Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Youth

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere'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.


  1. I am enjoying this series, and I mentioned it as a good example in a seminar on blogging I attended last weekend.

    1. Awww. Thanks, Ann! Glad you are enjoying it and thanks for the mention!

  2. Something to be said for that work ethic though.

  3. They grew up so much faster in those days, often from necessity.

  4. To me this speaks about child labor laws--and how necessary they were. It's amazing how life has changed. ANd yes, agree with Alex. WOrk ethic was in their bones though too.

  5. Hi Kim - Clay must have just done what every boy did in those days .. some form of work on the land, for his family or here driving his boat - I imagine the history about the muleskinners is a history about the river, and trade development .. let alone his scuffles with skiving bosses ...

    I've enjoyed the snippets I've seen about Clay .. cheers Hilary

  6. Muleskinner is such a great word! :) Very interesting.