Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Amusing Stories of Old Canal Days

submitted by Richard Palmer

Lyons Republican, Oct. 26, 1950

By Edmund R. Johnson

The recent Wayne County Historical Society anniversary
celebration, at which Dr. David Ennis gave such a very interesting
talk, with photo-slides, about the old and new Erie Canal, stirred
the writer's recollections of canals and particularly those connected
with the Lyons of his boyhood.

Old-timers will remember Charlie "Tat" DeGoyler, who was one
of the local cutups, and who then clerked in Sautter's Shoe Store in
Canal street. One hot afternoon, when he had dressed up for some
evening affair, and was alone in the store, another village wag bet
him a dollar he would not dive into the canal just as he was.

Charlie immediately stepped to the rear door and took a header
into it. Back then, there was an old-timer, Theodore Crager, who
lived at the County Home. He was a veteran of the Civil War, and
used to walk or get a lift to Lyons on occasion, to get a little
liquid refreshment not on tap at the home. he had composed a long
jingle, bringing in the names of many of the Lyons citizens. It went
something like this:

"All right sir," says Colonel Kreutzer. "Not at all," says
Billy Small. ":Yes, sir," says Mr. Messmer to Jakie Kaiser,
supervisor. "I'm willing to pay a shilling for a yard of drilling,"
says William Zwilling.

"It;s going to storm," says William Bourne: "Only a shower,"
says Dr. Tower. Sully Schlee with a load of hay on his way to Sodus
Bay. On the beach he'll see Fred Leach; also Fred Gucker with a real
good looker. When you hear the sound of the big base drum, you'll
know the lager beer has come.

The above is only a sample and the complete rigamarole went on
an dos ad infinitum.

DeGolyer had memorized that nonsense and whenever he saw the old
man on the street for the first line, the composer would reply with
the next line, and they would continue it thus until the end, much to
the amusement of any newcomers in town.

Uncle Bert Hotchkiss, father of the present Bert, told me that
one of the pastimes of the boys in his time was to gather on one of
the canal bridges and night, with large stones, and make bets as to
who could drop one in the headlight of any passing boat. He also told
me how they would throw fresh cut sod into the canal, after a rain.
These would be full of worms, and would attract bullheads, insuring a
fine day's fishing the next morning.

Several years ago when I was staying on a vacation at the
Calvin Hotchkiss home on Water street, I was awakened about midday by
tremendous howls of "Whoa! Whoa! followed by a long string of
unprintable curses and name-calling by the mule diver of a boa
approaching the lock, so I know by experience the choice swear
vocabulary of the canalers.

While living in Philadelphia, one of our neighbors, a George
Richards, told me of a unique experience on the canal. He was a
native of Erie, Pa., and ran away from school to fire locomotives on
the Erie Railroad. After he became a freight engineer he retired by
request from that job, because on one of his trips he got tired of
waiting on a siding for a coming train, pulled out on the main line
and proceeded until he saw it approaching, and then had to back up.
he then entered the Erie shops and became an expert mechanic.

He later went to work for an engine company in Erie and was in
on the development of gas and gasoline engines. Ultimately he was
sent to New York City, where he was service man on those engines,
many of which were installed on residential estates for pumping water.

Along in the late 1880's one of the engines was installed in a
canal boat and since such engines were very temperamental in those
days, he went along as engineer on the trial trip. There were too
many breakdowns and stops for repairs at various towns and they
finally gave it up at Utica. At one of the locks on the way, his
captain got into an argument with the captain of another boat over
precedence into the lock, and when said argument reached a cursing
pitch, the other captain's wife came out of the cabin and handed her
husband an axe. That ending the argument.

On another occasion, they were passing a boat going in the
opposite direction. This operation required the dropping of the tow
rope to the other boat, so it would pass under the engine-driven one.
The keel of the latter, on account of the propeller, was down so deep
that the tow rope snagged it, and the mule team was dragged backward
into the canal, and the ensuing language of the mule driver and his
captain was lurid.

Other experiences of Richards were also very interesting. he
installed one of those engines in Holland's first submarine and acted
as his engineer in the trials. On one of the first submersions they
went down 50 feet in New York Harbor. The air got foul and hard to
breathe. Holland started to raise the boat and then passed out,
having forgotten to turn on the air which was carried in auxiliary

Richards was pretty near all in when they reached the surface
but he had enough strength and presence of mind to shove a wrench up
through a gravity valve in the top of the sub, which would open
outward but not inward, and thus got in enough air to save them both
from suffocation.

On another occasion, in winter, when they were to make another
trip, Holland was delayed in getting down to the dock in Hoboken, and
again Richards got tired of waiting and decided to go out alone.
Ice had formed on the glassed portholes in the sides of the conning
tower, so he couldn't see out to guide the boat, and he according
left the hatch cover open. the engine gave him some trouble, so he
had to leave the wheel, every once in awhile, and duck down to look
after it. He stayed down too long on one of those trips and when he
came up he was across the bow of the leading boat of a canal tow and
between it and the tug.

The boat hit the sub and rolled it over while he was half way
out of the hatch. The sub went down and he made a quick swim and
landed on an ice cake, from which he was rescued by a tug, and taken
to the New York side of the river, where he dried out and returned on
the ferry to Hoboken.

On getting back to the starting dock he found an old-timer who
had been watching the whole affair. This man had taken some sights
on where the sub went down and gave very accurate information to
Richards and Holland. They went out in a row boat, located the wreck
and had it raised by a diver and steam crane.

Holland was approached by one of the aggressive Irish societies
who had a scheme for sinking British battleships with his sub. The
only thing that came out of it was that Richards got the name of
"Chief Engineer of the Irish Navy." The Peruvians also approached
Holland because they were having one of those many arguments with the
Chilians and wanted to use the sub against them. They offered
Richards the job of running it; would pay him $51,000, and would
place it in escrow, so it would go to his estate in case of his
death. He didn't bite and Holland didn't either.

An article, I believe in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
last year, wondered as to the whereabouts of that first sub. Richards
ad I saw the hull of it some time previous to 1912, lying outside of
the Museum of Pennsylvania University, in Philadelphia.

Returning again to the Erie Canal, Williams Annual Register of
New York, dated 1830, lists the amounts and kinds of freight handled
on it for the year 1829, a total of 33,000 tons and the total of
tolls at $161,418 John Adams was toll collector in Lyons in 1828 and
he collected $27,123. Phillip Grandin collected $53,778 in Palmyra.
Newark, then in its infancy, is not mentioned. The 1817 estimated
operation cost of the Erie Canal was $4,881,738. In 1827 the actual
cost was given at $9,027,456, but there is some question of the
accuracy of this sum.

The register gives the names of various canal packet lines. One
of them was the Erie Canal Packet Boat Company between Utica and
Rochester, distance 160 miles, through in 46 hours, boats daily, the
Buffalo, Niagara, Ontario, Rochester and Utica.

Early settlers of Lyons, many of them progenitors of present
German-named citizens, came here by those packets. An early resident
in a very old newspaper clipping, tells of looking out of her window
very early one morning and seeing a large party of Germans cooking
breakfast over fires in the village park, where they had encamped
during the night.

One of these Germans went to work for Gansz, who ran a dairy
farm down near Lock Berlin. His sons, who deliver the milk, undertook
the job of teaching the German English, and they facetiously, as is
often done to foreigners, misinformed him by substituting various
unprintable words for those used commonly. The German, having a day
off, went down to one of the canal bridges, stopped to look over a
boat moored under the bridge, and essayed to get into a pleasant
conversation with an Irishman on it, starting in by calling him some
unpleasant and ribald names.

The Irishman immediately took fire, sprang ashore and started
to beat up the German in an attempt to throw him off the bridge.
Fortunately, the German was well built and prevented this. He went
back to the arm and told Gansz what had happened, and, on inquiry,
what he had said that had caused the fracas. On being told how the
boys had misinformed him he started laying for them in the bar, and
for two weeks the boys had to throw the lines over the horses' backs
when they got near the barn, and let them go there on their own
account, to keep them from getting a healthy retaliatory beating.

Charles Gutschow of Spencer street, who came to Lyons from
Germany when he was 19, though not the victim of the above story,
worked for Gansz at the time, and told me about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's a great bunch of stories.
I shared that with the folks over at the Erie_Canal group at Yahoo Groups,


Eric Canal O.