by Kim Van Sickler
[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: Muleskinner. Here's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]
The tiller on the Ohio canal boats was in the back of the boat (the stern). It connected to the rudder. Depending on which way the tiller was maneuvered impacted the boat's direction. The steersman operated the tiller, and frequently was the captain of the boat. Propulsion happened on the front of the boat, courtesy of a team of mules hitched in tandem and walking next to the canal on the towpath (footpath).
The hardest part of steering the canal boat was locking through. Between Cleveland and Akron alone there were 44 locks. Locks were the water boxes that either filled or emptied of water and allowed the boat to rise to go upstream or lower to go downstream. The locks were much narrower than the rest of the canal, and required good steering skills to enter and exit gracefully, without knocking the boat against the canal's sandstone walls.
In Muleskinner, Cap'n Loomis Sheridan is captain and primary steersman of the Bonnie Lass. His tortured relationship with 12-year-old orphan Clay Muleskinner undergoes an overhaul during the course of the book.