Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

September 29, 2012

CANAL DISCOVERIES: A few words about the canal

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — If you could have the pleasure of being transported back in time to the 1800s and the grand days of the Erie Canal, you would become aware of a whole different language with its own idioms and definitions. The language spoken by the men and women who lived and worked on the Erie Canal was certainly unique and always interesting. 

A brief Canawler to English Dictionary is included here just in case you ever have a need to decipher the code.

Berm side: Side of the boat away from the towpath

Boaters: General term for canallers; also canawlers or steersmen

Bullhead: A boat with a rounded front and no side-deck

Canal scrip: An IOU

Durham: A long, clumsy boat

Feeders: Channels to bring water into the canal to maintain the level

Fip: A coin worth about six cents

Foamer: A mug of ale

Fog gang: Workers who cleaned out the canal each year

Foo foo: A foreigner or immigrant worker

Grog: Any kind of alcoholic drink

Hayburner: Another name for a mule

Hoggee: “Driver boy” (derived from hogler, a field hand of the lowest class)

Hoodledasher: Multiple boats tied together to be pulled by one team of horses or mules (usually empty)

Jigger-boss: A boy who provided whisky to workers at “appropriate intervals”

Line boat: Carried mixed freight

Lock tenders/lock keeps: Tended locks, opened and closed gates, directed traffic, operated out of a combination house and office. Doubled as fight referee, salesman, grocer and tavern keeper to boaters.

Long eared robin: Name for a mule

Long level: Stretch of canal without a break or lock. The 60+ mile level east of Lockport was known as the Genesee Level

Mudlarked: Boat that was grounded due to a shortage of water

Pritties: Boiled or baked potatoes

Packet: A cabin for passengers

Packet boat: Passenger boat

Prog: General term for food

Tuble bays: Carried water around the locks

Runners: Used to seek out passengers on packet boats

Sidecut: Waterway connecting the canal with a stream, river or another canal

Rhino: Cash

Rhino fat: Rich or well-off

Scalpers: Primarily relating to shipping of freight; scalpers would assign cargo to boats

Shanty: A houseboat

Shunpike: Avoiding tolls by detouring around the toll booth

Skimmagig: Buttermilk

Squeezer: A two sectioned boat or “double barge”

Trippers: Long haul workmen, often troublemakers; most often individuals with a love for the canal

Tow side: Side of the boat closest to the towpath

Waste weirs: Channels used to dispose of excess water from the canal

This list was compiled from sources on folklore including Lionel Wyld’s “Boaters and Broomsticks” and Marvin Rapp’s “Canal Water and Whiskey.”

Doug Farley is the director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center. His column appears every Saturday. The Erie Canal Discovery Center is a great place to start your Erie Canal adventure. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Please join us for a free, public program on Saturday, October 13 at 11 a.m. titled, "Jeremiah's Hunger," offered by regional author Elizabeth Osta who will explain her new historical fiction about the Irish famine in County Cork and the resulting mass migration to America in the 19th century.