Marco Paul on the Erie Canal

Chapter IX - A Project

FORESTER and Marco went home, to the hotel, to tea. They took their seats on the sofa in the little parlor, waiting for the bell to ring.

"Are there any canals in Vermont ?" asked Marco.

"Very few," said Forester; "but you might make one when you go there."

"I make one !" exclaimed Marco.

"Yes," said Forester; "I think you could make a small one, around the falls in our little brook."

"Have you got a brook ?" asked Marco.

"Yes; there is a small brook on the grounds behind my father's house, and there are a great many little waterfalls upon it. Now when there are waterfalls or rapids on a river, so that boats can not pass up and down, it is very common to make a canal around the place, and then the boats can be locked up and down through the canal ."

"What do you mean by locking them up and down ?" asked Marco.

"Why, passing them up and down through the locks."

"Why need they have any locks ?" asked Marco. "They might dig the canal deep, and so let the boats sail right round through the canal."

"No," said Forester; "that would not do; for, as the water above the falls is higher than it is below, if a canal were to be cut around them, and no locks made in it, the water would run round through the canal as swiftly as it had done in the natural bed of the river; and so there would be nothing gained. They have to put locks in the canal, so as to let the boats down gradually from the higher level to the lower level."

"Then why do they dig any canal at all ?" said Marco. "Why don't they build the locks right in the river ?"

"Because that would stop the stream. The locks do not allow the water to pass through, excepting one lock full every time a boat passes; they want to leave the channel of the river open, therefore, in order to let the water flow on regularlv. So they make a canal by the side of the river, and build the locks in that. Such canals are very short, and they do not have any tow-path."

"Then where do the horses walk," said Marco, "to draw the boats ?"

"They do not have any horses," replied Forester; "horses are only used on long canals, where they have canal-boats. These short canals, around falls and rapids in rivers, are only for the river-boats, which come up by sails. Such river-boats are generally large flat-bottomed boats, each being rigged with a great square sail. The wind blows them up the river until they get to the falls, and then the men take down the sail and push the boat into the lock with poles. Then they shut the lower gates of the lock, and let the water in through the upper gates. This buoys the boat up, and when it is level with the water above the upper gates, the men open the way out of the lock and push the boat along. Thus they lock the boat through the canal. When they have got it through into the river above the rapids, they hoist the sail again, and sail away."

"Suppose the wind is not fair ?" said Marco.

"Then they must wait until it is fair," replied Forester.

"I think it would be better," said Marco, "to have a tow-path all along the river, and so take horses to draw the boat; then they would not have to wait for a fair wind."

"They can not have a tow-path along a river, very well," said Forester.

"Why not ?" asked Marco.

"Because," said Forester, "in the freshets the water would rise and overflow the towpaths, and so the horses could not get along."

"But they ought to make the tow-path so high," rejoined Marco, "that the water of the highest freshets would not overflow it."

"Then," replied Forester, "when the river was low, the water would be so far below the tow-path that the horses could not draw the boat."

"I didn't think of that," said Marco.

"Some rivers rise and fall much more than others," said Forester; "and there is one which scarcely rises at all; so they can have a towpath on the shore of that."

" What river is it ?" asked Marco.

" The Niagara river," replied Forester. -- "There are very peculiar reasons why the Niagara river does not rise much."

"Don't it rain much in that country ?" asked Marco.

" Yes," replied Forester; "but then the Niagara river, instead of coming down from the mountains, flows out of a great lake."

"What lake ?" asked Marco.

"Lake Erie," replied Forester.

"The same lake that the Erie canal comes out of ?" said Marco.

"Yes," replied Forester, "the same."

Then Forester took out the pocket-map, the same which he had spread out upon the railing of the bridge, when he was comparing the description of the aqueduct with the aqueduct itself, and he showed Marco the Niagara river, flowing north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. It would be well for the reader, before going any farther, to take a map*, and find the Niagara river upon it too.

"What a short river !" said Marco.

"Yes," replied Forester; "it is short, but it is large. There is a great deal of water flowing through it. And you see, Marco, that it comes out of this great lake, -- lake Erie. Now lake Erie does not rise and fall much."

"Why not ?" asked Marco.

"Because, if all the rivers which flow into it were to rise very high, and pour a great deal of water into the lake, the freshets would only last a very few days, and in that time they would only raise the surface of such a great lake a very little. And so when the rivers which flow into the lake get very low, the lake does not subside very suddenly, for the water flows off slowly from such a great surface. Thus the lake keeps always pretty nearly at the same level.

"Then, besides," continued Forester, "the falls of Niagara, which are in the middle of Niagara river, between lake Erie and lake Ontario, tend to keep the water in the river very nearly at the same level; because, when the lake is rising, all the superfluous water is drained off very rapidly over the falls. Rivers which are very long, and which have no great lakes upon them for the superabundant water to spread out upon, and no high waterfalls, to drain off the water rapidly, are the ones which rise and fall the most. The Ohio and the Mississippi rise and fall very much indeed."

"How much ?" asked Marco.

"I have heard of their rising thirty feet, and I don't know but they do a great deal more," replied Forester. "The Niagara river scarcely rises at all. And I believe there is a place where the Erie canal comes out to the river, in which they have made a tow-path on the bank, so that they draw the boats along upon the water of the river."

"How do you know ?" asked Marco.

"I was there some years ago, and I believe I recollect seeing it. But I did not take particular notice of the circumstance, for I did not know then that there was such a difference in rivers, in respect to the rise and fall of the water, and so I was not particularly interested in observing this towpath, as a proof that the Niagara river always continued at nearly the same level. I should like now," continued Forester, "to be on the banks of the Ohio a short time, to examine the marks of high and low water, and then again to do the same at Niagara river, so as to observe the difference."

"Yes," said Marco, "I should like to do that."

"But now," continued Forester, "as to your canal in Vermont. I think you might dig a canal around one of the little waterfalls in the brook. You could slope the banks properly, like a real canal, and make a towpath."

The Proposed Canal

"But what should I do for a lock?" said Marco.

"I could make the lock for you," said Forester.

"Could you ?" asked Marco, eagerly; "how would you make it ?"

" I would make a box," said Forester, "without any top or ends. It should be a little longer and wider than you would wish the boat to be, which you were going to lock up and down through it."

"How large a boat should I have?" asked Marco.

"I should think," replied Forester, "that you might have your boat about a foot long and six inches wide."

"I should like to have it a little larger than that," said Marco.

"The larger your boat is, the more hard work will be required to make the canal; for the canal must be in proportion to the size of the boat. However, we could determine that, after looking at the ground. When the box for the lock was done, I should have to make gates, one at each end of it."

"That would be very hard," said Marco.

"No," said Forester, "for it would not be necessary for me to have the gates made on the same plan with those on a great canal. I could have the gates made to slide up and down, instead of having them open like great doors."

"Would that be easier ?" asked Marco.

"Yes," replied Forester; "I could nail cleats in on the bottom and sides of the lock, for the gate to rest against. There must be a set of cleats at each end. Then I should make two square gates, just large enough to fit in at the ends; and when they were in their place the water would press them against the cleats. Then I would have a handle to each of the gates for you to pull them up by, whenever you wanted to lock a boat through.

"I think it would be well," continued Forester, "for you to make your canal at some fall or rapid of so small a descent that one lock would be sufficient for the difference of level. You would have to be very particular, however, in placing your lock, after I had got it made for you."

"Why should I have to be very particular about that ?" asked Marco.

"Because you would have to fix it in its place before you had brought the water along in the canal to it. If you could bring the water along to the place in the canal, the surface of the water would show you exactly the right level for the lock. But as you could not bring the water there, you would have to measure the level very carefully."

"Why could not I bring the water along first ?" asked Marco,

"Because it would flood the place where you were going to put your lock, and keep you from working. You might, however, dig the canal along pretty near to the place, and let the water in so far, and thus get the right level. But it would be necessary to keep the place where you were going to set your lock, dry, until the lock was in its place, and the earth rammed down hard all around it."

"Have you got some tools where you live in Vermont," said Marco, "to make the lock with ?"

"Yes," replied Forester, "we have got tools enough for such a work as that. Though I think I should let you make the lock, under my supervision."

"Well," said Marco, "I like the plan of making a canal very much."

" Yes," rejoined Forester, "I think it will be a very good amusement. You can make a flat-bottomed boat and put a sail to it. You can also put something into the boat to represent a cargo of merchandise, and then if the wind blows up the stream, you can carry the boat down below the canal, and put it into the water, and let the wind carry it up to the canal. Then you can take down the sail, and lock the boat up through the canal, and when it has come out into the brook above the rapids, you can hoist the sail again, and let the boat finish her voyage."

Marco's countenance expressed great satisfaction and pleasure at this proposal. Forester told him also that the plan would not only afford him amusement, but it would be of great advantage to him.

"What advantage ?" asked Marco.

"First, it will impress very strongly upon your mind all that you have learned of the Erie canal. For while you are at work upon your little canal, the various facts which you have learned, and the incidents which you have met with, will be continually coming to your mind.

"And then," continued Forester, "I presume that Ivory will help you, and he will learn something."

"Who is Ivory ?" asked Marco.

"Ivory is a boy," replied Forester, "that lives very near my father's house; and he will come to play with you sometimes."

"What sort of a house does your father live in ?" asked Marco.

"O, you will see when we get to Vermont," said Forester. I had rather tell you about Ivory now, than about our house."

"Well," said Marco, "tell me about him."

"Ivory," said Forester, "is a very sober boy." But here Forester's attempt to tell Marco something about Ivory was interrupted. For at this point of the conversation they both heard a bell ringing in the adjoining hall; and a moment afterward a waiter came in to invite them up stairs to tea. So they went up stairs, Marco resolving that he would certainly make a canal as soon as he got to Vermont, and a flat-bottomed boat to go through it. He determined also that he would name the boat Skipjack. He thought that that name would make Ivory laugh, even if he was a sober boy.

After tea Marco and Forester went out to take a walk again, along the canal. When they reached the margin of the water, they sat down upon some blocks of white marble which were lying upon the ground, and began to look around upon the scene before them.

After a short pause, Marco commenced the conversation by saying,

"How do they manage the work, cousin Forester, in digging a canal, so as not to have confusion ? If I were to attempt to make a canal in Vermont, with the other boys, it would be all disputing and confusion."

"Yes," said Forester, "I presume it would."

"How do men manage it " asked Marco.

"Why, if men are going to make a canal," said Forester, "the first thing is to form a company."

"A company !" repeated Marco.

"Yes," replied Forester; " that is, unless the canal is to be made by the state. I will suppose, however, that a canal is to be made by a company, and explain to you the method that is adopted in that case."

"Well," said Marco.

"They form a company in this way," said Forester. "They open books and advertise the plan in the newspapers, and then call upon all persons who choose to join in the undertaking, to come and put down their names. Every man who puts down his name has to pay a hundred dollars."

"A hundred dollars !" said Marco.

"Yes, -- that is, if he subscribes for one share," replied Forester. "The price of one share in such works is usually a hundred dollars. A man may put down his name for as many shares as he pleases. He may take a hundred shares if he pleases, and then he must pay ten thousand dollars. Of course, he will then own all those shares of the canal, and will have his proper proportion of the profits derived from the tolls, when the canal gets into operation."

"Yes," said Marco. "I would subscribe for a thousand shares if I were going to put my name down on the books."

"If you had the money," said Forester.

"Yes," said Marco, "and I would have the money."

"The persons that own the shares," continued Forester, "are called the stockholders. They have papers, -- printed papers -- which state how many shares they own. These papers are called certificates of stock. Shares in such things are called stock."

"Yes," said Marco, "I have heard of stock in New York. They sell it in Wall-street."

"When the shares are all taken up," said Forester, "the stockholders have a meeting, and choose directors, -- generally about five."

"Yes," said Marco, "my father is a director. But what are the directors for ?"

"They are to make the canal."

"Hoo--oo--oo," said Marco, in a tone of great surprise. "I should not think that five directors could make such a long canal."

"Oh, they don't make it with their own hands," said Forester, smiling. "I did not mean that."

"What then ?" said Marco.

"They divide the line of the canal into portions called sections, and then they advertise for proposals from men who will undertake to make the canal along these different sections. These men are called contractors."

"Contractors ?" repeated Marco.

"Yes," said Forester. "There is a certain class of men called contractors, who have a great many laborers under their employ, and own carts, and horses, and wheelbarrows, and tools of all kinds, and they agree to make the canal along a certain section for so much."

"For how much ?" asked Marco.

"Why, for just as much as is agreed upon," said Forester. "The directors generally let out the section to the lowest bidder. That is, when a section is advertised, the contractors go and look at it, and make up their minds what they can do it for. They then write upon a paper the sum that they are willing to undertake the section for, and carry it to the directors. When all these papers are given in, the directors open them, and give the section to the one who will make it for the least money."

"That is a very good way," said Marco.

"The directors," continued Forester, "let out the mason work in the same way, such as the locks, and the bridges, and the aqueducts, and every thing else that is required along the canal. As fast as the various sections are finished, the directors pay the contractors."

"Where do they get the money?" asked Marco.

"O, they take the money that the stockholders paid in when they subscribed for their shares," said Forester.

"Oh, yes," said Marco. "I forgot that. But suppose there is not money enough."

"Then they make an assessment on the shares," said Forester, "and raise more."

"What do you mean by that ?" asked Marco.

"Why, they divide the amount of the additional sum which they wish to raise," replied Forester, "among all the shares, and so make each stockholder pay his portion. Or else they get more people to come and subscribe, and so make more shares."

"Then," continued Forester, "when the canal is finished, they appoint a superintendent to manage it, and to collect the tolls. The superintendent pays the money that he gets for tolls to the directors, and the directors divide it among the stockholders twice a year."

"I think that is a very good way," said Marco.

"Yes," replied Forester, "it is regular and systematic. The work is divided into separate departments, and each man has his proper duty to perform; and thus there is no disorder or confusion."

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