Mary Schroeder - introduction ( more details)
Mr. Wesley: I'm talking to Mrs. Mary Schroeder who lives near MacArthur Boulevard in Washington, who comes from an old canal family. Tell us where you were born.
Mrs. Schroeder: In Sharpsburg.
Mr. Wesley: Your father captained a canal boat?
Mrs. Schroeder: Yes, that's all he ever done, was canal boating.
Mr. Wesley: How long was he on the canal?
Mrs. Schroeder: Oh, gosh, I don't know. I know many a year.
Mr. Wesley: Was he — he was captain when you were born?
Mrs. Schroeder: Yeah.
Mr. Wesley: You were born on the boat?
Mrs. Schroeder: No, no.
Mr. Wesley: Born in town?
Mrs. Schroeder: Yeah.
Mr. Wesley: And how many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mrs. Schroeder: Seven, eight of us. There's seven sisters and one brother.
Mr. Wesley: My goodness, that's a lot of girls.
Did he take you all on the canal at one time or another, how did he work that?
Mrs. Schroeder: No, my sister Rachel and my brother and myself went with my father in the spring. We stayed there till fall, on the canal. Now, once in a while my mother and the children would come on the boat, maybe take a trip or two then they'd get off and my sister and my brother and I, we'd stay on the canal.
Mr. Wesley: So actually, he had three of you on the boat.
Mrs. Schroeder: Yeah, stayed on the boat most all the time.
Mr. Wesley: And you were pretty much his crew.
Mrs. Schroeder: Yeah. That was our crew.
Mr. Wesley: I see. Now, were you the eldest?
Mrs. Schroeder: I was the oldest.
Mr. Wesley: And how old were the other brother and sister?
Mrs. Schroeder: Well, I imagine that when we started out, my brother was about maybe six and my sister was about eight and myself, I guess I was about nine, along in there, ten.
Then I quit the canal when I was about 16 or 17 years old and went to work, and my father kept on boating then.
Mr. Wesley: When did you start, at about what age. Nine, you said?
Mrs. Schroeder: No, it was before that, I imagine about eight, I guess, maybe younger, I don't know.
Mr. Wesley: All right, now let's say you were about eight, when he first took you on the boat, you kids, did he teach you different things that he wanted you to do or, what did you do?
Mrs. Schroeder: Oh yes. We done everything. We took in — helped with the mules. Well, I didn't feed the mules or nothing, didn't go in the stables or nothing with my father but we done most everything else.
We helped carry the hay out and feed them and different places and like that. We had our own work to do. We'd have to help the boat, we'd have to scrub down the boat and we'd load because the coal got all over the boat.
We'd have to take water up, scrub the boat all off and then we had the cabins to keep clean and I, my father taught me how to cook. I never knew how to cook. My father would tell me how to what to do and things like that and that's how I learned, in that line.
Mr. Wesley: So, he taught you all sort of the tricks of boating trade.
Mrs. Schroeder: Yes.
Mr. Wesley: Now, did you, when you were eight or nine there, did he have you driving the mules?
Mrs. Schroeder: Oh, yes. we all took turns about driving. My sister would drive maybe one level and my brother would drive one level and I'd drive one level and then sometimes when I got old enough to learn to steer, my father would drive.
Mr. Wesley: About how old were you when he, I know steering from what they tell me, was a pretty tough job. Especially getting the boats in the locks. How old were you when he let you steer?
Mrs. Schroeder: About ten.
Mr. Wesley: About ten. And you actually took the boat in the locks? My goodness, that —
Mrs. Schroeder: My father in Cumberland one time, he got a little tipsy up there and I told him, I says. Father, don't go, let the boat be, I said, we'll go out tomorrow. No. He harnessed the mules up, I put my brother on the tow path and he was just a little tiny kid.
My father come back, and we had a great big shepherd dog. He tied the line around that dog's neck, throwed the dog overboard and my brother got the line.
Mr. Wesley: The dog swam over to the tow path.
Mrs. Schroeder: With the rope on, and we went down to the eight mile level up there outside of Cumberland. My brother and I tied up and we carried the troughs out. We slid them out on the race plank. We never took the harness off the mules, we just took in, fed the mules, we'd run the food out, the corn, hay and stuff out, and the next morning my father got up he said, where we at, and how I got through, that's the first time I ever steered through locks and from then on I got all — there's not a lock on that canal I couldn't steer, up or down.
Mr. Wesley: So, you actually, you kids took the boat out of Cumberland, tied up for the night, fed the mules.
Mrs. Schroeder: And when I got to the lock, when we get to the locks, my brother was driving or my sister, I think my brother was driving then, I told Bill, I said, tell the locktender to catch, to get the lines and snub the boat.
You see, when you go in those locks, I don't know if you've ever seen the big snub posts or not, I don't think there's many more of them left but they was huge. Great big snub posts. Well, you'd take that big line and —
Mr. Wesley: There's a big line on the bow, is that —
Mrs. Schroeder: Right here, see it here, well, that locktender would get that line and he'd tie the boat for us. And then we'd — away we'd go.
But how we got tied up that night I don't know. And them troughs are nothing to fool with. They are great big heavy things.
Mr. Wesley: They're heavy, aren't they? They're made out of wood.
Mrs. Schroeder: Yeah. They look little down on that boat, but they are powerful big.
Mr. Wesley: And you kids had to slide those off on the tow path?
Mrs. Schroeder: We slide them — a great big iron post, huge pole, and you had to get that down in the ground to hook, to put this on.
Mr. Wesley: Oh, you'd drive that in the ground and tie the trough up.
Mrs. Schroeder: Yeah, we'd have to drive that in the ground and then our hay house would be over on this other side. We'd have to get in and get hay down on that — down on that (inaudible) there's where we used to keep corn.
Mr. Wesley: Down in the —
Mrs. Schroeder: Down in here.
Mr. Wesley: In the stable?
Mrs. Schroeder: No, well, I'll show you downstairs after while. There's where we used to keep our corn. But we'd have to go inside and they had a little trap door. Open it up, and out come your corn.
Mr. Wesley: Oh, I see. .
Mrs. Schroeder: And that's how we, that's where we got our stuff at.
Mr. Wesley: Well, boy, that's really learning the hard way, isn't it?
Mrs. Schroeder: I got news for you. It was no fun on a canal boat, I don't care what you say. Not for girls, anyhow.
Mr. Wesley: Yeah.
Mrs. Schroeder: It was no life for girls on there.
Mary Schroder, Ed Wesley
NPS CHOH #26-#27 OHT.
The photograph is from the NPS collection
C&O National Historic Park
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Md.); Washington County (Md.), History