Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!

Defying Gravity on The Erie Canal


How do you float a barge over a mountain range? That was the challenge in upstate New York in 1817. Navigating a boat over Appalachian Mountains sparked the spirit of American ingenuity, and the Erie Canal was conceived. A waterway from Lake Erie to the Hudson River that would lift a barge 500 feet would provide a way to deliver goods and produce from rural inland farms to the growing metropolitan cities.

Immigrants from Ireland, England and Germany flocked to America, the land of opportunity, to work on the project. They carved the 363-mile-long, and 40-foot-wide canal using picks, shovels and horse carts as it was before the days of motorized equipment.

We recently took a ride on the Erie Canal out of a little town called Lockport, New York. We learned that the canal has a total of 85 locks. A lock is a chamber the boat enters and is locked in by water gates. The lock is then filled with river water, diverted from upstream, until the boat is raised 25 feet. Once the water level in the lock is equal to the water level of the river, the gates part and are opened. It is amazing that no pumps or any kind of machinery are needed to raise the boat. The simple physics of gravity and buoyancy do all the work. Even the weight of the water pressure holds the gates closed until the pressure on each side of the gate is equal. Then they can be easily opened and the boat or barge can continue on its way. As you travel along the canal you can see many churches and homes built with “free stone” which is the material that was excavated during construction of the canal, free to anyone who wanted it.

Barges were the most practical way to move heavy loads from one place to another. They were pulled along the canal by mules at a speed of about 2.3 miles per hour. They covered about 55 miles in a 24 hour period so the trip took about 6 1/2 days. Later the railroad came, and could haul freight at a speedy 30 miles per hour. Competing for business, the railroad even built “up-side-down” railroad trestles over the canal to limit the height of the load a barge could carry. “Low bridge, everybody down” became a familiar call. Ultimately the canal system couldn’t compete and the railroad became the standard way of hauling freight.

Today the Erie Canal is used mostly for recreation and pleasure cruising. People rent houseboats that are replicas of the early canal boats, and cruise for their family vacation. But the canal was one of the key elements in the early commercial success of the United States and an important step in our nation’s expansion west.

(Thanks to my husband John Paladini for this great blog post.)


Author: paladinipotpie

Welcome! My name is Andrena Paladini and this is a blog about family and love and faith and fun. I call it Paladini Potpie because a potpie is like an adventure in a crust. You never know what might come up, but it’s always going to be good! Think of the best potpie you’ve ever eaten…hot flaky crust holding a rich savory sauce and all kinds of pieces of meat and vegetables…and who knows what? As a family, we’ve chosen to live within the parameters of God’s love and protection. This is the crust of our Paladini Potpie. The crust never changes. Within this crust, the savory sauce of family love binds it all together. That is also fairly constant. But beyond the crust and the sauce we can add just about anything! Good ideas come our way and we’ve adopted and adapted them to add to what John calls our treasure box of memories. These stories and ideas from John’s treasure box of memories are the ingredients I’m putting into our Paladini Potpie. (Okay, so this ridiculous mixing of metaphors about treasure boxes and potpies is exactly what I’m talking about. Silly and ungrammatically correct. But both illustrations work… so we’ll mix them together and it’ll be just fine!) John and I have been married for 30 years. Our children have wonderfully doubled in number since David married Amanda, Monica married Dan, and Matthew married Sarah. And the newest little treats that have been added to our potpie are six adorable grandchildren - Ethan, Angelina, Nathan, Audrey, Maleia and Caleb! I hope you’ll subscribe to my Paladini Potpie blog, and keep up with all the fun new ingredients I add. Hopefully you’ll enjoy our stories and ideas, and find something you’ll want to put into your own potpie! Bon appétit!

3 thoughts on “Defying Gravity on The Erie Canal

  1. Love it! 🙂 Well written. It is hilarious that they built their railroad bridges upside down!

  2. Very interesting. Brings back memories of 5th Grade “music” lessons. Each student had a hardback songbook in his or her desk. We’d take them out, Miss Mulvaney would set up the RECORD player, and tell us what page to turn to (or take requests). The music would start, and we’d sing along to songs about Boll Weevils, Working on the Levee, the Erie Canal and whatever else I’m not remembering right now. Often we didn’t really understand the lyrics: like what’s a levee and what sort of work does one do on it? Or why is the bridge low and does “everybody down” mean go down TO it, UNDER it, or sit down beside it? Thanks for answering that one!

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