Grant Emery – 1

Interviewee:  Grant Emery
Date of birth:  circa 1890
Interviewer: Randall Murray of the Allentown Morning Call
Interview date:  unknown, estimated 1970
Interview location:  Easton, near the Lehigh dam (probably at the National Canal Museum)
Interview length:   59 minutes
Time span discussed: 1890s through 1960s

Summary:  This Grant Emery tape gives us a comprehensive explanation of the canal levels, floods, and many other details of a canal boatman’s life. For this reason it is a good place to begin one’s listening education.


Time markers:
00:00 – Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe, PA) to Bristol, measurement of the canal in miles, elevation change explained
01:15 – levels explained (distance between locks), levels and locks named
02:20 – longer levels farther south, terrain flattens
03:05 – worked for Lehigh Coal and Navigation; learned to swim, on family boat at age 6; home just above Uhlerstown
05:00 – memories of the 1903 flood and local coal yard
07:21 – 1903 flood destroyed part of canal in Lumberville; no boating in 1904
08:11 – story about boat run at age 16 without his ill father; Mauch Chunk manager I.M. Church gave ok; hiring second lad to help; trip to Upland Chester Coal via the Delaware River using tug power, then up Chester Creek
13:01 – explanation of hinged and stiff boats
15:41 – story about another interview, food, eating, cooking on the boat
17:30 – stoves used on the boats
18:50 – Easton dam, parts of Lehigh Canal slack water (needs no water inputs—happens naturally) Delaware Canal needs level maintained by locktenders; description of traversing from the Delaware Canal to the Lehigh Canal at Easton and up the Lehigh
23:50 – Lehigh River privately owned by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company
23:14 – occasionally problems on the canal, wind; boatmen took good care of mules
26:45 – some boatmen had stores, gardens, for extra earnings
29:00 – equipment, splicing tow ropes, ropes expensive; tow lines 200 feet
31:20 – Durham boats, transport business before the canal; succession of hauling modes
33:30 – Durham boats used for Washington Crossing reenactment; St. John Terrell played Washington
34:32 – trip from Mauch Chunk to Bristol 9 days; tug from Bristol to Philadelphia, pushed 5 to 35 boats; different destinations near Philadelphia; mules cared for in Bristol, $1 per day
38:25 – canal opened about March 15 and usually closed mid–November
39:49 – three sets of shoes per mule per year
40:32 – breaking the skim ice on the canal, techniques and tools
41:55 – oak and pine for the boats
43:11 – association with the Canal Museum
45:07 – drinking water on the boats, only river water stayed fresh in the barrels
47:24 – occasional accidents, sometimes near locks, using braided rope fenders
50:12 – boat sinking problem; how water got into the boats; ropes cost $4.50 for 200-foot length
52:25 – in Grant’s day pay to boat owner $0.93/ton for the coal run to Philadelphia
53:15 – entire trip spent on boat
53:40 – locks closed at 10 p.m. and opened at 4:00 a.m.; mules walked about 2 to 3 miles an hour
54:56 – Grant left the canal in 1911; worked for Pennsylvania Railroad for 46 years

Grant Emery interview 2.

Grant Emery interview 3.

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