The old boats on the Miami and Erie Canal were powered by mules and steered by a tiller/rudder. The Steersman would straddle the big tiller and use his legs to steer it. It was not only easier physically, but standing allowed him to see the canal better. Our lead interpreter at Providence Metropark, when working as Steersman, often says he's "going to dance with the tiller." Lines like that are too good to waste.


Dance With the Tiller
© 2016 by Russ Franzen
It was just after supper and the passengers danced
On top of the boat they were swayin'.
But the fiddle and squeezebox and dancing all stopped
When the low bridge horn started blowin'
The mules started pulling us out of the lock.
We were headed South to Picqua.
I just started my watch for the overnight shift
Steering the boat with its big, black tiller.
Chorus: The soft swishing of the water as the bow cuts through
I hear the passengers snoring as the old boat moves on.
We hear the mules clomping by the light of the moon
And I'll dance with the tiller til dawn.

In the day light the locks were alive
With farmers selling produce and townsfolk swapping news
But at night it's near empty. All the folks have gone home
With just the lockmaster locking us through.
We were guided from the bow by the lantern's light
As we glided through Ohio in the dark of the night
And I think of my sweetheart waiting back home
As I dance with the tiller til dawn.