Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Erie Canal—Sing it With Me

It is fair to say, the only thing I knew about the Erie Canal before our visit is the song about the mules and … ok, I guess I don’t even know the song. 

George rarely has an opinion about sights he wants to see; but he was very verbal about wanting to visit the Erie Canal and the locks.  He wanted to ride the tour boat through the locks.  Before we left the area we had visited the Erie Canal and the locks several times.  George was so excited; much of my excitement about the area was in watching him.

Construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817 and opened in 1825.  The canal is considered a major engineering marvel—and it is easy to see why.  The canal was to be a water route between New York City, the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes.  It originally was to be about 365 miles long.  It reduced transportation costs by 95%.

Originally there were 83 locks, now only 57 locks are operational. 
The cost to build the Erie Canal was over $7million.  The cost was recuperated within 10 years.  Before the canal was built it took 2 weeks to travel from Albany to Buffalo on the stagecoach; after the canal it took 5 days to make the same trip. 

The canal is a series of locks that are used to raise and lower water vessels from one water level to another.  I had never fully understood the purpose of locks.  I didn’t understand why they just couldn’t dig a ditch to connect 2 bodies of water.  I get it now… when lakes or rivers have elevation differences—the lock becomes the manmade structure that makes this travel possible.  It allows water travel regardless of natural water levels, terrain changes, rapids or bridges.

The lock gates meet at the center.  The gates open and close, which allow boats to enter or leave the lock chamber.

Think of locks as a series of water “steps”—they will function like an elevator for a boat.

The lock chambers trap water, allowing the water to either raise or lower depending on the direction of travel.  The lock gates close to a V using the lock motors; at which point the water pressure closes the gate to create a watertight seal.  Leonardo DaVinci actually designed the lock system that used today.   The locks work primarily through gravity; which is amazing when I think about it.  

The giant lock gates make me think of the gates from the “Jurassic Park” movies.
After taking a lock tour boat ride and visiting the locks several times to watch boats and kayaks go through the locks; I have a better understanding of how they work and George has a renewed love of the engineering of the locks.

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