the boat. The staple, which the end of the tow-rope was fastened to, was at a little distance from the bows, near the side of the boat. The man took the end of the bow-line and clambered up with it upon the high stone wall, which formed the side of the lock; for by this time the packet was gliding along smoothly into the lock. He ran forward with his rope, and wound it twice round a strong post which was set in the masonry in a proper place for this purpose, and so he easily checked the boat, just before it would have come into collision with the gates. Then, by means of this rope, he held the boat in its place, so near the gates that the water which spouted through the crevices, threw its spray over and upon the little low deck which was formed at the bows.

As soon as the boat was secured in this position, a man who was standing upon the bank went to the stern of the boat, and began to shut two great gates which were at that end of the lock. Marco had not observed these gates before. They had been laid wide open, in order to let the packet go in; and the walls had been built so that the gates, when opened wide, fitted so exactly into recesses in the masonry made to receive them, that Marco did not notice them at all. But now they attracted his attention very particularly, as the man was slowly swinging them to, by means of a long timber, which projected over upon the land side, and which operated as a lever. When these gates were shut, Marco perceived that the packet was closely shut in at the bottom of a sort of deep box, just big enough to hold it, and with walls of solid masonry all around it. The deck of the packet was considerably below the top of the lock.

Forester and Marco climbed up from the deck to the top of the wall, and then walked off upon the bank. There was a man just going toward the upper gates. He moved a long iron lever, which was attached to an axis that passed down through the stone work, and this seemed to open suddenly a passage for the water, down near the bottom of the gates. For Marco observed that there was immediately a great foaming and boiling under the bows of the canal-boat, as if the water was rushing furiously in from under the gates. The man moved another iron lever, and afterward two more, and then Marco could hear and see the water pour in with great force under the bows of the boat.

Now, as these lower gates were shut, the water which was thus admitted through the upper gates, from that part of the canal which was on a higher level, could not escape into that part which was lower, but remained in the lock; and thus the water in the lock was rapidly rising, buoying the boat up with it. The water rushed in, too, with so much force through the opening in the upper gates, that it dashed tumultuously along the sides of the boat, and caused it to oscillate to one side and the other, and to knock against the sides of the lock. This was the agitation which Forester and Marco had perceived at the time when they were passing through the first lock, when they were in the cabin.

After a short time the boat was raised quite high in the lock, and Forester and Marco found that the water was getting to be nearly as high in the lock as it was in the higher part of the canal above. When, at length, it was exactly at the same level, the man swung open the great gates, at the upper end, and then the towline was fastened to the boat again, and the packet was drawn along. A great many of the passengers got off when Forester and Marco did, and stood upon the bank, watching the operation. They now jumped on again, though the boat was now elevated so much above its former level, that they had to jump up pretty high. They were soon all in their places, and the boat glided away again on its voyage.

"Now," said Marco, "how are they going to get all that water out of the lock, so as to let the next boat in ?"

"Let us wait a moment," said Forester, "and perhaps we shall see."

It happened that just as Forester said this, he observed a line-boat coming down the canal. It was very near, being just at that moment about passing the packet, which was going away from the lock. The upper gates of the lock were of course open, the packet having just sailed out of them, so that the way was open for the line boat to sail in. The steersman steered the boat in, and a man from the bows of the boat cast off the tow-line by pressing the spring with his foot, just as had been done in the case of the packet. He then jumped off the boat and secured the bows by a strong rope, which he wound once or twice around a post that was near the lower gates.

The line-boat was now in the lock, just as the packet had been, only it was in a reversed position, the line-boat having her bows turned toward the lower gates, as she was going down the canal. As soon as she was secured in this position, a man on the banks shut the great gates, at the upper end of the lock. As the water was on the same level on each side of these gates, the gates moved easily through it into the position necessary for closing the passage. The man then went to the lower gates, and by means of some long iron levers, which were fixed there, similar to those which Marco had observed before, in connection with the upper gates, he opened a passage for the water through the bottom of the lower gates. This let the water off from the lock into the lower canal.

Of course, the surface of the water in the lock rapidly subsided, and the boat settled with it. Marco saw plainly that they were going by this means to let the line-boat down to the level of the canal below.

"There," said Forester, "you see how it is done. When the water is entirely down, they will open the lower gates, and let the horses draw the boat out."

It was as Forester had said. The water subsided rapidly, and the boat settled down with it until it was on a level with the lower part of the canal. The upper gates were shut all the time, so that no water could come in from above, except a little which spouted through the crevices in the gates. Then the man opened the lower gates, and then the way was clear for the line-boat to be drawn along on its way.

The line-boat was somewhat different in its structure from the packet-boat. It had one or two windows near the bows, and one or two near the stern, but there were no windows along the sides. The reason was, that there was not a cabin for passengers extending through the whole length of the boat, as in the packet. For the line-boat was designed to carry merchandise, not passengers. Therefore, instead of a cabin in the center of the boat, there was a sort of hold to contain merchandise, such as boards, or staves, or barrels of flour; and such things, of course, needed no windows. There were no trunks upon the deck of the line-boat, but instead of them, there were three or four rows of barrels, which Forester said he had no doubt were filled with flour, going to New York. There was a woman and a little girl sitting upon stools upon the little low deck near the bows. The woman was knitting. Forester said he supposed they were passengers.

"Then they have some passengers on board the line-boats," said Marco.

"Yes," said Forester; "a few. It is cheaper traveling in the line-boats; and so some passengers go in them."

When the line-boat sailed away, Forester and Marco walked along the canal toward the village of Canajoharie, which they saw at a little distance before them.

"Now you see," said Forester, "one reason why they need feeders for the canal. Every time that a boat goes up or down, they have to lose a lock full of water."

"No," said Marco, "they do not lose it, they only let it go from one part of the canal to another."

"Still they must lose it, for there must be some place for it to run off, out of the lower part of the canal; and they must also get a supply somewhere to take its place in the upper part."

"Why must they let it run off?" said Marco.

"If they did not," said Forester, "after a while the lower part of the canal would get full and run over, and when the water overflowed, it would wash away the banks, and make a breach."

"Yes," said Marco, "so it would."

" So they have places made in the banks of the canal, a little lower than the tow-path, with an edge formed of stone or of timber, so that the water can not wear it away; and they let the waste water run over these."

"I should like to see one," said Marco.

"I saw one this morning," said Forester.

"Where was I ?" asked Marco.

"You were in the cabin," said Forester.

"Why did not you call me to come up and see it ?" said Marco.

"Because, we had got nearly by it before I saw it," replied Forester; "and I knew that if I went to call you we should have passed it entirely before you could get up on the deck."

"What sort of a place was it ?" asked Marco.

"Why, it was a place," replied Forester, "where the bank of the canal was made of timbers instead of earth, and it was a little lower than the rest of the bank, so that the water ran over it all the time, and fell down upon a wooden platform below, and then it ran off into a brook. I believe such a place is called a waste weir."

Marco said that he wished he could see a waste weir very much, and Forester said perhaps they might come to one on their way to Canajoharie.

"At any rate," said Forester, "we will notice the canal wherever we see it until we find one. I presume there are a great many along the canal at different distances; for it is very important to keep the water at about the same level. So they have feeders to keep the water from getting too low, and waste weirs to prevent its rising too high."

After this, Forester and Marco walked along a few minutes in silence, and at length Marco said,

"What are we going to do, cousin Forester, when we get to Canajoharie ?"

"The first thing," said Forester, "is to find a tavern, and get some breakfast."

"And what next ?"

"The next thing is to find the railroad station, and to inquire what time the cars come along."

"How do you know that any cars are coming along ?"

"Because," said Forester, "I know that the train leaves Schenectady every morning at nine o'clock, and that it goes through in six hours; and I see by my memorandum that Canajoharie is about half way from Schenectady to Utica; so I presume that a train will come along here, about twelve o'clock."

"And how do you know that the railroad passes anywhere near here ?"

"Because," said Forester, "I know that it comes up the valley of the Mohawk. The railroad goes up on one side of the river, and the canal on the other."

"Then how are we going to get across the river ?" asked Marco.

"There must be some way to get across," said Forester. "Perhaps there is a bridge."

There was a bridge. It soon came into view. It was covered with a roof, and the sides were boarded up. It looked rather old. There was a village on the canal side, where they then were, and another village on the other side. They could see both villages as they walked along between the canal and the river.

"Which village shall we go to?" said Forester.

"I do not know," said Marco.

"The one on this side looks the largest, but the one on the other side will be nearer the railroad," said Forester.

"Then let us go to the other side," said Marco. "Besides, I should like to see the bridge."

Forester concluded to adopt this plan, and they turned off toward the bridge, when they got opposite to it. When they got in, under the roof, they saw before them at the opposite end, that the passage was closed by a great gate. When they reached the gate, a young woman came out from a door in a building attached to the bridge.

Toll to pay

"I rather think there is a toll to pay ?" said Marco.

"A toll !" repeated Forester. "This does not look much like a toll-bridge."

All this time the girl stood still before them, looking at them with an expression of curiosity and interest in her countenance.

"Is there a toll to pay ?" said Forester.

"Yes, sir; two cents each," said the girl.

Forester took out the money, and while paying the toll, he asked her where the railroad was.

"Right down here, under the bridge," said the girl.

So she opened a small gate in the large one, and let Forester and Marco go through. As soon as they came out into the open air, they saw the iron lines of the railroad, laid along upon the level ground, near the shore of the river far below them. There was a flight of steps to go down. Forester asked a man who was standing there, at what time the train would come along from Schenectady. He told them it would come at half-past eleven. Then Forester and Marco went up the hill to the village, where they stopped at a tavern, and got a good breakfast.

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