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James Eaton interview 2 (Life on the canal more details)

Life on the canal Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


MR. EATON: And sometimes we'd get short trips at Williamsport, what I mean. We'd call them short trips, otherwise. And that would just be about three days, what I mean, and nights, and we'd be back, ready to load, what I mean. Sometimes we'd get unloaded, sometimes there'd be boats there ahead of us, we'd have to wait otherwise, our turn to get unloaded. If we was fortunate enough to drive in there with no delay, why, we'd get right unloaded, why, we'd hoof it right back, what I mean. We wouldn't lose no time.

MS. ROSS: What were some of your jobs on the boat?

MR. EATON: Everything, everything, what I mean, just the same as otherwise the captain would do, what I mean. I could run a boat just as well as my dad could, as far as that goes, what I mean, stem to stern, what I mean, do everything he could do, drive mules, harness mules, carry mules, pump water out of the boat, anything at all, what I mean. Yeah, I could do - well, just anything in general, what I mean.

It was good days, it was - well, I'd say it was something similar, more like farm work, if you want to look at it that way. You're generally up at daybreak and go till dark, what I mean. Once I tied up -I say, when we had two boats, why we'd be up at daybreak and start out, and we'd go to around dark, you know what I mean, and we'd tie up and feed the mules and have our supper and everything and we'd go to bed and hit her at daybreak the next morning, what I mean, about four or five hours rest.

MS. ROSS: Was it generally then your family that was on - whether -

MR. EATON: Yeah, well, one time, now, when I - back when I was - back during the First World War, what I mean, along in there, we had a hand one time, had an old colored man, called him Dan Tucker. He worked for my dad a couple of years, but outside of that, it was all a family affair, what I mean. mean, she's older than I am, she could steer a boat pretty good, like on a - maybe a seven or eight mile level or something like that, what I mean, where it wasn't too narrow or no rocks or something. She could handle a boat pretty good, what I mean, as far as that goes. Loaded boat was actually the hardest, what I mean, it was much harder to keep control of, what I mean, than a light boat, because you had all that coal in it, what I mean, because you only had a little tiller back in there, and you really...

MS ROSS: Did your sisters help on the boat, too, or did they -

MR. EATON: Oh, yes, they - yeah, generally, well, my oldest sister, they generally helped Mother mostly, what I mean, taking care of the small ones, you know what I mean, under them, and doing cooking, too and my older sister, she could steer a boat, you know what I had to push on her sometimes, keeping it from hitting the side of the lock, going in.

And just like upstream, sometimes the flumes was so swift, you know what I mean, that's the overflow from the - you know what a flume is, what I mean, on the outside of the lock, where you have to - in the later years, they used to take the older boats that was played out and you used to load them with rock and back them up next to the lock abutment and sink them with a rock in, and that kept the flow of the flume from coming over and hitting the boat. Because when the light boat comes up, why, that flume would hit them and you couldn't keep control of it. The water would wash the boat over and hit the other side of the abutment on the towpath side; you know what I mean lots of times. You didn't know what you was doing, otherwise you'd come up there when the flume was pretty strong why, instead of maybe heading for the - straight in the lock, why, you'd head over about a foot or so to the abutment, you know, the rock, with the bow of your boat, and again, you got to the lock, why, the water would wash it over, you know what I mean.

It was a little ticklish, what I mean, but you had to know what you was doing, you know what I mean. But generally if you headed her straight in, that flume was pretty hard, why, it wouldn't take much to wash a light boat over because your mules will quit pulling and everything, you know what I mean, so the boat would slow down to get in the lock to snub it off, to keep from hitting the gates, you know what I mean.

And it all panned out pretty good, what I mean, all along, what I mean.


James Eaton, Martha Ross


Collection Location:
C&O National Historic Park

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

Maryland, 1830-1940

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

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