Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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June 22, 2013

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The race goes to the swiftest, and history proved this true on a number of occasions on the Erie Canal. 

We usually think of the railroads as the eventual winner in the contest over canal mules, but actually there were a few other victors along the way, too. One of the best of these was the steamboat, William Newman, of Buffalo.

Built in 1872, the William Newman was made of the best white oak, as well as our state’s second cutting of chestnut and pine. The boat was well constructed with iron and patterned after the best Erie Canal boats then in use.

The William Newman was 98 feet overall, with a 92 foot keel and 17-foot beam. She was lighter than other steamboats, too. Including machinery and water in the boiler, she weighed about 75 tons and had a carrying capacity of an amazing 220 tons. 

The steamship was named after William H. Newman of Buffalo, who owned a business at Main and Dayton streets that specialized in supplies for railroads, steamships, machinists and manufacturers.

The cost of the boat and all its equipment was about $7,000. The boat’s machinery consisted of a simple upright non-condensing engine, and a small engine and pump for feeding the boiler and for fire protection. The boiler and engine occupied no more space than was allotted to the stable on the older mule-pulled boats.

The William Newman was pushed through the water by a four-blade, 5-foot-diameter screw at an average speed of 4 miles per hour at 7-foot depth and 6 miles per hour in deeper wide water. Its coal consumption was 100 pounds an hour or 34 pounds of fuel per mile of canal.

On November 5, 1873, the William Newman arrived in Buffalo from Troy after running a distance of 345 miles through 72 locks in the extraordinary time of four days and 22 hours. Allowing for stops, that is an equivalent of a record three days and 10 hours of running time with a 121-ton cargo.

Doug Farley is the director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center, the best place to start your Erie Canal Adventure. His column runs every Saturday. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. At 10 a.m. today a free children's story reading takes place. At 11 a.m., a free public program entitled, "The War of 1812 in Niagara County" will be presented.

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