Barb and I went out for a “simple” Christmas eve dinner at a popular, always open diner just south of the Byway corridor. I was amazed with the number of trucks still trucking on the eve of a major holiday. For each I could not help but wonder where they were going and what their stories were.
I have said before that we tend to romanticize transportation industry and that part of our history without realizing the hard work under unforgiving weather and with unforgiving machinery.
Recently I learned that historically the Erie Canal was open at least a month later than it is today (and opened in the early spring as soon as the ice was out.) I had the honor earlier this month of helping move the tug and barge that make up the North River Tugboat Museum from its fair weather location to a winter location. This move is necessary to get these historic vessels to a section of the canal that is not prone to certain destruction when the ice goes out of the Mohawk during a mid winter or spring thaw.
This move came on Thursday, December 11 during the early stages of the nor’easter that brought much of the northeast to it knees with a power outage that lasted for days with a half to two inches of ice accumulation, downed trees and power lines, and slippery conditions in miles in any direction.
If you can imagine me retired from a 34 year career of pencil pushing out in the bone chilling weather without my cross country skis you can begin to appreciate how pathetic an experience this was. Attached is a picture of the Tug “Francis Turecamo” and the 1930’s Pennsylvania Railroad Barge #399 crashing through two inches of early river ice. To give proper perspective you can see the gray figure of “Junior” on the forward deck of the barge. Junior is several inches taller than I and has a bigger frame than mine.
My role in all this was to catch a land line (a two inch diameter manila? rope) and secure it to the base of a N Y S Canal Corporation flag pole. This is an easy task for a nautical type on a warm summer day. But for me who has never gotten beyond a granny knot and square knot… all I can say is it’s a good thing the crew wasn’t depending on me to save a sinking vessel.
The authenticity of the experience includes the weather, the inflexible, ice encrusted, huge, manila being thrown at me from 20 feet, the lack of nimbleness to wrap a stiff, frozen line around a solid object and the request from a crew man to tie a bowline. [Yes, I know what a bowline is: an ancient but simple knot used to form a fixed loop at the end of a rope.] But I am embarrassed by not knowing how to tie a basic knot.
I don’t think that the Mohawk Towpath Byway or the North River Tugboat Museum can package this type of experience as authentic to the market place. A large sector of the population would not find this type of experience appealing. And if we packaged it would it still be authentic?
What we can do, however, is provide the opportunities for the public to build their own authentic experience. Individually we can’t do this alone. But if each of our member municipalities, each of our businesses along the Byway, each of our museums and cultural resources, and each of our agricultural concerns work together we can provide a destination that offers residents and visitors opportunities for unique and memorable experiences of their own.