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.]
During the Ohio Canal era (1825-1913) boys were trained young to guide the mules along the towpath trail running from Cleveland (Lake Erie) to Portsmouth, a distance of more than 300 miles. Not all freighters traveled that distance. Many canal boats routinely worked smaller segments of the canal, like my muleskinner Clay, who traveled from Cleveland to Akron and back again, the boat he worked for carrying finished goods south and raw materials north.
Many muleskinners were teenage boys. They learned the trade early, before they hit their double digits. Clay started helping with the mules when he was six and by the time he was twelve had a number of years of full-time mule driving under his belt.
All that hard work at such a young age could age a boy quickly. If he even survived at all.