The Red Mill Inn in the News
After 100 years, Lock 24 in Baldwinsville is still lifting, lowering boats
“Lock 24; this is Andy.”
The chief of Lock 24 in Baldwinsville is on the job one morning last week. Andy Derby is answering the radio call, piped into a public address system outside the lock house. It turns out to be a “ghost ship,” in the chief’s words, a call that doesn’t respond to his reply and doesn’t call back.
|Frank OrdoÃ±ez / The Post-Standard
Lock master Andy Derby walks out of the control room at Lock 24 in Baldwinsville. The lock is marking its 100th year in service this summer. It was the first lock to open in the New York State Barge Canal.
He’s got better things to do; a Coast Guard Auxiliary ship
out of Ithaca is waiting to be ‘’locked” at the western gates.
Andy steps into the control stand, a small building next to the gates sometimes called a “dog house” and takes off a cover that protects the control panel. The brass knobs, freshly buffed for an inspection this week, are protected from the operator’s oily hands by baby socks.
Andy turns one and water flows into the lock. Water runs out of a tunnel hidden in the lock wall. When the big concrete basin is full enough to float a boat in the lock, he shuts off the water and moves a knob to open the gates.
The huge iron gates part at Andy’s command of the switches and slowly swing open with noisy creaks. The Coast Guard craft chugs into the lock and ties up to the side. Then Andy walks along the edge of the lock to a second control stand at the eastern end. He opens the gate.
It takes about 15 minutes.
Lock 24 notes its 100th anniversary this year as the first of 35 in the system managed by the New York State Canal Corp., a subsidiary of the Thruway Authority. Civic celebrations are planned in Baldwinsville throughout the summer.
Andy’s been chief at Baldwinsville since 2008. He signed onto the canal system in 2004 and worked four years at May’s Point, west of Baldwinsville, after passing a Civil Service exam. Lock personnel are Civil Service these days; the haphazard hiring of the Erie Canal era is gone, according to Andy. He commutes from his home in Cato. Andy grew up on a farm in Jordan.
Traffic on the Barge Canal is very different from the Erie days. There are few commercial boats on the waterway, a system stretching 525 miles from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The Barge was built between 1905 and 1918; it avoids major cities (like Syracuse) and uses rivers, which the old Erie did not. Baldwinsville’s lock was good to go in 1910; initially the gates were swung by horses and block and tackle.
The Barge Canal is open May 1 until Nov. 15, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, in the summer.
Andy gets to work about 6:30 a.m. He has an assistant who works when he doesn’t, and a seasonal worker. When he’s on duty, “it’s pretty much of a one-man show,” he explains. Andy expects pleasure-boating to be brisk on the canal this season if the weather’s good; it wasn’t last summer and there was a recession. Traffic saw “quite a bump” on this past Memorial Day Weekend when he locked 172 boats, compared to 94 last year.
Boats are “locked on demand” as they approach Lock 24.
|Courtesy Sue Ellen McManus, Greater Baldwinsville
Workers build Lock 24 in Baldwinsville.
This photo was taken Aug. 24, 1909. Mercer Mill is at right.
Andy works out of a small lock house that’s right next to Syracuse Street (Route 48), one of Baldwinsville’s main drags. A bridge carries us over the canal and its companion, the Seneca River, where rapids are used to generate power for two plants. The lock house once rested on stilts, when Mercer’s Mill (now Red Mill Inn) was in business and a flue ran under the building.
It takes about a million gallons of water to “lock” a boat.
The water in the Barge flows out of a system of reservoirs
that reaches into the Adirondacks but are as close as Jamesville.
Andy says “the most interesting part of the job is the water;
it’s a very complicated thing.” Among other benefits, the
controlled water in the canal creates waterfront real estate
along the way.
Andy has a modest part in the system. If he’s called by a property owner on Cross Lake, whose dock is flooded, he might be able to reduce the flow after getting permission from the state hydrologist (Howard Goebel, who works for the canal corporation) in Albany. He got such a help call from the nearby power plant during my visit the other day, which he bucked to Albany.
Andy and his crew collect snow in the winter and measure water levels in good weather, to fill the data bank in Albany.
The lock chief showed me the gates across the way along the river where the water flow is controlled. It’s open to six-feet right now, accommodating water from last weekend’s heavy rains.
Andy explains that the Barge Canal is part of a “colossal watershed” that includes the Oswego, Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain and Erie Canals. Water feeds to the Oswego River, and into Lake Ontario. The so-called Oswego River Basin covers 5,100 miles. That’s why Andy can say “there’s more to the job than locking boats; it’s a system.”
He sees the lock chief as “the face of this entity” in the village. He has to watch over traffic onto Paper Mill Island, next door, where a series of concerts are held through the summer. He may have to rescue a boater who falls into the lock (grab those white ropes), help a boat that “dies in the lock” or sell a canal pass to a boater.
The lock is all-electric, powered by 240 volts of direct current, which is converted into what Andy calls “brute power” by a rectifier in the lock house. The gates rumble mightily when they open.