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The Legacy of Lock 24

Andy Derby, Chief Lock Operator, Lock 24, Baldwinsville

Captain Dan Wiles, Emita II, Mid-Lakes Navigation Co.

New York State Canal Lock 24, Baldwinsville, NY

Erie Canal Lock 24 is located on the third iteration of the Erie Canal. Completed in 1825, the original Erie Canal was the commercial and information superhighway of its day, facilitating the exchange of goods and ideas between the nation’s interior and the rest of the world. The second, Enlarged Erie, opened in 1862, but was quickly surpassed by year-round railroad transportation service.

Construction of the present New York State Canal System, formerly known as the New York Barge Canal, began in 1905 and was completed in 1918. Initiated under Governor Theodore Roosevelt, the Barge Canal was designed to accommodate 3,000-ton motor-driven barges and reestablish the canal’s economic viability. The new system combined “cut” sections with streams, rivers and lakes that were “canalized” to give them greater carrying capacity. Commercial traffic peaked in 1951. Since that time, traffic along the canal has become almost exclusively recreational.

Today’s New York State Canal System is comprised of the Champlain, Oswego, Cayuga-Seneca, and Erie Canals. The entire system is operated and maintained by New York State Canal Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority. Combined, there are 524 miles of navigable waterway in the New York Canal System, and there are 57 locks scattered throughout the state. They are all approximately 300 feet long and 45 feet wide, but the lift from lock to lock varies considerably. The shortest lock on canal has a lift of only 6 feet. Lock 24 in Baldwinsville has a lift of 11 feet.

Excavation for Lock 24 began in 1908 and finished in 1915. “Most of the major components of this lock are original,” says Captain Dan Wiles of Mid-Lakes Navigation Co., and captain of the Emita II. “There are two reasons why this equipment continues to survive. One, it was engineered well and constructed well, and two, it has received meticulous care in the 100 years of its service. These lock operators are fixing, they’re painting, they’re greasing. They’re maintaining what is, in effect, a working museum.”

Like most modern locks, there are no pumps involved in its operation; instead, gravity shifts the water. When an eastbound boat is in the closed lock chamber, the lock operator releases water to the east side of the lock gate through a system of drains, valves and tunnels. The water in the lock chamber decreases to meet the next section of the canal, which is 11 feet lower than the section directly to the west.

Lock 24 is currently the second busiest lock on the canal.

Andy Derby, Chief Lock Operator, Erie Canal Lock 24

Born and raised in Jordan, NY, Andy is deeply rooted in the Erie Canal. His grandparents grew up in Jordan during its peak as a canal boomtown, and his great-great-great-grandfather, a missionary for the American Bethel Society, proselytized along the canal and published a chronicle of his experience entitled, Five Years on the Erie Canal.

Andy has been an avid boater all of his life. He spent decades restoring and building small, wooden outboard vessels before transitioning to a career with the New York State Canal Corporation. After working first as a seasonal Lock Operator at Lock 27 in Lyons, NY, and then as a permanent employee at Erie Canal Section 6, Andy was hired as the Chief Lock Operator at Lock 24 in Baldwinsville. Andy appreciates the wide range of roles associated with the job: painting, grounds-keeping, running the onsite weather station, and the chance to interact with travelers—from boaters to fellow motorcyclists to pedestrians crossing the bridges into the village—many of whom come from as far as 2000 miles away.

Captain Daniel Wiles, Emita II, Mid-Lakes Navigation

Dan was born in Syracuse NY in 1962, the youngest of five to Harriet and Peter Wiles Sr. He grew up in the little hamlet of Borodino halfway down the east side of Skaneateles Lake. Much of his childhood was spent in, on, under, or next to the water of streams, ponds, puddles, lakes and rivers. Water has always been a significant part of his life.

In 1968, his father, Peter “Skipper” Wiles Sr., founded Mid-Lakes Navigation Company in Skaneateles. The company grew to include two boats on Skaneateles Lake and eventually branched out onto the Erie Canal. Dan’s career on the Canal began aboard the Emita II in 1980, the day after his graduation from high school.

34 years later, Dan has logged over 175,000 miles on the canal system and navigated over 16,000 lockings. He has introduced canalling to 160,000 school children and tens of thousands of adults, given hundreds of informational and educational talks, and presented at the 2006 World Canals Conference in Bethlehem, PA. Dan currently sits on the Board of Directors for the State Council on Waterways (SCOW) and the Canal Society of New York State. He is also a Governor-appointed voting member of the New York State Canal Recreationway Commission. Dan is proud of his 35 seasons on the Erie Canal, continuing the legacy begun by his father of introducing the Canal to the general public.