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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Description Of The Packet And Line Canal Boats

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 4 August 2004
Source:
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

A description of the packet and line boats is probably best described in Robert Riegel's "America Moves West."
"The line boat carried ordinarily only local traffic, and did not serve food or afford sleeping facilities; the usual charge was between two and two and a half cents a mile. They carried freight as well as people. Even animals and chickens were carried and sometimes allowed to rove about the boat at will much to the dismay of the passengers. Also found on these boats were dogs and cats and an occasional pet skunk, to make life more miserable for those aboard.
"The packet boat was larger and finer in every way. It furnished both food and beds, and made faster time due to its continuous travel, so that it could cover some 150 miles in a week. The cost of transportation, including food, was about five cents a mile, which was somewhat less than the rate charged by the stages.
"Boats carrying passengers were ordinarily arranged somewhat alike. In the front was a tiny cabin, with five or six bunks for the crew. Next came a small room to be used by the women for the washing and dressing. Then there was a woman's cabin, where the lady traveler could retire from the prying eyes of the male passengers, and where all the women slept at night. In the center of the boat was a large general apartment, which might be as long as forty-five feet. In the day it was used as a general assembly room in which the passengers read, talked, sewed, played games or dozed and in which small parcels were kept; the larger baggage was kept on deck. Meals were served on planks supported by wooden trestles. At night the apartment was used as the sleeping quarters for the men. Bunks were suspended on iron brackets, of which the ends on one side were pushed into the wall and on the other hung by ropes from the ceiling. Such shelves were six by three and one-half feet, and were arranged in tiers three high, so that there was little room between them. When all the bunks were filled the surplus men slept on the tables or the floor. Small straw mattresses and filthy blankets completed the rest of the equipment; these bed clothes were piled on a corner of the floor during the day and were seldom washed. Back of the large room was a bar and then the kitchen; the cook was generally also the bar-keeper, and worked both day and night. The usual crew of the boat consisted of a captain, two steersmen, two drivers and a cook; just which of these dignitaries had any duty in caring for the wants of the passengers is not clear. The drivers and steersmen alternated in six-hour shifts.
"Most of the passengers spent the fine days on deck, talking, playing games, sewing, reading and painting. Some of them would from time to time get off the boat and obtain a little exercise by walking along the tow path and chatting to the driver. The principal hazard of deck travel were the bridges, which frequently occurred every mile and sometimes in the towns were still more numerous; these bridges were so low that everyone had to go below to the cabin, which was close and stuffy under the best conditions, and was almost insupportable in warm weather. Ventilation was an unknown art, with the result that some travelers preferred the rain to the cabin. An additional drawback to the cabin was that even the most fastidious individual could not avoid the company of his fellow passengers, some of whom were highly objectionable. Filth and vermin were by no means rare. Sometimes traveling ministers would seize this opportunity for holding religious meetings, at which they were certain of a considerable congregation no matter how long and tedious the service. An outstanding characteristic of any canal boat was slowness, two to four miles per hour was top speed. The people had plenty of time to enjoy or not to enjoy the scenery through which they passed. Despite the slowness and apparent monotony of canal travel there was much to commend it. In the first place the method of movement was a safe one and reasonably comfortable at least in comparison with the stage coach. In many places there were choice bits of scenery to admire.
"The process of passing a boat through a lock or series of locks was a never-ceasing matter of interest to the passengers, and whenever this operation was performed all but the most habitual canal travelers assembled on the roof to observe the work necessary for a transfer to a higher or lower level, and to comment critically on the manner and time in which it was accomplished. Numerous rivers and smaller streams were crossed by the voyagers on lofty aqueducts of wood or stone."


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This page created 4 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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