RESEARCH BY Richard Palmer

Johnson Tells Amusing Stories of Old Canal Days

Lyons Republican
Oct. 26, 1950

Johnson Tells Amusing
Stories of Old Canal Days
Local Cut-ups Used to Drop Stones on Barges
As They Passed Under Bridges
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 tanks.

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.