The Erie – Duck Down

[even the mule knows to duck]

Sometime in the late 1980s Barb and I renewed

our interest in bicycle riding. One thing led to another – strength, stamina, staying together – and we eventually bought a tandem bike – a bicycle built for two. I sat up front which made me the Captain. Barb rode behind which made her the Rear Admiral. With this new machine came a series of serious learning experiences, Those experiences are probably best left for other stories. The main thrust of this post is one of our travel quests.

A book by William Least Heat Moon, River Horse, introduced me to tow paths. Moon’s quest was an inland watercourse from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s not that he recommended such a trip on a bike. It was his comment of a bicycle in a single paragraph.

He was on the Erie Canal motoring westward. Progress was slow, waiting for locks to allow passage and other obstacles that have slipped my mind. These delays allowed him to gaze about and consider his situation. One thing that seemed to bother him was a lone bicycle rider pedaling along the tow path. Many times the bicycle passed him by. If the shores of the Pacific was this cyclist destination Moon feared he would most certainly lose the race.

As a result of this paragraph we set our sites on pedaling the Erie Canal. And how I wish we could have pulled it off. But obstacles also blocked our progress – not slowing us down, but preventing us from going at all. My yearn for this adventure caused me to conduct a mountain of Erie research. The history, politics, financing, and effort making Clinton’s Ditch a reality was mind-boggling.

In subsequent posts I shall address some of the numerous aspects I found worthy of passing along.

In this post, however, I’ve included a song written about the Erie:

The Erie Canal Song Lyrics

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way we know
From Albany to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we’re coming to a town
And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal

We’d better look ’round for a job old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
‘Cause you bet your life I’d never part with Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Git up there mule, here comes a lock
We’ll make Rome ’bout six o’clock
One more trip and back we’ll go
Right back home to Buffalo


Oh, where would I be if I lost my pal?
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
Oh, I’d like to see a mule as good as Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
A friend of mine once got her sore
Now he’s got a busted jaw,
‘Cause she let fly with her iron toe,
And kicked him in to Buffalo.


Don’t have to call when I want my Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She trots from her stall like a good old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
I eat my meals with Sal each day
I eat beef and she eats hay
And she ain’t so slow if you want to know
She put the “Buff” in Buffalo


Author Information

Thomas S. Allen (1876-1919) was an early Tin Pan Alley composer with many popular songs not related to the canal life. His first major hit was Any Rags in 1903, only two years before that of the Erie Canal Song.