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James Eaton ( more details)

Talking about WW I government boats Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


MS. ROSS: [The following interview was conducted on behalf of the National] Park Service, on Saturday, May 25, 1974, with Mr. James Eaton, at his residence, 214 Potomac Street, Cumberland, Maryland. The interviewer is Martha Ross.]

MR. EATON: Well, my name is - James Eaton is my right name, yes, ma'am. They call me Little Scat, otherwise.

MS. ROSS: Little Scat?

MR. EATON: Yeah. Well, my daddy was Big Scat and I was Little Scat. Well, my daddy -well, I was one of his favorites and he just took me just about every place he could take me, you know what I mean, and how he got that name, it's a long story, but he drank a little. And - back in them days, and he drank what they call barrel whisky, that's what they call the scat whisky. It was a cheap whisky, cheap brand of whisky, and that's where he got his name, Scat Eaton. Of course, his name was Charles Franklin.

MS. ROSS: I see.

MR. EATON: And he used to drag me around, and they used to call him Big Scat and me Little Scat, you know what I mean. That's -
That hung on me all these years now. Otherwise, it's - I very seldom hear James.
Well, it doesn't matter what it is. Just call me Scat, as far as I'm concerned.

MS. ROSS: Were you brought up, then, on the Canal?

MR. EATON: I was born and raised on it, yeah. Yeah.

MS. ROSS: What's your first, earliest thing you can remember about it?

MR. EATON: Well, oh, that's a long ways back. Oh, I remember the Second World War good, what I mean, or, the First World War I, yeah, I remember that good, yeah. I remember it quite well, yeah. Because I remember, my daddy, he was drafted and [cough] excuse me, during that time, why, there was such a big demand for coal. The government at Indian Head, Maryland, they had a powder plant there, which I guess they still have, I don't know. And the government was taking all the coal otherwise that the Canal could haul, and railroads, too, and so he got exempted from World War I, what I mean, on that deal, you know what I mean.

MS. ROSS: Yeah.

MR. EATON: That's one of the reasons he was never in the war and a veteran, otherwise, what I mean. And I remember that quite well, what I mean. And all different things, what I mean. You just come down to it, you have to ask me the questions and I'll try to answer them, otherwise. It's been so long and lots of them slip my memory, you know what I mean, and lots of them comes back to me, what I mean.

MS. ROSS: When you were a child then on the boat -

MR. EATON: Oh, yeah, I was 15 years old when I quit, otherwise, I was 15, what I mean.
When I quit, there wasn't a place that I could take a boat or take a mule or - anyplace on the Canal, as far as that goes. In fact, we had two boats back then. The government, their boats was getting scarce, what I mean, for the demand, the coal that they needed at that time, so the government, they built some - I think it was 12 boats they built, government boats. They was painted gray, what I mean, all gray. I never will forget it. We had one of the boats, we run two boats then. We had a - well, a pretty-good sized family, and so they asked my dad, would he take another boat. So me and my dad and my youngest sister next to me, well, we were on one boat and my oldest sister next to me and my mother and my oldest brother, why, they were on the other boat.
That's how that come about.

MS. ROSS: How did you live on the boats? What was a typical day like?

MR. EATON: Well, it was more - when we had those two boats, we actually tied up then. But when we only had the one boat, why, we never tied up. We run like (dog barking, unintelligible), what I mean. We'd have - don't, Sam! We'd have two crews, otherwise, me and my dad and the other sister, we'd boat one shift and my mother and my oldest brother and my oldest sister would boat the other shift, you know what I mean.

MS. ROSS: So you never would tie up at night.

MR. EATON: Oh, no, not when we had the one boat, no. No, we never would tie up. But when we had two boats, we had to, what I mean. We'd go approximately from - well, the same as farming, otherwise, we'd get up at daybreak in the morning and run to about dark, or a little after dark and we'd tie up for the night, what I mean, get supper and feed the mules and go -

MS. ROSS: You'd have two sets of mules, then?

MR. EATON: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

MS. ROSS: So one would be on the boat and -

MR. EATON: One would be on the boat resting while the other one was out pulling the boat, oh, yeah. And they drove them so many miles, maybe upstream, if we'd get two levels running together, maybe run 14 to 16 miles, what I mean. Maybe one level would be a seven mile and maybe the other one would be a six or so, you know what I mean, together, why, we'd go on through the first lock and get them to the next lock for about 16 miles, something like that. And down stream, 10 to 12 mile and we'd change and rest the mules, like that.

Then we'd get close - maybe the port, maybe - like down at North Branch there'd be boats behind us or something like that. Why, to beat them in your boat so they wouldn't pass, we'd put all the mules out and we'd really hoof it from North Branch to Cumberland to get loaded ahead of the boats behind us, you know. Because they'd play tricks too. If we'd of just drove the two mules, why they'd of probably put all their mules out and they'd of passed us, you see, and stayed ahead of us.

So it was otherwise a game, cat and mouse game, if you want to look at it that way, what I mean. Instead of maybe laying over. And my dad, he was never the man to lay over like that, what I mean, so if he got a load, why, he was gone, what I mean.

And so we actually made the fastest trip on the Canal, what I mean, that's daylight and dark together, you know what I mean.

MS. ROSS: How long was that?

MR. EATON: Eleven days. We unloaded -I don't know whether you remember the old place or not. I don't know whether it still exists or not, there in Georgetown, the upper first lock at Rock Creek up this way about - oh, maybe a quarter of a mile. There used to be a paper mill, there. I don't know whether it's still there or not.

MS. ROSS: I don't think so, no.

MR. EATON: And they used to unload boats there years back, and as luck would have it, we had a waybill that was loaded for that, and as soon as we pulled in - we didn't have to go through Rock Creek or nothing, out in the river, or send something back to the Navy Yard or someplace like that, or the powerhouse up above there, maybe Indian Head or Alexandria or - another place, Fort Washington, I believe it was.

MS. ROSS: Yeah, that's pretty far down, then.

MR. EATON: Oh, yeah, we used to go down there, too, and there was a place across from Fort
Washington there. I forget the name of that place. You probably know it, what I mean, if I could recall it. It was just right across from Fort Washington, because it had the - they had a name for it over there and we'd maybe unload over there once in a while, and different places around there, what I mean.
But Indian Head, they practically took most of the coal, what I mean, down that way.


James Eaton, Martha Ross

Public domain


Collection Location:
C&O National Historic Park

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Md.); Washington County (Md.), History

Maryland, 1824-1938

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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