Van transfer day

This year’s voyage has been divided into ten parts.  Volunteers have requested/been granted a specific slot on the voyage.  It’s my job to make sure they know when to be at the main campus of LCMM, what they should pack, let them know how much space they will get for all the stuff they bring (including sleeping bags), and to get them directions as to where to meet with the schooner. In addition, I get requests for restocking the retail store and a shopping list of bulk items to go shopping for to keep the crew fed.  There are also the requests from the crew of items they have forgotten, need replaced, or didn’t originally think they would need.

The volunteer chariot of 2007
The volunteer chariot of 2007 (photo: Tom Larsen)

The actual vehicle used for the rotation has changed throughout the years.  Space is definitely a consideration, and the Grand Journey in 2005 included the purchase of a full size van as a chase vehicle.  However, after dealing with many breakdowns, the decision was made to rent a vehicle instead and Grand Canal Journey of 2007 saw a minivan as the volunteer chariot.  This year, we are renting a small SUV from Enterprise Rental, and while the cargo capacity isn’t as massive as a full size van, it has done well hauling batches of volunteers and all of their gear back and forth from the schooner.

At least one day before the van leaves, I get everything together and go to the museum to pack it all all into the van.  Chris McClain helps out by making sure the van is gassed up and ready for its trip across New York state.  There’s an art to getting all the supplies packed into a small SUV, while still leaving room for 4 people and all of their gear that they bring for a week on the Lois.  So far, there’s still been room for them to breathe on the trip out!

Elisa Nelson
Elisa has been with the schooner from the beginning in 2001. She worked throughout the construction of Lois McClure in Burlington as lead interpreter and volunteer coordinator. She resides with her husband, who is also involved with the schooner as a volunteer, in Burlington, VT.  She rejoins the Lois again this year as Volunteer Coordinator and Home Port Logistics Officer.

The start of school

We are firmly situated at Middleport on the western section of the Erie Canal. We had 240 school children aboard yesterday and it was a particularly gratifying experience. It was only their second day of school but their principal felt it was such an important opportunity for the students and so they walked to the boat in their historic harbor in groups of 60 and our crew engaged them in groups of 10 at 3 stations on deck and 3 stations below deck. In the above deck midships area each student heard about research, primary documents, journals, letters, photographs and nautical archaeology; up forward, the anchor and the windlass introduced the concept of simple and complex machines; in the stern, the students got to handle the steering mechanism, see the rudder move and hear stories about the General Butler’s sinking and nautical archaeology. Down below, the fo’c’sle area showed the construction of the boat, the midships area led to a discussion about the many types of cargos carried and in the stern cabin stories of the family-operators were brought to life.

Captain Roger Taylor talks to eager students about sailing the Lois
Captain Roger Taylor talks to eager students about sailing the Lois (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

This was our first school program of the season and it was with some modest concern that the crew gathered to review the learning goals of each station and to coach each other with particular past storylines that seemed to work. We wondered out loud whether the students, with just one day of school behind them, would be unruly and wild. To Middleport’s, parents and schools great credit the students came prepared to learn. They were cooperative, attentive, raised their hands to ask questions and generally showed a great enthusiasm for the opportunity to experience the boat. When the last group finally left several hours later, we all felt worn out, hoarse of voice but very satisfied with the result. What happened next surprised us even more.

We were scheduled for public open hours from 3 until 7 but with the wind blowing and a cloudy, cool fall weekday we expected a very modest turnout in the afternoon. Then, shortly after school was out, we began to see kids from the morning program return and bring their parents, siblings and friends. They enthusiastically played the role of the tour guide and showed their friends and family through the boat demonstrating a great deal of knowledge about the history and archaeology of the boat and the period. By the end of the afternoon session we had hosted 300 more people aboard in this small community on a mid-week school day and all of us in the crew felt gratified by the experience.

Art Cohn
Executive Director

Fairport and Spencerport

by Art Cohn

Fairport was a wonderful stop on many levels; we had a great outpouring of folks visiting the boat, two ice cream shops in close proximity, and it was the first community we visited where the original alignment of the old and new Erie Canal was the same. The community literally developed on both sides of the historic canal. In exploring the community’s canal history, we learned that the modern Box Factory complex where we moored was situated on the site of the DeLand Chemical Company, destroyed by fire in the late nineteenth century. We also learned from our host, Scott Winner, that the Fairport Village Partnership had recently worked with the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to erect a number of outdoor interpretive signs in the downtown. One of these signs was on the canal just across from where the Lois was secured to the dock and the Deland Company had been. A picture can be worth ten thousand words. One of the things we say to our visitors in each community is “…if you went back to the 1860s, canal boats like the Lois McClure would be tied up at these walls.”

A canal boat at the DeLand Chemical Factory
A canal boat at the DeLand Company (photo courtesy of Scott Winner)

The photograph from the Fairport interpretive panel illustrates our observation and helps connect the Lois McClure to the town’s history. Here we see an Erie Canal boat, so designated because it has a cabin at both ends, a rear cabin for the family that operates the boat, and a forward cabin for the horses or mules that tow the boat on the canal. A careful look at the photograph also reveals a “Derrick,” invented by Mr. J. Y. Parce of Fairport, patented (#24912) in 1859, and eventually built for the DeLand Company. We have not yet determined whether this heavily laden canal boat is loading or unloading.

A line of eager visitors awaiting to board at Spencerport
A line of eager visitors awaiting to board at Spencerport (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

We then traveled west to Spencerport, where we’ve had an incredible reception from over 1000 enthusiastic visitors. We arrived on Monday afternoon and were greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd, who formed lines waiting to get on board. I have finally experienced what it feels like to be a “rock star for history.” We saw many kids, who despite being just a day away from starting school, had an interest in history that was truly gratifying. In the park and gazebo next to the boat, music and dancers, artists, and food vendors made it feel like a festival. Mayor Joyce Lobene made us feel very welcome indeed. One of the visitors in Spencerport on Tuesday was Town Historian, Carol Coburn, and I enquired if she had any images of canal boats here during the towpath era. Before the day was out, Carol had made copies of a number of wonderful photographs, including the photo below. It is another great example of canal boats like the Lois McClure in a community we are visiting today. It appears to be a posed photograph, with canal families and crews on deck for the camera. The boats appear to be without cargo and it looks like the canal is closed for some reason, perhaps a break in the towpath ahead. Carol is doing some research to help us better understand the story.

Canal boats in Spencerport
Canal boats in Spencerport (photo courtesy of Carol Coburn)

Today it is on to Middleport…37 miles…no locks. But.. 11 lift bridges. We have dubbed this day, “the day of the lift bridge.”

Art Cohn
Executive Director

Potluck in Palmyra

by Kathleen Carney

When a community is so kind as to provide a meal for the crew of the Lois McClure, no one is happier than I, the “Commissary Officer.” The folks in Palmyra invited us to dinner at the Alling Coverlet Museum on the night we arrived in town, and although we left satisfied—no, stuffed—there was so much food left over from the heaping potluck they provided that we were invited back to finish up the leftovers the following night. I could have jumped for joy!

The crew enjoying dinner at the Alling Coverlet Museum
The crew enjoying dinner and kind words at the Alling Coverlet Museum (photo: Vicky Daly)

Steve and Bonnie Hays and their compatriots from Historic Palmyra, Irene Unterborn of the Liberty House B&B, and a host of scary-looking, black-shirted buccaneers from the town’s annual Palmyra Pirate Weekend set out a buffet of staggering proportions: baked ham (with Bonnie Hays’ patented raisin sauce); just-off-the-vine-and-stalk tomatoes and corn from Mayor Vicky Daly’s cousin’s farm; a colorful, crunchy, and delicious Italian veggie salad; scalloped potatoes AND homemade potato salad; cinnamon-carrot jello salad—sounds funny, tasted great; and, of course, dessert: chocolate-chocolate cake and Palmyra’s patented Pirate Cupcakes.

There were, of course, speeches after the meal, but I can’t say anything about those because I snuck off to show volunteer Sally Larsen the exhibits in the Alling Museum—really beautiful, even striking, examples of hand-woven wool and cotton coverlets. After dinner, while the rest of the crew went “home” to the schooner, Sally and I went on a three-hour ghost hunt courtesy of Historic Palmyra. We trooped through the dark Phelps Store, spooky enough even in daytime, and sought to make contact with its resident spirits. Did we succeed? I’ll never tell.

Rainbow at the Port of Palmyra
Double rainbow at the Port of Palmyra (photo: Tom Larsen)

When I look back at our stay in Palmyra, I realize that I didn’t have to prepare a single meal! Talk about happy! A wonderful citizen of Palmyra met us on our arrival, and as we were tying up the schooner, she handed two huge trays of baked ziti over the lifelines. On our “public” day, the Muddy Waters café treated the crew to breakfast; Les Thomas of the Candy Corner brought his hot dog-hamburger-root-beer-float wagon down to the dock and provided tasty treats to all who came to visit; and, of course, at the end of the day, we headed back to the Alling Coverlet Museum and heaps of delicious leftovers.

So, thank you Palmyra, on behalf of all the crew, but also from the bottom of MY heart.

Kathleen Carney

Printing in Palmyra

by Sally Larsen

The trip from Newark to Palmyra was serene.  We left the dock shortly after 9:30, and the day was already shaping up to be a real scorcher.  The trip was smooth – no locks to go through – so we were able to enjoy the flocks of mallards and schools of flashing silver fish.  The great blue herons notice the fish too – they were plentiful in this section of the canal.

Lulled by the relaxed tempo and interesting wildlife, I was surprised when Palmyra appeared quite suddenly on the port side.  Roger skillfully threaded the Lois through the shallow and narrow entrance to the Port of Palmyra and gently guided her to the dock.

After all was secured, Tom and I explored the town, passing many beautiful buildings dating back to the early 1800’s.  An open door caught our eye, and we stepped inside Experience Press.  We were greeted by Mark Burris, who welcomed us and explained the workings of the print shop.

Experience Press
Experience Press (photo: Tom Larsen)

There were two huge hand operated presses, both typical of presses made in the 19th century.  One was made in Palmyra; the town used to manufacture printing presses which were shipped via canal boat to various parts of the country.

The print shop is unusual because all of the type is hand-set.  This is an exacting and time-consuming process in which each letter is picked out individually.  The actual printing is an arduous multi-step process, involving inking, pressing what is called a proof to check for errors, and then moving everything to a different press, re-inking, and pressing it out.  Once all the pages are pressed, they are sewn together and then trimmed.

The books printed here are bound in the shop as well, using period correct vegetable tanned leather, with gold leaf detailing.  The entire place was a step back in time – particularly interesting because Experience Press is a working print shop, using techniques and machining that could have been in use at the time the canal was booming, to create replica first edition books that were printed around the same time.

Sal Larsen
A graduate of Weslyan University, Sal has been a member of the museum for many years.  This is her first time as a volunteer aboard the Lois, and she has fulfilled a lifelong dream of helping crew on a tugboat.

Reflections on Geneva

A map of Geneva in the 1800s
A map of Geneva in the 1800s (from Geneva's Changing Waterfront)

by Art Cohn

While in Geneva I had an opportunity to talk with a number of people about the community’s maritime heritage and Charles Bauder, a Geneva historian gave me a wonderful gift of the out-of-print book, Geneva’s Changing Waterfront 1778-1989, by Kathryn Grover. Published by the Geneva Historical Society in 1989 to support an exhibition by the same name, I examined this well illustrated gift and felt that in this one publication I had been provided a window into Geneva’s maritime past.

A map of Burlington in the 1800s
A map of Burlington in the 1800s (photo from Lake Champlain Sailing Canal Boats)

What I was most struck with as I explored the illustrations of early sailboats, steamboats, canal boats, railroads and breakwaters that led to the ongoing recreational transition of the Geneva waterfront was how similar it was to the images and evolution of our Burlington waterfront story.

The Burlington Waterfront in the mid 1800s
The Burlington Waterfront in the mid 1800s (photo from Lake Champlain Sailing Canal Boats)

One of our overarching themes for these Lois McClure journeys is to reflect the amount of common history we share with communities all along the region’s interconnected waterways. In Geneva’s Changing Waterfront the presentation in this wonderful book illustrates this point so well. While of course there are many unique features to the history of Geneva and Burlington’s particular history, each lake-port has much in common with the other. As I pondered the similarities and differences between each communities rise from a sleepy harbor to bustling 19th century commercial center and the influence of canals, railroads and maritime technology, a question about another point of connection could not be avoided.

Geneva waterfront in the mid 1800s
Geneva waterfront in the mid 1800s (photo from Geneva's Changing Waterfront)

If Burlington and Lake Champlain contains a collection of intact wooden shipwrecks on its cold, deep (430-foot) freshwater bottom, shouldn’t Seneca Lake? Seneca is about 1/6th the size of Champlain, but in its cold, fresh, deep (600+feet) waters, the model suggests, should also contain a collection of shipwrecks that reflect on Seneca Lake and Geneva’s maritime past.

Canal boats on the Burlington waterfront
Canal boats on the Burlington waterfront (photo from Lake Champlain Sailing Canal Boats)

What about Cayuga Lake and the other bodies of water that make up the Finger Lakes? If our experience holds true then all these waterways should contain a representative sample of the large and small watercraft that once plied their waters. It’s an exciting prospect for the Finger Lakes, important for the study and preservation of the collection and I am excited about learning more.

Canal boats on the Geneva Waterfront
Canal boats on the Geneva Waterfront (photo from Geneva's Changing Waterfront)

Art Cohn
Executive Director


A small part of the mural in Newark
A small part of the mural in Newark (photo: Tom Larsen)

by Tom Larsen

As we came around the corner into Newark, the first thing that caught my eye was the fantastic mural on the bridge abutment.  Two men on ladders were adding small details and touch up to the realistic view of their rendition of the old canal and dock.  The artistry in the piece was amazing!  It was part of the Mural Mania project, which is promoting local history by creating large scale art pieces in different communities.

We docked and got quickly set up in the blazing heat of the lingering days of summer.  The officials of Newark had gone all out for us, and got us 5 hotel rooms at the Quality Inn right across the road from where we were docked.  Instead of the usual grousing over who got the hotel room, it was now a minor brawl about who had to stay and watch the boat!  It was really nice to relax in an air conditioned space and have easy access to a shower for the night.

Our public day went very well, with hundreds of visitors coming out despite sweltering heat and baking sun to learn more about the history of the Lois McClure and the boats it is copied from.  The evening was capped with a great musical performance, featuring traditional songs as well as a local violin group giving its second public performance.

Tom Larsen
AB Crew

How I spent my summer vacation

by Sal Larsen

It is amazing how many different skills the crew of the Lois uses every day.  As a volunteer, I was lucky enough to get to try my hand at many tasks that were totally new to me.

One of the main purposes of the canal journey is to make life on a canal boat “come alive” for the people who come aboard.  Thus, all of the crew needs to be extremely knowledgeable about the details of daily life for the canallers.  The questions range from “What are the rocks in the hold for?” (cargo that was shipped in the 1860s, doubling as ballast for us) to “What kind of engine is in the tug?” (a 120hp Ford-Lehman diesel) and “Why doesn’t the centerboard float up if it’s made of wood?” (because it has lead weights cast into the bottom of it).

Crane work on rigging day
Crane work on rigging day (photo: Duncan Hay)

The crew also has to be able to sail the Lois and to put up and take down the entire sail rig – a major undertaking involving a crane and a solid day’s worth of work.  There are a lot of pieces in a sail rig!

Then there is the process of getting the boats through a lock.  The tug C.L. Churchill powers Lois from a position on her side (called “towing on the hip”), slowly easing her speed as either Roger or Erick (depending on who is on the helm for that watch) gently steers her close to the lock wall.

The Lois and Churchill exiting lock 25
The Lois and Churchill exiting lock 25 (photo: Tom Larsen)

With the help of a push from the Oocher, our gray inflatable, the crew on board Lois secures her to the wall, holding on to lines as the lock fills or empties (depending on which way we’re going).  Once the water stops moving, the gates open and the Oocher scoots ahead, so as to stay out of the way.  With some careful piloting from Erick or Roger, the Lois and Churchill clear the lock and the Oocher returns, and the whole ensemble continues down the canal to the next lock

Sal enjoying her time on the Churchill
Sal enjoying her time on the Churchill (photo: Tom Larsen)

I was lucky enough to crew on the tug (something I have wanted to do since I was a kid) and so was able to see a different part of the operation up close.  There are lots of details to keep track of on the tugboat – it is not just following the instructions relayed over the radio.  The tug boat operator has to watch the depth, voltage on the systems, drip rate on the stuffing box (where the driveshaft goes through the hull to the prop) and a myriad of other details.  One of my major duties was handling the lines and fenders, which I’m (gradually) getting better at.

Not all of what happens involves moving boats.  Day-to-day routines involve a phenomenal amount of planning by Art, Erick and Roger.  It takes a lot of effort from a variety of people to make sure the Lois has a safe berth so the people of the communities she visits can come aboard.  We have been treated extremely well by the townspeople along the way, fed and feted all along the canal.

There are many other behind-the-scenes jobs on the Lois.  One of the essential ones is keeping the crew fed, and Kathleen Carney does a fabulous job under a bewildering variety of circumstances.  Since there is no refrigerator, the icebox must be kept full (which means fetching ice daily).  The ship’s store has to be restocked so books and t-shirts are available for interested visitors to purchase, and Kerry Batdorf, the ship’s carpenter, has his hands full with (hopefully minor) repairs and innovations.

Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade (photo: Tom Larsen)

All of the crew on board are busy, so I felt particularly fortunate when Len Ruth, the bosun, took the time to teach me how to whip the end of a line (the process of wrapping small thread around the end of a larger line so that it doesn’t unravel and fray – you can learn more about it in this book).  His tools are handmade and period correct, which added a lot to the lesson.  Thanks Len!

Volunteering on the Lois has been an unforgettable experience.  The sense of timelessness, the warm and welcoming townspeople and the phenomenal full-time crew have made this an awesome trip.

Sal Larsen
A graduate of Weslyan University, Sal has been a member of the museum for many years.  This is her first time as a volunteer aboard the Lois, and she has fulfilled a lifelong dream of helping crew on a tugboat.

The 191 Alligators of Clyde

by Sarah Tichonuk

Did you know that there are 191 alligators in Clyde, NY? Well, just their skins.

As you’ve been reading in these entries, we often receive a community’s generosity in the form of hotel rooms, which allow our crew to step off the boat, shower, and just have a break. Our crew had two nights at the Erie Mansion here in Clyde, and it was – how to put it succinctly? – unforgettable.

The crew heading to the Erie Mansion
The crew heading to the Erie Mansion (photo: Tom Larsen)

Mark Wright explains about the history of the mansion to Sarah and Erick Tichonuk
Mark Wright explains about the history of the mansion to Sarah and Erick Tichonuk (photo: Tom Larsen)

Mark Wright is the proprietor of the Erie Mansion, a 12,000-square-foot B&B, which he describes quite adamantly as “not a frou-frou B&B.” It is, in fact, a gorgeous mansion built in 1858. It first housed Dr. Smith, and then the wealthy glass-making family of Ely.  In its 40 rooms, the mansion boasts 12 fireplaces, 23 chandeliers, and ornate carvings and ceiling decoration throughout.

But Mark has also added his own flair to the Erie Mansion. There are motorcycles in the front drawing room and foyer. There are two Penny-farthing bicycles in the hallway (Mark can ride them – I saw photos.) The billiard room contains swords, a WWII-era helmet, and a blow gun.

So the alligators. Mark has decorated four suites in the upstairs rooms of the mansion, each with its own unique theme. The room I stayed in was the Eerie Suite — I did spell that correctly – where the theme is dead things. He has wallpapered the rooms with 191 alligator skins (yes, I counted them – wouldn’t you?)  The nightstand has a box of tissues, a clock, and a giant alligator skull. The sitting room has a coffin coffee table; it’s the real deal (well, I had to open it, right?)

The mansion is also supposed to be haunted. The ghosts could be one of the early residents, rumored to have committed suicide. Or perhaps it was during the years when the mansion was used as an old folks home. Mark has a huge scrapbook with these stories – newspaper clippings, and even scribbled scraps of paper from former residents who lived there in more recent years.  The paranormal-sighters are crazy for the place, and make regular trips.

Oh, I could go on and on, but I really think you ought to check it out yourself next time you’re in Clyde, NY.  On second thought, make it a special trip.

Sarah Tichonuk
Nautical Archaeologist & Educator at LCMM

More Heads are Better than One

by Erick Tichonuk

When you have anywhere from 8 – 13 crew between two boats and only one head per boat (that’s a toilet for you lubbers) and no showers, you can bet we’re always looking for shore-side facilities.  In our six years of touring we’ve become quite the aficionados in sniffing out the best in boater amenities.  From the bright blue port-o-let sweat boxes to the spacious, clean, and organized, we’ve seen it all.  In fact, I’m tempted to write a guidebook, because all boaters are looking for the same things; restrooms, showers, laundry, fuel, pump-out, groceries, restaurants, watering holes and cultural attractions (not always in that order, but the first two are most important).

Cher and Marty McCutchin's wedding day, July 2007
Cher and Marty McCutcheon's wedding day, July 2007

Our last visit to Seneca Falls in 2007 was very special.  We were once again part of a community as Lois became stage for the marriage of Marty and Cher McCutcheon.

Cher and Marty McCutcheon
Cher and Marty McCutcheon at the Lois McClure on Aug 27, 2010 (photo: Kerry Batdorf)

Imagine my joy as the happy couple returned to see us this visit and present us with an image of their special day.  As great as Seneca Falls was on our last visit it lacked the amenities we boaters so desperately desire; toilets and showers.

Thanks to a Greenways Grant provided by the New York State Canal Corporation Seneca Falls now has one of the finest boaters amenities facilities in the canal system.  Clean restrooms, spacious showers, and a coin-op laundry combined with a beautiful village make this a prime boating destination.  According to the friendly and capable harbor master, John Kinny, the volume of boats has more than doubled in 2010.  Our compliments and thanks to Seneca Falls and Canal Corporation for a fantastic facility.

Erick Tichonuk
First Mate