Diabetes Awareness Campaign: Trekking Along the Erie Canal.
North Tonawanda
Little Falls
St. Johnsville
Lockport was the location of the last great challenge which the engineers had to over comeósurmounting the 75 ft height of the Niagara Escarpment. This is the same geological feature which created Niagara Falls. The low side of the ground opposite the escarpment had once been the floor of the large primordial sea which was the ancestor of Lake Ontario. The escarpment was created due to the tectonic movement of plates caused the uplifting of land. This is why if you examine the rock were the escarpment is cut, you can see the fossils of ancient sea life.
Standing on the catwalk.
While standing on the catwalk up over the lock and looking down to the lower lock and then the canal, I was amazed. I thought, how do these things work? A loud horn alerted me to the fact that I was going to find out. I watched as the boats entered the lower lock where the gates had been left open after an east bound vessel left. The water in the lower chamber was at the same level as the canal. Slowly, the huge gates closed behind the boat which went to the middle of the chamber and tied off to lines hanging from cleats at the brim of the lock. Gradually the level of the water rose as water from the western side of the canal flowed in via supply ducts.
After about 10 minutes, the level of the lower chamber was equal to the water in the bottom of the upper chamber. Electric motors began to whir and slowly the eastern gate of the upper chamber began to close. Along the edge of the gates were large rubber type gaskets which appeared to be about 18 inches wide and 4 inches thick and ran vertically the entire height of the gate. The two gaskets squeezed together and formed a tight seal. The vertical lift of each chamber was twenty five feet and it took another 10 minutes for the upper chamber to fill to the level of the western end of the canal. When the western gate opened, the boats continued onward to Lake Erie.
Everything seemed so simple, but how did they do it 175 years ago, before electricity and power tools? Well, they did it in little steps. Five steps to be exact. Five consecutive pairs of locks each with a lift of 12 feet were dug into the granite of the escarpment. Having two locks sided by side on each level allowed eastbound and westbound boats to pass simultaneously. Like all the locks along the canal, the gates were wooden with long beams that were used as levers to close and open the gates. The locks at Lockport had the nickname of the Flight of Five.
Locks, Erie Canal, Lockport, New York, 1908.
Erie Canal locks, Lockport, New York, 1908
Yes, I know what some of you may be thinkingóthe total height of lift is 60 lift! But you said that the height of the escarpment is over 70 feetóit doesnít add up. In fact the slope continues upward and eventually reaches a height of 85 feet. It would take another two lifts to reach the summit, so why didnít they install them. Well, thereís a reason that they didnít go all the way to the top. Five miles west of Lockport is the village of Pendleton where the altitude is the same as the top tier of the Flight of Five. Thus they would need a flight of 7 to go down to the level at Pendleton.
The engineers decided that it would be easier to dig a trough through the escarpment. Well, they didnít exactly dig through the rock but blasted out the rock. They used hand drills and black powder. Adolescent boys were used to light the fuses under the theory that they could run faster than a man. However the fallout of heavy boulders killed and maimed many, men and boys. The result was an incredible trench through the rock that became known as the Deep Cut!
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