The Boat on the Brink

The Iron Scow

At the brink of Niagara Falls there is a boat that has been there since 1918. Going to Niagara Falls and seeing first hand the power of the water moving towards the Falls you have to wonder, how after all this time is it still there? How did it get there? What is its story?

The History

The boat is actually what they call an iron scow that was being used to dredge the river about a mile from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls towed by a tugboat. In August of 1918 two men, Gustav Loftberg and James Harris were working the on the iron scow. When they started out that morning I am sure they did not know what a harrowing day it would be, which would end in one of the greatest rescues in the history of the Falls.

As they were dredging, the scow broke loose from the tugboat and the iron scow headed towards the Falls. Now a mile seems quite far but on a rushing river reaching speeds up to 109 kmph (68 mph) it does not take long to traverse that course. I cannot image the terror of watching the brink of a 156 meter (495 foot) fall into a raging river fast approaching. Thinking quickly the men opened the bottom hatches of the scow, filling it with water, slowing it and jamming it against the rocks less than 600 meters (1968 feet) from the brink and 200 meters (656 feet) from the Canadian shoreline. For the moment they were safe, but how were they going to get them off the scow? Remember it is 1918 and they did not have the technology we have today. What happened next was a combination of bravery and ingenuity.

The Rescue

Shore is so close but so far

Directly on shore from the trapped men is the powerhouse which turns that rushing water into power. What us Canadians call Hydro. The rescue effort would take a combination of police, fire rescue, the powerhouse employees and even the US Coastguard.

The US Coastgaurd provided a lifeline cannon which they would shoot a lifeline from the top of the powerhouse to the scow. A heavier line attached to the lifeline would be attached to the lifeline so the men could move along the line bringing them back to shore. The rescue began at 9:30 at night and as they began to send a breeches buoy, which is a canvas sling the men could sit in and pull themselves along the line to shore, but to the dismay of the rescuers, the men and the crowd that had gathered it stopped half way. The ropes had become tangled. By this time darkness had fallen. In the wee hours of the morning a gentleman named William “Red” Hill Sr offered to go out in the sling and untangle the lines. A decorated hero who had just returned from WWI, he was also the most knowledgeable man in Niagara when it came to the river. Using a search beam to light his way he moved out to where the the ropes had become entangled. Not able to untangle them in the dark, he went back out a daybreak and successfully untangled the lines.

By 8:50 am James Harris reached shore followed by Gustav. I am sure that was a sigh of relief for both men who had spent a harrowing night at the brink of the Falls.

It was decided that the boat was in too dangerous of a position to recover it. So it has sat, at the brink for over 100 years. Holding on to the rocks below, almost like for dear life.

The End is Near

The Iron Scow today

Until an unusually rough storm on Halloween night in 2019 that boat has not moved. Strong winds raised the water in Lake Erie to record levels which in turn raised the amount of water along the river. Lifting the deteriorating scow from it’s rock perch pushing it closer to the edge. In April of 2022 the scow actually broke into three pieces.

How much longer can she hold on?? It will be strange for me to look over the river and not see it after it falls. If I am lucky maybe I will be there when it does. A piece of history litterly going over the edge.

Closer to the brink. When will it fall???

If you are in Niagara make sure you stop to take a look before it is gone.

Thanks for coming along on my Chipmunk Adventure. See you next week.


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