Boat builders barge in on C&O Canal for annual bash


HANCOCK - A small contingent led a boat trolley across a steel bridge and down the gravel trail of a grassy bank. They carefully positioned the trolley next to the canal and painstaking hoisted the teetering boat into the water.

Atop the boat was a roughly 5-foot-tall frame and painted cardboard replica of a lockkeeper's house, with two banjo-playing stuffed dolls seated on the porch.

The barge was constructed by members of the C&O Volunteer Bike Patrol for Saturday's 6th annual Barge Bash at the C&O Canal in Hancock. The Hancock Chamber of Commerce partnered with the C&O Canal National Historical Park to host the event.

Patrol member Nate Bickford of Ijamsville, Md., said the bike patrol chose the lockkeeper theme for its barge because of its relevance to the canal. The canal used a system of locks so boats could pass to successively lower levels from the mountains to tidewater, Bickford said.


The canals were dug during the late 18th and early 19th centuries to create waterways for commercial trade. They were outpaced by the railroad system and closed in the early 20th century.

"We thought about what lockkeepers might have been doing when they were not operating the dock," Bickford said. "We thought they might have been playing the banjo."

Helen "Dollie" Weaver, 92, of Big Pool, who served as grand marshal of the event, remembers canal days well. Weaver's father, Lloyd Martin, was captain of C&O Canal Boat 66, and her family lived in a house owned by the canal.

Weaver sat at the Barge Bash in the shade of a tree next to the steel bridge, where barges decorated in styles from a military tank to a heavenly children's choir were set afloat on a trek about a quarter-mile upstream.

"Back then, we didn't call them barges. We called them canal boats," Weaver said. "They'd haul coal and different stuff to Georgetown, sometimes they'd stop in Williamsport. Sometimes they'd take relatives - kids, mothers. It was a fun time."

Nine barges plodded one at a time along the canal with varying degrees of fluidity. People who made the barges walked, and in some cases ran, along the bank, pulling the vessels to the finish line by ropes.

The Batmobile barge, sponsored by lawn-care business The Cutting Edge, narrowly edged out the Hancock Volunteer Fire Department's Duck Brigade for the prize of fastest barge. But Duck Brigade, with its beak and flipper-footer captain, walked off with honors for the best use of humor on a barge.

More than 500 people lined the banks of the canal, seeking shade under trees and umbrellas while they watched the barges pass. Event chairwoman Penny Pittman, president of the Hancock Chamber of Commerce, said the 95-degree weather affected attendance.

"I think the heat was definitely a huge deterrent," she said. "This is the smallest crowd ever."

Maryland state Sen. George C. Edwards served as a judge for the Barge Bash.

"This is a very nice event. It brings a lot of people out," Edwards said. "The barges have been nice every year, but this year, you can really see that people have put a lot of thought and work into them."

Barge Bash awards

The following barges received awards Saturday afternoon at the sixth annual Barge Bash at the C&O Canal in Hancock.

· Fastest - The Batmobile, created and sponsored by The Cutting Edge

· Most authentic historic - Home on the Canal, created by C&O Canal Volunteer Bike Patrol and sponsored by 1828 Trail Inn

· Best use of humor - The CNB Express, created and sponsored by Citizens National Bank's Hancock branch

· Cutest - The Heavenly Choir, created by St. Thomas' Episcopal Church Sunday School Choir and sponsored by Wheeler Optical

· Most memorable tow team - The Caboose, created and sponsored by the Hancock Lions Club

· Best organizational theme - Banking on the Barge, created and sponsored by the First National Bank of Greencastle's Hancock branch

· Jimmy Buffett award - The Duck Brigade, created by the Hancock Volunteer Fire Department and sponsored by Pittman's Liquor

· Judge's favorite - Support Our Troops, Honor Our Veterans, created by the Interfaith Service Coalition and sponsored by Weaver's Restaurant

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