Molly Mc Mule's
Horse Tale's - 1001 Stall Stories
"Br-r-r-r-r-r, it's really getting cold outside," said Deke, "cold enough to get your tongue stuck on the pond and soon kids will be skating and having lots of fun. Hey, Jesse, remember some of the stories Molly told us? You know, about the ice hockey games and skating on the canals when they were frozen and the boats couldn't move, back in 1829 or so? Mules pulled the boats through the canals in spring, summer, fall and winter until the water froze. Back then the kids made hockey sticks out of branches and pucks out of tin cans to have an impromptu game whenever they could."
"I guess the mules and the children had a pretty rough time of it in those days. It was pretty much all work and just a little play," chimed in Jesse. She said, "The mules were sure-footed and very hard workers. An average day was from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. for both the animals and the boat crews. They worked six, and often seven, days a week to move their boats before the water froze. Imagine this; they averaged about three miles per hour! Industry depended on their cargo because they were filled with coal, lumber, grain, flour, iron ore, slate and other items. Some boats also carried passengers."
"It's cold enough right now, so let's think about summer," suggested Deke, shivering.
"Even though the days were long, they were pleasant, too. Mules were well tended because the boat captains relied on them for getting their goods to their destination on time, so they were fed well and any injuries were promptly treated. The drivers' children often considered them pets," said Jesse.
Beau nickered, "Who were the people that worked on these boats?"
"The canalers (as they were called) were mostly German, Irish, English and Welsh immigrants and it was not unusual after a long day for them to engage in sparring matches and then saunter into a local saloon for a toast to the winner. That was good-natured fun to watch, and some of the songs they sang about life on the canal were fun too," explained Jesse.
"I'll bet they saw a lot of interesting sights along the way," mused Beau, and some of the other horses nodded.
"Yes, our ancestors even saw daring swimmers jump off the boats and swim alongside, trying to keep up with the mules and their drivers on shore," retorted Jesse. "The drivers also had the opportunity to pick berries along the towpath, catch a stray chicken to put in the pot for dinner, or maybe take the top rail of a fence for fuel. Whole families lived on the boats and they didn't have a lot of money. There was always some excitement when another boat passed in the opposite direction, and greeting the lock tenders at every lock was fun too."
"Just thinking about all that work has made me tired," said Beau, yawning. "Let's talk about it some more later."
"Sure," said Jesse. "Ok with you Deke? Deke?" Deke was fast asleep. "Good night all!"
Molly says, mules continued to plod the towpath of the Lehigh Canal in the Lehigh Valley until 1942 when a flood seriously damaged the system. You can visit the Canal Museum in Easton, PA, and also take a ride on a mule-powered canal boat. More information can be had by writing to The National Canal Museum, 30 Centre Square, Easton, PA 18042, or visit their website at http://Canals.org