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  • Jim Dahlberg's Morris Canal, Circa 1930

    Railmodel Journal, March 2007

    Pages 12,13


    Jim Dahlberg has recreated the Lehigh River Valley on his 21 x 36-foot layout. We'll have a "Layout Tour" of the complete project but this is his model of the once-active coal barge operations along the Morris Canal.  (Lehigh River Valley Layout Tour in the June 2007 Railmodel Journal)

    Image 01 - Loaded boat with crew (usually two, the Captain and the mule boy) getting ready to hitch up the mule team.



    Image 02 - One of the empty canal boats resting at the dock.

    The Morris Canal was constructed staring around 1805, between Phillipsburg and Jersey City,   New Jersey. With Its inclined planes, the canal was a marvel of engineering for its day, which unfortunately was past, being built at the dawn of the railroad age.  In 1871, the Canal Company was purchased by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which had not yet constructed its own rail route across NJ, and was in need of a means of getting its anthracite coal to the New York market. They could have used the CNJ, but railroads are averse to using other railroads' lines to move their traffic (note use of present tense).  A large rail to canal transfer facility was constructed in Phjllipsburg to handle the coal traffic.  The model represents this facility, which was actually used until well into the early 20th century.  In 1890, the canal moved about 550,000 tons of traffic- this is 89-foot boats (scows, hinged in the mjddle so as to be able to go overthe brows of the inclined planes), pulled by horses or mules, carrying 70-75 tons of coal, ore or other cargo.  The trip to Jersey City took 5-6 days. To put this into some context, this tonnage represents about two days' coal tonnage out of the Wyoming Powder River Basin, but remember, this was a different time and place. The boats are accurate models of those used on the canal, constructed of balsa and styrelieover the last 25 years.  The canal is actually a little narrow (that old space constraint).

    Image 03 - Overview of the facility.  The hill in the background represents Mt.Parnassus.  The actual basin was wide enough to turn boats.   Aninbound empty boat (the "Stanhope") is arriving, two loaded boatsare ready to head east. 


    Image 04 - The coal dock and loaded boat 790.  Most of the boats were numbered, and owned by the LV.  In 1910 there were 25-30 LV owned boats, plus an (unknown, but not many) number of boats still operating commercially.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Jim Dahlberg
    • Source Railmodel Journal

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  • John Pestana
    John Pestana Be sure to check out the full layout tour of "Lehigh River Valley" in the June 2007 issue of Railmodel Journal.
    November 2, 2010