LOCK READY #Excerpt by James Rada Jr. @JimRada #AmReading #HistFic

Saturday, July 26, 2014

This excerpt provides a view of what life around the Cumberland Basin on the C&O Canal was like.

David stepped into the large warehouse at the southern end of the canal basin in Cumberland. The bay doors had been swung open to allow sunlight to shine on the work going on inside. However, it also meant that the warehouse stayed cold inside. It was nothing more than a very long barn. The difference was that this barn housed canal boats not livestock. The Lewis Boatworks was one of a handful of boat yards in Cumberland that built and repaired canal boats for canallers.

During the summer, some work could be done outdoors if the warehouse had a large enough yard, but there was a greater risk of sabotage from Confederate sympathizers, railroaders or simply hooligans against the exposed canal boats. Confederate raiders or sympathizers had burned the bridge from Cumberland to Ridgeley, West Virginia, and torn up the B&O Railroad track outside of Cumberland early in the war. Because of that, Amos Lewis preferred to construct his boats indoors and them roll them on logs out the warehouse doors that opened onto the Cumberland Basin.

David saw three men hammering boards that would become the roof of the family cabin onto the cabin frame. The boats on the C&O Canal were all roughly the same shape and length in order to fit into the seventy-four lift locks along the canal. The boats were each ninety-two feet long. Most were made of Georgia pine, though new boats being built were understandably made of trees harvested in the north. The largest area on a canal boat was the cargo holds, which made up about eighty percent of the space on a boat. The remaining space was taken up by three cabins; a family cabin and a mule shed sat on opposite ends of the canal boat, and a hay house was located in the middle of the boat.
David could smell creosote and wood and hear men talking and laughing as they worked on the canal boat. He had once been surprised that Cumberland, which was a city in the mountains, had a reputation for shipbuilding, but after working on the canal, he knew it was deserved. From here, the canal boats could be ordered by individual captains or the Consolidated Coal Company and launched at the canal basin to be filled with coal.

Cumberland was an important shipbuilding city because the C&O Canal was the lifeline for getting coal from the mountains of Western Maryland to Washington City. Access to coal was one of the reasons that the first destination for both the C&O Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had been to reach Cumberland.

The C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad both began construction on July 4, 1828; the canal from Washington and the railroad from Baltimore. In the following years, the canal was delayed by an extended legal battle at Point of Rocks, fighting for the right of way and by Mother Nature near Paw Paw, Virginia, to dig the Paw Paw Tunnel. By the time the canal reached Cumberland in 1850, the railroad had already been there and operating for eight years.

The need for coal had allowed both businesses to survive and grow. It was particularly important now because portions of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad kept changing hands between the Confederacy and the Union. Part of the railroad’s right-of-way ran through West Virginia, which still had strong Southern sympathies despite the fact the Unionists had gathered enough support to break West Virginia off from Virginia to form a new Union state. The C&O Canal had proven to be fairly reliable in getting much-needed coal to the capital city, despite the Confederacy’s efforts to stop boating on the canal.

The Civil War split the United States and now it has split the Fitzgerald Family. Although George Fitzgerald has returned from the war, his sister Elizabeth Fitzgerald has chosen to remain in Washington to volunteer as a nurse. The ex-Confederate spy, David Windover, has given up on his dream of being with Alice Fitzgerald and is trying to move on with his life in Cumberland, Md. Alice and her sons continue to haul coal along the 184.5-mile-long C&O Canal. It is dangerous work, though, during war time because the canal runs along the Potomac River and between the North and South. 

Having had to endured death and loss already, Alice wonders whether remaining on the canal is worth the cost. She wants her family reunited and safe, but she can’t reconcile her feelings between David and her dead husband. Her adopted son, Tony, has his own questions that he is trying to answer. He wants to know who he is and if his birth mother ever loved him. As he tries to find out more about his birth mother and father, he stumbles onto a plan by Confederate sympathizers to sabotage the canal and burn dozens of canal boats. 

He enlists David’s help to try and disrupt the plot before it endangers his new family, but first they will have find out who is behind the plot.
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Genre – Historical Fiction
Rating – PG-13
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Website jamesrada.com

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