IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Buried Under Flood Waters of the Big Dam…Story of its Construction told by a
Participant in the Work.
Capt. F. A.
the spring of 1871, I left
The work was
laid off in sections or pits, Rock excavation pits, at Price’s Creek and
Ballinger extending to
There were three locks built on this canal, one at Keokuk and one at Price’s Creek and one at Nashville, now called Galland. These locks were constructed of cut stone, which was quarried out across the river at Sonora, Ill. by Patterson and Timberman and loaded onto barges and towed by the steamer Cricket, whose captain was Charles Gillespie, to the stone yards at Nashville and Price’s Creek, where they were cut and were handled by derrick when being put in place on the lock bottom. There was a steam hoisting engine that took care of two derricks, one on each side of the lock. As this work was carried on by government appropriations, sometimes there was delay in getting money to carry on the work. Therefore, it took a number of years to complete the work.
The construction of the canal carried on by appropriations
made by the government under the river and harbor Bill, and the work let on
contract to the lowest bidder. Dull
and Williams were the successful bidders, except once when Kittle and Middleton
got a large contract and had to furnish all new track and equipment with two
locomotives. They constructed a
three-foot gauge, a narrow track.
time when Dull and Williams had the works, there were very few accidents causing
the loss of life. Only one instance
I remember of and that was a man by the nane of Wm. Dugan who was thrown into
the canal and drowned when a car turned over when they were dumping a train of
dirt. The head foreman or walking
boss, Michael Cahill, lost a leg when a number of cars running down a grade
struck a car he was pushing and crushed his knee.
He recovered, and with crutches he continued to work until the job was
three accidents that happened on the railroad.
J. Edgar Thompson dropped a crown sheet when pulling thirty-five dump
cars of dirt up the grade from the dirt pit.
No one was seriously hurt, of which only a few minor burns suffered by
the engineer and fireman. Wallace
Hovey was the engineer, and Henry Leiscaring the fireman.
The next one
was when an engineer by the name of Holbrook for Dull, was backing up with a
train of forty rock cars, jumped the track and backed down the embankment to the
edge of the river. No one was hurt,
and afterwards a track was laid down to the engine and with two locomotives one
pulling up the track and he other one pulling down the track, coupled up to
block and tackle five stone block the dull was pulled up and taken to the
Sandusky shops for repairs.
The last and
biggest wreck when the George Williams, Edward Johnson, engineer, and F. A.
Whitney, fireman, jumped the track, turned over, and landed wheels up in the air
on the river edge. The tank went out
into the water and only one corner of it could be seen.
Like the other accidents, no one was hurt, as the engineer jumped from
the engine when she left the track. The
fireman went with the engine into the river being about swim to shore unhurt.
This accident was caused by the track giving away on one side.
The track had been raised about five hundred feet. The train was moving
about six miles per hour, but the blocking was not strong enough and giving
away, caused the wreck. This engine
was turned back on its wheels and a track built under it and like the Dull,
pulled out and taken to
accident happened, just below Rickey’s station, there was a gang of section
men working. When fireman Whitney
reached the shore, one of the men, an Irishman, by the name of Ward, came up to
him and said “Sure a man born to be hung never drowned.”
Some consolation for a poor wet firman.
and Middleton got the contract, Dull and Williams had taken a contract on the
Mussel shoals canal on the
construction of the old
In a few years
after the canal was in operation it was found there were places where the depth
of water was getting low, caused by sand and mud being washed into the canal
from the Price’s Creek above the middle lock, Lemoile Creek at Sandusky and a
creek at Ballingers just below the guard lock.
This mud was removed by dredge boats, loaded into dump boats and towed
out into the river. The work was
done sometimes by the government and sometimes by contract.
At first the government used the old steamboat Hiram Price, named the No.
4. Then Capt A. J. Whitney had a
contract and used the dredges
Then the government again took up the job of keeping the canal clean, using a big Osgood dredge and the steamer Vixen: the dredging of the canal was a heavy expense, and some of this was taken care of by building a set of sluice gates in the outside embankment at Sandusky and during heavy rains and floods of the Lemoile Creek, the sluice gates were raised and this let a great deal of sand and mud flow out through sluices into the river.
During the life of the canal, a great many packets, tow boats, and raft bots passed through, from both north and south, all passing safely and with little delay. I don’t recall any accident ever happening to a steamboat as the rules governing the canal were so well made by Major M. Meigs, who had charge of the canal. If obeyed there could nothing happen. A call of four blasts of a steamboat whistle called for a lock, which was promptly made ready, and a signal given to enter.
Like the great
dam at Keokuk, the canal was something every one wanted to see, and take a ride
thru the locks and canal. There were
many excursion boats and large packets made the trip and while the boat was
looking through, many of the passengers would get off on the lock wall, visit
the engine room and watch how those great gates could be opened and closed.
The canal made a good winter harbor for boats and quite a fleet of boats
and barges laid there winters at Keokuk. The
canal was constructed for the purpose of getting steamboats over the rapids and
surely was a great help and well patronized.
But this wasn’t all this great canal was used for and in the next issue
will tell of the rafting days.
At the head of
the canal at
During the ten
years, from 1880 to 1890, the rafting business was at its peak.
There were twenty-four raft boats towing rafts to down-river points below
the rapids. When the stage of water
was four feet, they could tow over the rapids one half a raft or about eight
string wide at a trip. The rafts
always had to be divided into two pieces to enable them to pass through the draw
In the year of
1889, Captains R. S. Owen and Sam Speake of Montrose bought the steamer Prescott
to help get the rafts over the rapids. This
was done by the
business growing more and more and the rafts getting deeper and longer, in 1884
Captains R. S. Owens, Sam Speake, Thomas Peel and F. A. Whitney built the
When the water
was at a low stage, both gates at the guard lock stood open.
This was quite convenient as all boats could pass thru without stopping.
On all the
rock piles between
could safely go to the canal and through it day or night.
But all log or lumber rafts cold be handled only in daylight to avoid
danger of breaking up or loosening logs or lumber.
The way to avoid danger of breaking up or loosening logs or lumber.
The way of towing a raft through the canal was done by first landing the
whole raft of sixteen strings wide at Montrose.
The large boat was moved over onto the outside piece of eight string
wide, and the steamer Prescott was fastened across the bow of this eight string
piece. The raft was then divided and
started on its way by the skillful handling over the rapids by pilots Sam
Speake and R. S. Owen. When they
reached the guard lock, the
rafting days through the old canal, Major M. Meigs of Keokuk was in charge.
John Carpenter and James Cody were lock masters at the Keokuk lock, Nick
McKenzie lock master at the middle lock and Capt. Joe Farris was lock master at
the guard lock. These men stood very
high in the esteem of the owners, masters and pilots of the rafts, and men who
used the canal. It was due to their
kindness, service and generosity, and the able assistance they gave that enabled
the lumbermen to get the millions of feet of lumber that was brought down the
As the great
dam at Keokuk was completed and ready to turn on its mighty electrical power,
and when the wickets were closed, the great river above the dam began to rise
and became deeper and deeper until in a few days the locks, sluices, embankment
and walls wee all submerged and out of sight, ever to remain conquered subject
to that great power electricity.
When the grand
old canal was hid underneath the waters of
flowing river between Montrose and Keokuk where the water tumbled and eddied
along over the several chains of rocks, is now a great wide deep lake, and when
during a storm its white-capped waves roll high.
old canal has gone and the rafting days are over, by the great lock at Keokuk
all excursion boats, tow boats or packets can be locked through with safety and
dispatched. Major Meigs still has
charge and his able assistants, Wm. Huele and Tom Harrington manipulate those
great gates, which enable the boats to go on their way.
With the great improvements the government has made on the
This story of
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