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Life of people using the Lehigh Navigation

The typical day of canal workers was very long and arduous. Work began at 4:00 am, when boats would begin to move up and down the canal. The locks would also begin to function at this time. They would then move through the canal at a relatively slow pace. It would take 10 minutes for the canal boats to move through one lock.

The canal boats were pulled by mules up and down the canal. Mules were used instead of horses because they were thought to be smarter. They could also eat while they walked so travelling was faster. Feeding baskets were hung around their necks and they could munch away as they spent the day working.

Young boys were in charge of taking care of the mules. They would wake up around 3:00 am to groom the animals and make sure the mules had enough to eat. The children’s main duty was to guide the mules along the towpath, walking beside the animals from 4:00 am until the canal shut down for the night at 10:00 pm. It was a hard life.

Often, the families of canal boat captains would live right on the boat with them. There would be a small room on the boat where they could all sleep. This room would not be that big, so sleeping arrangements were sometimes cramped.

For recreation, children who lived along the canal or on the canal boats would swim in the Lehigh Navigation. One might think that this would clean them off after a long day working, but, unfortunately, this was not the case. The canal was so black from the coal silt that would fall into the canal and build up on the bottom. Those who chose to swim in the canal would get covered by the silt as well. Because of the buildup of silt on the floor of the canal, it needed to be dredged often. If the canal was not dredged, the coal silt buildup would cause the boats to get stuck on the bottom of the canal. This also did not make for very good water quality. In fact, people rarely fished back then because fish could not live in a canal or a river that was full of coal silt.

In the winter, the canal would freeze over. This was one of the major reasons that the railroads started to take business from the canal. When the canal was frozen, it could not operate. During this time, the families of the canalers would go back to their houses. This would be the vacation time for the canal workers. Now, summertime is often seen as a time to vacation. When the canal shut down, a little relaxation could occur. Walnutport was a town where many canal workers once lived. There are many houses located right along the canal in this town. A lot of these houses are still there today.

Locktenders put in extremely long days as well. They would have to wake up at around 3:00 am to prepare for the canal to open at 4:00 am. They would do more than just control the opening and closing of the locks. Often they would have to break up fights between boats that wanted to get into the lock first. If both boats claimed that they arrived at the lock at the same time, it was up to the locktender to decide who had the right of way. It was not unusual for locktenders to have side businesses well. Along the canal was a perfect spot for a store that sold groceries, toiletries, or other various products. Some locktenders kept small farms as well (Everet Kaul).





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