Walter Purcell

Name of interviewee:  Walter Purcell
Date of birth/age at interview:  September 3, 1902/83
Interviewer:  Lance Metz
Interview date:  July 24, 1985
Interview location:  National Canal Museum
Interview length:  40 minutes
Time span discussed:  1902 to 1915

Summary:  Walter Purcell memories of working on the canal from doubt 1912 to 1915 tell us details of the business and a child’s first work experiences.


Time markers:
00:00 – introduction; name and family background; father worked on railroad
01:56 – canal first job; older brothers, Jasper and Harry, also mule drivers
03:14 – started at 10 years old, first pay $10 a month; father died when Walter 13
04:35 – knew Hackey Sampson, his boats in good condition; hauling stone from Point Pleasant to Philadelphia and Schuylkill canal, used to build bridges; towed in the river, with mules boarded, from Bristol to Philadelphia
06:08 – one trip to Brooklyn for brick; other canals on trips
06:50 – crossing the river at New Hope on cable; seeing workhouse prisoners
08:30 – half loads of dirt carried back from Bristol up canal, against current
09:15 – mules walked across Lambertville bridge while barge pulled on cable
09:45 – types of coal loaded at Mauch Chunk; sea sick when rough water in river
11:03 – used company boats and Hackey boats; differences, Hackey boats better; techniques of driving boats
13:20 – mules; stores on canal
16:47 – hearing of father’s death, taking train home, quit the canal at that time
17:38 – working at Riegel (Milford); about 100 miles Mauch Chunk-Bristol
18:56 – loading boat, leveling, weighing by measuring height of boat above water; ways to add weight
20:19 – considered Lehigh and Delaware one canal
21:45 – uncle Wilson Pursell tended lock at Uhlerstown
22:41 – liked walking along canal; only afraid when lightning struck tree; never unloaded boats
24:05 – wore overalls, barefoot mostly
24:43 – school when canal froze November to April; liked fresh air; locktenders
27:36 – swimming and fishing in the canal; bought food in stores; pay went to mother
29:00 – his first trip at 8 years old with his brother, fell overboard
30:59 – mules, on traces and pulley blocks
32:30 – quite a few boats at a time, 10-12 waiting in Bristol for tug; unloaded steel at the glass house
33:35 – loading coal from chutes, 50-70 tons
35:15 – Washington Crossing Park
36:57 – bedbugs
38:26 – never missed canal after leaving

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