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A Floating History Of The '18-Wheelers Of Their Day'

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A Floating History Of The '18-Wheelers Of Their Day'

A Floating History Of The '18-Wheelers Of Their Day'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Lois McClure is a replica of an 1862 canal schooner that's also a floating museum. This summer she - that is the canal schooner - is sailing around the Northeast, docking in towns for a history lesson. North Country Public Radio's Sarah Harris climbed on board.

SARAH HARRIS, BYLINE: Tom, can you explain what we're doing?

TOM LARSEN: Hauling out to a mooring and then we'll have the tug boat come along side us where it's deep enough water.

HARRIS: First mate Tom Larsen is a strapping guy with a long ponytail and glasses. He's pulling hand-over-hand on a thick white rope, getting the Lois onto the water for a four-month voyage.


HARRIS: The tugboat ties up to the Lois and we head out on Lake Champlain. Art Cohn, cofounder of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, says canal schooners like the Lois McClure were basically the 18-wheelers of their day. They were sailboats that could also be towed through the canal systems.

ART COHN: These boats were blue collar, work-a-day trucks from their generation.

HARRIS: Canal schooners carried lumber, coal and stone. They'd even bring agricultural products like hay and apples down to New York City. But the railroad industry put a lot of boats out of business. By the 1920s, canal schooners were mostly obsolete and their history was forgotten. But then museum divers found a canal schooner wreck on the bottom of Lake Champlain. They decided to build a replica and take it on tour.

COHN: As a historian, as someone who wants people to engage in their history, the boat was magical in that it provoked that. You know, you walked on board, you were interested. You wanted to know.

HARRIS: Crew member Len Ruth says that says working on the boat makes that history very real.

LEN RUTH: Just feeling what it was like for the people who lived on these boats and a really good way to do that is actually to live on board and do things the way they did as much as you can.

HARRIS: We spend the night on the boat, and the next morning, the crew gets ready for work. It's chilly and pouring rain but no one's really complaining. Up on deck, Len's wearing waders. His raincoat is pulled all the way down over his glasses. He says canal boat sailors from 1862 probably had weather just like this.

RUTH: They would've had to put up with it when it happened just as we do, so in a way we are real mariners.

HARRIS: We chug south to the Champlain Canal.


HARRIS: It's a narrow passage with high concrete walls. The water slowly rises beneath us and the gates swing open.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You guys can go out ahead of us and then once we get out of the lock and start over toward the dock, you can make up on the port bow.

HARRIS: We tie up outside the local history museum. The crew gets ready for visitors, who will learn about a journey not too different than this one. Sarah Harris, NPR News.


SIMON: Thanks, Beach Boys. This is NPR News.

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