Friday, August 9, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Whatchamacallit


Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt features amazing contraptions.  Last week when I prepared my Sepia Saturday post, I noticed the contraption in this photo:

Helen Killeen Parker boat trip about 1919-21
What is this contraption?  It has a gear, a crank, a hose?  maybe a gate??

In the same batch of photos, apparently taken the same day sometime between 1919 and 1921, is this one that appears to be either the same contraption from a different angle or a similar one perhaps at the opposite end of the ramp. 


Helen Killeen Parker boat trip about 1919-21


What function this contraption performs is a mystery to me, but an alert fellow-Sepian last week asked if it controls the locks on a canal.  If so, then my guess is this group of friends cruised through the Deep Creek Locks into the Dismal Swamp, which forms part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

Hoping to confirm this theory, I went in search of historic photos of the Deep Creek Locks.   While I found nothing with which to compare this contraption, I did find lots of photos of canal boats, also known as narrowboats, which look similar to the one my great aunt Helen Killeen Parker and her friends rode on.

Canal Boat in photo collection of Helen Killeen Parker 1919-1921
Notice the flat top common among
canal boats and narrowboats. 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Image from Wikimedia Commons


































Plus, I found this YouTube video of a modern-day boater at the Deep Creek Locks.



Another YouTube video offers a good view of the gear and crank of a canal lock, albeit smaller than the one in Helen's photo, enough to convince me that's what the contraption was. It's a long video, but the opening minute or two will make it clear.  




Have we solved the mystery of this whatchamacallit?  Maybe.  Surely the boat is a canal boat.  Virginia does not boast many canals, and Helen didn’t venture far from home if her photos can be trusted.  Between 1913 and 1929, the Dismal Swamp had fallen out of favor as a route for commercial traffic leaving it safe and relatively empty for pleasure boaters such as Helen and her friends. 

Apparently canal boats are still common in many parts of Europe, so I shouldn’t be surprised that my fellow-Sepian recognized the working mechanism of a canal lock. 


For more whatchamacallits, do-hickeys, thingamabobs, and amazing contraptions, please visit Sepia Saturday.

47 comments:

  1. I've travelled by narrow boat on canals in the English Midlands, and went through many locks that have to have the gates raised with similar contraptions.

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    1. After watching that video, I'd really like to ride a narrowboat down a canal.

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  2. After looking at the first pictures in sepia and black and white I was shocked at how your colour photographers jumped out at me, it makes it so alive !
    Jackie Payne
    Scrapbangwallop

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    1. Funny because I have the same reaction looking at my own blog!

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  3. Those are some serious gears on the contraption. Your Aunt Helen would not want to get her skirt too close when the gears were turning, else she would be skirtless. Great photos and variation on a theme. I wished my gggrantparents had photos of their trek through the Erie Canal. Thanks again.

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    1. Serious indeed, especially compared to the little ones in the video.

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  4. What an interesting post! I watched the second video all the way through - partly for watching what was going on, & partly for simply listening to the voices. We native Californians have no accent or brogue or any interesting feature to our voices whatsoever. So boring!

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    1. I have a friend in Georgia who recently visited England, Scotland, and Wales. She was surprised by the locals who commented on her accent because she thinks she doesn't have one.

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  5. Wendy, my first thought when I saw the top picture was that it had to do with a small drawbridge or something of that sort. My eyes played tricks on me, trying to discern that gate behind the people--it looked as if it were parallel sides to a foot bridge. Knowing it more likely was related to a canal boat operation makes more sense.

    I remember traveling down a canal boat in central Ohio--a reconstructed route done in association with a museum or historical society--and noticing how peaceful and quiet the ride was. Certainly it was a different style--and pace--of life.

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    1. You think you were confused - the first time I looked at the picture, I thought I was looking at an abandoned railroad or something, until I noticed the accompanying photos with the boat.

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  6. I've always wanted to do the trip on the Erie Canal, Wendy -- moving through all those old locks would be such fun! Great post...

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    1. I never thought much about the importance of our local canal, maybe because it doesn't seem as famous as the Panama, Suez, or Eerie. But I'm thinking a trip through a canal would be quite something.

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  7. Your old sepias are great. When I went onboard a canal boat in England I was surprised at how roomy it was.

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    1. They must be like campers - they are always a surprise. I think the one in the second video looks quite charming.

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  8. It sounds like you might have solved the mystery of the contraption in your great aunt Helen's photo. I love the second shot with the close up of the cogs and that interesting dress.

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    1. Striped skirts must have been quite popular. I have photos of college girls in striped skirts from my great aunts on my other side of the family, roughly same time period.

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  9. Interesting. My first thought was for a ferry that was winched to and fro across the river where there was no bridge. They were relatively common in the past. But there would have to be a similar landing on the other side. The cables went across under the water.

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    1. There is a river in Virginia that has such a ferry with under-water cables. I went across a few years ago -- that was a first for me.

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  10. Very cool photos! I do believe you have solved it once again!

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  11. Hoorah!! Thanks for following that up and satiating my curiosity.

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    1. You put me on to it! So THANK-YOU!

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  12. A great title for this week's theme, backed up by interesting photos and stories. I like seeing canal boats, but have never quite got the hang of how the lock system worked.

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    1. I've seen documentaries of the Panama Canal, but the workings make more sense on the small scale like in the second video.

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  13. We have loads of canals around our way & yes,you could well be right .......although our whatchamacallits are called thingamejigs :)

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    1. I was amazed at how common canals are after my Google tour. Such a sheltered life I lead.

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  14. I have never seen a canal, so I wouldn't have recognized what the contraption was either.

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  15. I do hope it was a canal, it suits the whatchamacallit. I love canals and although I've had rides on the narrowboats on the canals near where I used to live, I had a hankering for a whole week in one. I rather fancy the slow pace of life - although I think there's a lot of work to be done with whatchamacallits.

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    1. The second video makes a trip on a narrowboat seem fun and full of adventure. But now I wonder, are the canals all one way? That was such a skinny one that until the canal opens up, there would be no passing another boat.

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  16. Yes, it looks like a lock paddle to me. I spent a lot of my time in my youth on the canals of northern England and I have often wound these paddle gear wheels up and down. Great pictures.

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    1. After watching the video, I can now see how that gate worked.

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  17. The Dismal Swamp. Sounds like a perfect setting for a murder story.

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    1. Oh I'm sure. The Dismal Swamp is full of stories from the days when it was an escape route and hideout for runaway slaves.

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  18. Another great example of how a photo prompt provokes more research into unexpected stories. You should take a trip down the intracoastal waterway/canal one day. It's very unlike the rivers, bays, and ocean around Hampton Roads, and very peaceful. If you search on eBay for "Dismal Swamp" postcards, you will find some vintage ones that resemble your photos. I bet the lock might be in one too.

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    1. Yes, I've been forced to get quite the education! Fun for me, anyway.

      I think a trip down the canal sounds SOMEWHAT delightful. I'm not much for boats although I'm quite happy on a pontoon - nice flat bottom.

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  19. It looks a lot like some of the old locks along the Murray River to me too, but also has similarities to some of the old weirs that were up in the Wimmera of Victoria.
    And not a Jollet Clamp in site :)

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    1. HA -- nope, no Jollett Clamp. Alan is not going to be stymied by his own prompt!

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  20. I ended up watching the entire video, it was fascinating!

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    1. Yes, I thought so too. It was fun seeing that boat slowly drop below the level of the land around the canal.

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  21. Nice that you clarified this enigma.
    Well done!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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  22. It just had to be a lock on a canal; I've seen many similar in action. Great pictures of the whatchamacllit - a superb name for a contraption - it would work for Alan's.

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    1. It is indeed the right name for Alan's contraption.

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  23. My first thought was that it was for a boat slip. Well that's what we call it in Australia. Every year my father had to bring the boat up on the slip for painting and removal of barnacles. The winches looked similar to this.

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