The Erie Traveler completed its journey Thursday morning from Buffalo to Lockport. The 42-foot-long, 7 foot-wide Durham-style replica boat arrived to the Flight of Five locks, strapped to the back of a semi-truck.
Boats like the Traveler were used to carry cargo since before the American Revolution. In fact, George Washington used Durham boats to carry troops across the Delaware River before the battle of Trenton in 1776.
Dozens watched Thursday as a crew from Hohl Industrial Services of Tonawanda positioned a crane by the Flight of Five. The crane hoisted the 9-ton boat into the air, at which point, the crew guided it with ropes towards the locks.
The Erie Traveler was commissioned by Lockport Locks Heritage Corp. to demonstrate how Lockport’s historic Flight of Five operates. It was hand built at the Buffalo Maritime Center on Arthur Street by 40 volunteers on a grant from Yahoo of $30,000.
“The Buffalo Maritime Center did a wonderful job in building the boat,” said LLHC member Linda Roth.
“It's been a long process,” she added.
While the width of the Erie Canalway Trail and the sloped ramp made the unloading of the boat challenging, workers were able to get the boat into the canal without a hitch.
"A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into building that boat, so I just wanted to make sure it set in the water safe and sound,” said Hohl engineer Waylon Edmister.
Edmister was one of the engineers that worked on the wooden lock doors installed in the Flight of Five in 2014. He hopes that Hohl wins the RFP to build the next set of doors.
“I’d love to be a part of it all the way through. This has kinda been my baby,” he said. “When I was 7 years old, I went through those locks over there (locks 34 and 35) and it blew my mind and kind of drove me to be in the field I’m in. This is very near and dear to me.”
"I think it legitimizes the locks demonstrations even more,” said Brian Smith, president of Greater Lockport Development Corp. “It’s gonna get more people down here.”
When the boat hit the water Thursday, the crowd roared to life as volunteer boat builder Skip Hauenstein blew into a conch shell. The call signaled the first Durham-style boat that the Flight of Five has seen in more than a century.
Boat builder and former BMC executive director Roger Allen has led the project with volunteer foreman Chris Anderle since it began in October. Not having a blueprint for the Durham, they designed their own version of the boat for volunteers to craft.
"We knew the basic proportions of the boats from descriptions, and then we did research on construction for similar boats because there were no descriptions on how the boats were actually built. We applied basic traditional boat building methodology to the actual construction of this thing,” Allen said.
In those seven months, the volunteers put more than 4,000 hours into the project, spending their Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the Maritime Center. They shaped pressure-treated yellow pine and hammered custom square nails into the Flat-bottomed boat.
“I've never built a boat before. Every day I came in was a new experience," Hauenstein said.
Hauenstein said bending the planks of wood across the bow and stern was amongst the most challenging aspect of building the boat.
However, his biggest challenge was perhaps the bittersweet sight of the Erie Traveler resting atop the waters of the Erie Canal.
“It’s like being 12 years old and watching your best friend move to a new city,” he said.