HALFMOON — Nothing doesn’t say “pleasure boating” like freezing temperatures, cold wind and sloppy wet snow, but boating season is coming up quickly.
The state canals will open May 20, and the men and women who run the 524-mile system are working to get it ready for opening day.
The cleanup and fresh coat of paint here and there are pretty straightforward, but supply chain problems take on new meaning when it comes time to replace parts designed more than a century ago. Most pieces are custom-fabricated in-house and installed by staff.
Once every decade or so at each lock, the process becomes much more involved, with the entire mechanism drained, inspected and rebuilt.
This winter, Champlain Canal Lock C–2 in Halfmoon was one of nine locks under the magnifying glass. The project is nearing completion and on track to be well under budget at $1.15 million total cost.
[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”42″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]State Canal Corporation maintenance engineer Aaron Mattoon led a tour of the worksite Wednesday and explained what is being done:
- Removal of piles of grit, gravel and assorted debris that has accumulated in the 330-foot lock chamber over 10 years.
- Installation of new oak timbers and seal strips on the massive doors that hold water in (and keep water out of) the lock chamber.
- Replacement of the trash racks that keep flotsam out of the water tunnels.
- Rehabilitation of the valves and counterweights that open and close the tunnels, and drain or fill the lock respectively with 2 million gallons of water.
- Touchups on the concrete where needed, particularly where water comes roaring through at more than 100,000 gallons a minute.
“All the valves come up and out and go to Waterford, our central shop for the whole canal system,” Mattoon said.
“They take them into the shop, they pluck the wheels off, they put new bearings into the wheels, they’ll blast them, they’ll repaint them, if anything’s broken they’ll repair it.”
Lock C-2 is unique, in that it’s the only one of the 57 locks systemwide on an island. The turning radius off the bridge is so tight that the workers were barely able to get their crane into place for the rebuild this winter.
Lock C-2 also has the original direct-current operating mechanism built by General Electric in 1910, and the powerhouse contains hydroelectric generators from the early 1900s that still can power the lock valves and gate, if needed. It’s all polished to a shine, like a museum piece, but it’s working infrastructure, as well.
At once, Lock C-2 displays the strengths and shortcomings — pride and age — of a century-old system.
Chief Lock Operator Rodney Haley has taken meticulous care of it for 21 years, but he’s the only one left who knows all the secrets of the electrical system built in the era of Edison and Steinmetz.
And he’s not far from retirement.
So as the Canal Corp. renews its physical infrastructure, Mattoon said, it has to be sure to renew the institutional knowledge behind it.
“We do have a new operator that we have specifically chosen for this lock, given his aptitude and Rodney’s prediction that this kid is the one, the mentee to carry the torch,” Mattoon said.
Haley said: “This is the only fully operational powerhouse left in the state. The goal is once we reajdust the water wheels to run it maybe once a month all summer, all day.
“The problem is, right now you’re looking at the only guy who knows how to fire them up and run them. … I’ll pass everything on and when I leave here, in maybe three years, there’ll be someone to take over.”
Mattoon hopes Haley’s sense of stewardship will carry forward to his replacement along with the technical skills.
“We do well when we have pride in these employees, and it shows,” he said.
During the shortened 2020 season, a total of 569 recreational boats transited Lock C-2. The number rebounded to 839 in 2021 and the Canal Corp. is projecting a significant increase in boater traffic this year, due to pent-up demand and increased interest in recreation near home.