Sunday, September 13, 2009

Books on Tugs: More of the Erie Canal

Let's Go Read on a Boat!

As I've continued my jaunts to various places in search of ever more interesting "book sites," I happened to find myself face-to-face with a completely unexpected biblio-find: a tug boat on the Erie Canal. Of course, in the usual fashion, I was wandering around in my typical flaneury, curious about the town I was visiting, its history, and so forth. And I came upon this tug boat, hitched up to some old cedar trees. A bearded young fellow with horn-rimmed glasses was milling around on board as I approached the vessel, so I gave a shout out to him. And within just a few minutes, I was chatting away with this maritime engineer and all-around tug-engine master, who works up here most summers. Even more extraordinary was the fact that "Nobby," the tug boat caretaker (that's his name!), who is originally from Oxford, England, and I have friends in common! Perhaps this afforded me the opportunity to get onto the tug more easily, for soon I was on the boat, snapping pictures, and most importantly: finding books on board! In fact, before I got on board, I asked him the most innocuous question: "do you have a library on board?" Ha! you say--of course, it was not innocuous at all! Well, he let me on, in any event.

The history of the "Chancellor," which is being restored by the Waterford Maritime Historical Society (, may be of interest to both the maritime and non-maritime enthusiast. According to the history and fact sheet from the museum:

"Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Tug Chancellor was built in 1938 by the Ira S. Bushey & Sons Shipyard in Brooklyn, NY. One of 15 canal tugboats--or 'canallers'--built by Bushey between 1935 and 1938 with the distinctive 'double-stack' design, the Chancellor is today one of only two such vessels remaining operationally intact." Other "quick facts" about the boat include (and I'm taking this verbatim from the info we know that this boat is a "she"):

---She is 77 feet long.
---She is powered by a direct-reversing, two-stroke, air-started 1937 D14 Fairbanks Morse diesel engine, rated for 525 horsepower at 275 RPM; (HOLY COW!--I'm not even sure what this means!)
---Auxiliary power is supplied by the original 1936 A4 Fairbanks Morse two-cylinder diesel engine.
---There are four two bunk cabins on board.
---In 1963, her pilothouse was modified to a telescoping configuration on a hydraulic ram, allowing it to be raised and lowered.

(Notes above from the Waterford Maritime Historical Society)

The bow of the boat sports the 400th Anniversary flag of the Hudson navigation, which can be seen all over New York State this year.

And what kind of books are on board a tug? Well, books about boats! Specifically, books about tugs! To quote my 8th grade self, I might have declared a heartfelt "duh! of course!" But we shan't. There were other books, but not many on this old barrel of power: mostly technical books and a few light reads.

A fine addition to any boat is a dog. And this dog, whose name I've forgotten, but want to call her Susie, was a delightful watchdog, who barked diligently at me, until she realized I was harmless...and a new friend of her daddy. I can't vouch for her reading abilities--I know that some dogs read, like Martha (those of you with 4-year-olds might know about Martha), the speaking dog. But Susie, or whatever this tug's guard dog's name is, well, she just sniffed and wagged during my visit.

Now, perhaps, I will spare you some prose in the accompanying photos, because frankly, there's not much I can say about or add to the beauty, majesty, and concise power of a tug boat engine. All I can say is that the damn thing is BIG! The first image, though, is part of a work room on the upper deck. The following photos are down below in the engine room; the final photo is the stair/ladder leading down into the bowels of the floating beast.

The images below include the canal just above Lock #2, the exterior of Lock #2, and the original lock, when the canal was built almost 200 years ago. It is shocking, in some regards, that the canal was so small, so narrow, so shallow (only 4 feet deep back then), and that anything could get through from Albany to Buffalo! That last photo looks more like a sluiceway than an actual canal!

So, there we are. A few books, an old boat with some juice (ok, I'm talking "power" now, not what you squeeze from an orange), and the Erie Canal. It's a rather peaceful existence, one might think. Unless, of course, some random guy comes up to you and asks to take pictures of books on your boat!


  1. I know Nobby to. Nice guy. He worked on Pete Seeger's CLEARWATER (the sloop on the Hudson River) doing engine work and also worked at the Port of Durbin in South Africa. It is interesting how you masterfully weave books into your tours. Great job well done.

  2. I really like the tug pictures. Your blog is always entertaining and much enjoyed. Thank you for sharing your excursions!