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Hancock fest has a lot of pull

June 15, 2003|by TARA REILLY

HANCOCK - Mike Sutphin stood huffing and puffing alongside the C&O Canal in Hancock on Saturday afternoon as two of his "mule" partners rested, their faces red, out of breath.

Sutphin, along with John Shepherd and Matt Powell, volunteered to pull a makeshift miniature barge down a stretch of the canal during Hancock Days Outdoor Festival & Barge Bash 2003.

Hancock Days is in its second year. Saturday was the first time for the Barge Bash, a race that involved nine barges.


Hancock Councilman David Smith said 600 to 700 people turned out for Saturday's event. Hancock Days runs through this afternoon.

Proceeds from the race will be put in a fund for the establishment of a full-size canal barge replica to be displayed in Hancock, according to a written statement from the National Park Service.

The object of the Barge Bash was to see who could use a rope to pull a barge down the canal in the Little Tonoloway area in the fastest time. Winners received a barge replica trophy made of solid walnut.

Known as "mules," those who hauled the barges, appeared to have tougher duty than those who sat on the barge to steer it to the finish line. The mules had to do their work on wet grass and mud.

"It was very hard. I'm too old for it," joked Sutphin, who finished the event with his backside covered in mud from the steady rain that fell during the bash.

"Halfway through it, with that mud and soft ground, it was a workout," he said.

Sutphin, Shepherd and Powell pulled a barge called Lions Express for the Hancock Lions Club. The team posted the second-fastest time at 2 minutes and 25 seconds.

Hancock Boy Scouts Troop 15 finished first by reaching the finish line in just under 1 minute and 57 seconds. Their barge was a canoe with a covering over the top.

Boy Scouts Committee member Dave Reed said the 12-member team met at least six times to build the barge, called Hard Times. He said they also took time to practice their hauling skills.

"We practiced pulling the canoe on the canal," Reed said.

They also switched to a new set of haulers halfway through the run for fresh sets of legs.

"We thought we'd be pretty fast," Reed said. "It was a pretty good showing."

The Boy Scouts team consisted of Quinton Hull, Phillip Corbett, Tim Witte, Zach Bowman, Cody Reed, Bryan Kratz, Tommy Kratz, Josh Finney, Jacob Simon, Brandon Mellott, Tyler Pittman and Brian Stanley. The team was led by Scoutmaster Jim Mortzfeldt.

Not everyone had the luck of the Boy Scouts.

One barge, called The Silver Bullet, capsized just feet from the finish line after one of the barrels keeping it afloat became dislodged. A man steering the barge jumped into the water and made his way safely to shore.

A few barges later, Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy walked along the canal dressed as Noah leading his barge, called Doctor Murphy's Ark. The barge was built like an ark and filled with stuffed animals.

Saturday was the first time since 1924 that a barge has been pulled on the canal in the Little Tonoloway area, according to the National Park Service.

The festival is sponsored by the Hancock Chamber of Commerce, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park and the National Park Service.

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