Our friends Tom and Patty Burkett have this great Off the Beaten Path discovery about bygone life on Chilo, Ohio along the beautiful Ohio River Scenic Byway.
Lock up, lock down—these are phrases we’re all familiar with. Two or three generations ago they were familiar, too, but often meant something entirely different.
That was the time period when lots of people and goods moved across and around the eastern part of the USA on canals.
To listen to their report as delivered on the RV Podcast, click the player below. They appear about 44:10 in. Their written report appears below.
Life along the Locks – Canals and River Traffic
Most canals have one end higher than the other and though they may move imperceptibly slowly, they wouldn’t be navigable for two-way traffic were it not for locks. In addition to dealing with elevation changes, locks sometimes helped navigators conquer the occasional rapids or other difficult terrains.
How River Locks work
To understand how locks work, there’s no better place than the Cuyahoga National Park in northeastern Ohio, where there are detailed models in the visitor centers, and you can actually operate the real lock just outside the front door.
For a boatside view, paddle your canoe or kayak along the Erie Canal in New York and ask the keeper to lock you through one of the fifty-plus locks along the way. For a special treat, either to boat or to watch, stop in Lockport, New York where the original flight of five stepped locks still operates next to a more modern barge lock.
If you’ve been to the Soo Locks in Michigan or the Eisenhower Lock in New York, you may have seen huge oceangoing ships moving in and out of them, sometimes with just inches to spare along the sides.
Big inland rivers, like the Ohio, see mostly barge traffic, and though the barges aren’t as large as those big container ships, they’re still impressive. Most of the dangerous to operate wicket locks have been replaced, but you can watch a video of one being closed.
Lock keepers had an interesting life
They were tied, necessarily, to their locks, where a boat might come along at any time and ask for service. At the same time, they spent the long minutes (or hours) waiting for the lock to cycle in conversation with the ship captains who had lots of stories about far off exotic places.
Stan Rogers, the great Canadian songwriter, captured the dichotomy movingly in a song.
The lock at Chilo along the Ohio River Scenic Byway
When you travel the beautiful Ohio River Scenic Byway, you’ll pass through a little town called Chilo, It’s the only settlement in a fairly large geographic area with no big towns and no restaurants.
The church there has a pizza night a couple of times a month and folks travel from miles around for dinner out and a chance to socialize.
At any rate, Chilo was for many years home to Lock 34.
The lock, a wicket lock, had to be regularly serviced by divers who descended into the river wearing outfits that looked like something from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The Chilo Lock 34 Museum
The old lock building is now a museum with three floors of nicely curated displays about river life and history.
Just outside the museum is a concrete stairway going down into the river, marked with depths along one side. It’s easy to imagine one of those suited divers descending into the river.
Easy, too, to imagine what it might have been like for that apocryphal diver who walked down them one stormy spring day and became untethered from his air and safety lines. Legend says you can see his helmet light pass by the bottom of the stairs on a still Spring night.
Overnight parking is not permitted at the Lock 34 park, except by permission.
We weren’t intending to stay the night, so we didn’t ask, but our experience in all these river towns is that if you simply ask a police officer or a business owner where you might spend the night, you’ll be directed to a safe and pleasant spot, often on the river, where you can watch for mysterious underwater lights, out here off the beaten path.
Looking for more awesome places to visit in your RV? Try the Adirondacks!
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Although it’s not a “National” Park, the Adirondack Park is immense. It’s greater in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Parks combined.
Created by New York in 1892, it is a constitutionally protected “Forever Wild” area and contains 85% of all wilderness in the eastern United States. Of the Adirondack Park’s 6 million acres, 2.6 million acres are owned by New York State. The remaining 3.4 million acres are privately owned.
As such, the Adirondack Region is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. It is also home to 105 towns and villages. There is often a misperception that the Adirondack Park is a national or state park, yet the region’s mix of public and private land allows for conservation and civilization to thrive.
There are about 3,000 beautiful clean lakes in the region, surrounded by lush forests and dozens of small charming towns to visit. To the south and west, the Finger Lakes region and wine country also beckon.
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