Canal Workers Video

Names of interviewees:  former canal workers Howard Swope, Walter Purcell, Richard Arner, Jim Brown, Frank Swope, Louis Strohm
Date of birth:  unknown, but all in the range of 1905 to 1920
Interviewer:  Lance Metz, introduction by Jim Lee
Interview date:  unknown, approximately summer 1980
Interview location:  Hugh Moore Park in Easton, the Delaware Canal State Park, Pt. Pleasant, PA, and Lansdale, PA
Interview length: 32 minutes
Time span discussed:  1920 to 1930

Summary:  About 1980 this National Canal Museum video produced this film of canal boatmen and a maintenance worker talking about life on the Delaware and Lehigh Canals. These men spoke of their work 50 years after the Delaware Canal closed. They all clearly missed and loved the boatman’s life.


Time markers:
00:01 – The Boatman’s Horn, Tales of the Boatman of the Delaware and Lehigh Canals
00:17 – Jim Lee begin narration
00:44 – a back drop of old movie clips of the canal and steel mills; reason for the canal development
01:26 – movie and still scenes of the canal and locks in action
02:13 – Howard Swope, boatman
02:34 – Walter Purcell, boatman
02:56 – Richard Arner, maintenance man
03:21 – Jim Brown, boatman
03:39 – various canal jobs described by canal workers; making the lock passage
06:25 – stopping a boat
07:00 – sounding a conch horn, used to signal locktenders
07:25 – Frank Swope, boatman
07:58 – going through locks
08:35 – how boats passed each other, technique and rules
09:30 – taking care of the mules, their bells, the number used on different canals
10:47 – Louis Strohm, boatman; skinning a mule, selling the hide
11:00 – mule driving methods
11:30 – boats trying to make time, get ahead
12:20 – pay and payment methods
13:03 – unloading techniques
13:48 – meals, food and clothes for boatmen
15:03 – picking up a snapper for soup
15:39 – peach trees and tomatoes along the canal
16:10 – bedbugs a constant problem, in the lumber
17:22 – boatmen were decent for the most part; drinking, beer joints, fights
19.36 – Jim Brown, the “only colored man on the boats,” friends saved his life
20.25 – Jim lived on boat near Princeton in the winter
21.45 – boatmen not treated well by many
23.37 – Jim story about the Swope brothers; Swope brothers’ comments
26.27 – falling into the canal
27.34 – summer thunderstorms threats
28.17 – finding a friend in Pt. Pleasant
29.00 – most like the work, miss the canal
30.13 – harmonica music of the boatmen
31.22 – film credits

Video produced and written by Lance E. Metz and written and directed Vincent N. Mondillo for the Hugh Moore Historical Park and Museums, Inc.

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