Canal Buffs


Canal Buffs Hall of Fame

Ted Findley – Long time president of the Canal Society of Ohio

H. (Ted) Findley was born on January 7, 1899 in Erie PA. He “emigrated” to Ohio in 1917, married the former Viona Englehart in 1924 and moved into her family home, literally on the banks of the Ohio & Erie Canal in Lockport, (now the south side of New Philadelphia). With such close-by inspiration, Ted easily developed an interest, and a passion for the forgotten waterways of his adoptive state. He studied, learned, wrote and “spread the message” of Ohio’s and the Nation’s Canal Era. He became known as the primary expert on Ohio’s Canal history during the 1950’s.
Ted, Lew Richardson from Cleveland and Ted Dettlng from Akron drifted together due, primarily, to their mutual fascination with all things, canal. They became good friends. In the early spring of 1961, the three decided that the time was ripe to form a group, a society, to formally study Ohio’s Canal Era and to collect and pass this information along to the younger people of the State. A meeting in Valley View south of Cleveland drew many, many more people than anticipated and The Canal Society of Ohio was born in October of that year. Ted Findley was the Society’s first president, a position he held until the fall of 1968.
Ted was a well-rounded individual, from his involvement with the mad-cap “Tri-County Explorers League”, a group of men and women in their 50’s who explored caves, rafted rivers and had a great deal of fun in their “second” and “third” childhoods, to his deep involvement with the local boy scouts and the Tuscarawas County Ohio chapter of the Masons.
Ted Findley died on May 26, 1969 after a two year battle with Cancer. At the time of his death he was Historian of The Canal Society of Ohio and engaged in research for an in-depth history of the canal-era in Tuscarawas County with his good friend Bill Tracy.
Ted Findley authored, or was featured in, numerous articles on Ohio’s Canal Era.
There was also a lengthy taped interview with the officers of The Canal Society of Ohio that was broadcast in part over the University of Akron’s radio station during the winter of 1967-68. He ‘backed’ the canal boat replica projects in Canal Fulton and Roscoe that came to fruition shortly after his death. There was never a canal-related project that Ted wasn’t willing to throw his personal; support to. Some of his once voluminous collection now forms the basis of the Canal History Collection at the University of Akron’s Archival Department.
His biggest legacy, however, is in the people, projects and organizations that were touched in some way by T. H. Findley, and by that touch, made stronger, longer lasting, and more fun.

William H. Shank, PE – Author, publisher, and Co-founder and past president of the American Canal Society

William H. Shank was born in Pittsburgh, PA on May 11, 1915. In 1932, he graduated from Camp Hill High School, spent a year at Mercersburg Academy then obtained his Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University in 1937.
Bill comes by his enthusiastic interest in canal lore and history, naturally. His great-great-grandfather, Michael F. Shank, an immigrant German ship’s carpenter, settled in Liverpool, Pennsylvania in 1820 and built some of the first canal boats to navigate the Susquehanna Division Canal. His son, John, operated a canal traveler’s hotel in Liverpool. Wilson, John’s son, worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad when the company still operated canals. Wilson’s son Clyde (Bill’s father) surveyed portions of the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation as a young engineer. Perhaps canals were always in his blood!
In 1937, as an engineering major at Lehigh University, Bill researched the abandoned tunnels of the South Penn Railroad, which had recently been acquired by the state to turn into the Pennsylvania Turnpike, The resulting research paper was deemed ‘best‘, by the professor in charge. Bill later used it as the basis for his book, Vanderbilt’s Folly, A History of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
After college, Bill found an outlet for his historical Interests as a member of various historical societies in Pennsylvania. In the late 1950’s he attended a lecture in Harrisburg on the state’s canals. He became so intrigued by the subject that he began his personal research, becoming more and more interested as he progressed. This research brought him in contact with others in the state who were interested in canal history. In 1964, a number of these interested people formed the Pennsylvania Canal Society. Bill became editor of it‘s quarterly, historical publication – CANAL CURRENTS.
In 1972, Tom Hahn, Bill Shank, and Bill Trout co-founded the American Canal Society. Bill Shank was the publisher of the Society’s quarterly, historical publication AMERICAN CANALS from it’s inception until 1997 and its second editor (1985 -1991). Bill was also the American Canal Society’s second president, serving from 1979 to 1985.
Bill Shank and Tom Hahn established the American Canal and Transportation Center in 1973. This enterprise published and distributed books on transportation history. That joint venture produced more than twenty historical works. Bill Shank has personally, authored: The Amazing Pennsylvania Canals, Vanderbilt’s Folly, Three Hundred Years with the Pennsylvania Traveler, Historic Bridges of Pennsylvania, Great Floods of Pennsylvania, Indian Trails to Superhighways, History of the York-Pullman Automobile, and York County Historic Sites and Tour Guide. Bill co-authored, along with masseurs Mayo, Hahn and Hobbs, Towpaths to Tugboats, a History of Canal Engineering.
Bill’s professional and community titles include: Vice President, Central Region Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers (1971-73); Director, National Society of Professional Engineers (1971-73); President, Lincoln Chapter P.S.P.E. (1964-65); President, York Torch Club (1957-58); President; York-Lancaster Lehigh Club (1961-63); Superintendent, Luther Memorial Sunday School (1950-52); and Director, York Chapter S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. (1970-71). Bill Shank was named “ENGINEER OF THE YEAR” by the Lincoln Chapter, Pennsylvania Society of Engineers in 1977.
Bill Shank loves singing almost as much as he loves engineering and Pennsylvania History (note his affiliation with the York Barber Shoppers – above). He was also a faithful member of his church choir and a member of the local AARP Chorus. Bill has also been a correspondent for his class at Lehigh University. He wrote a class column in 2001 to prepare for their 65th reunion in 2002. Bill moved into his new residence at Autumn House at Powder Mill in York Pennsylvania late in the winter of 2001.
Bill has been a Mentor to many of the “younger” Canal Buffs, including yours truly who ‘met’ Bill via correspondence while in an Ohio hospital bed in 1969. Bill Shank is someone who can be looked up to in this “canal hobby”. Many do.
Bill died January 7, 2007.

Captain Thomas S. Hahn – Author, publisher, and Co-founder and past president of the American Canal Society

Thomas Hahn was born on November 5, 1926 in Topeka Kansas and graduated from Topeka High in June 1944. Tom entered the University of Kansas that fall, but after one semester enlisted in the United States Navy. He sped through numerous courses and training programs, finally emerging as a U.S Naval Officer with a B.A in Psychology and Pre-Med from the University of Texas at Austin in 1948 – first in his graduating class.
Tom quickly made up for his ‘accident’ of being born in the non-canal state of Kansas with his first assignment in Washington D.C. When he wasn’t studying Languages and Psychology for his stints as a Naval Intelligence Officer, he went on National Park Service nature walks, many of which were along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
After a “taste” of civilian life in 1954, Tom reentered the service in 1960 with an assignment to the National Security Agency at Ft Meade, Maryland as a Special Projects Officer. Tom took advantage of the opportunities, joined the C & O Canal Association and the Level Walkers, and began making contact with numerous people in and outside the area who had similar interest in canal history and lore.
The Vietnam War and related assignments caused a hiccough in Tom’s ’Canal Interests’, but the year 1968 found him once again assigned in Washington DC followed by a final tour of duty with the National Security Agency in Ft Meade. Tom returned to the Level Walkers, now as its Chairman and the Founding Editor of it’s newsletter, “Along the Towpath“.
Aware that there was no up-to-date guide to walk the C & O, Tom set about writing what became a series of “TOWPATH GUIDES TO THE CHESAPEAKE & OHIO CANAL”. That the Guides were popular can be attested to by the fact than more than 100,000 of them have been sold.
Tom had became acquainted with Bill Shank, a well-known Pennsylvania Transportation History expert. Both men had had problems finding publishers willing to take on limited-interest, historically oriented books. Tom formed a small company, The American Canal Center, in 1972, to do just that. Tom and Bill saw the advantage in pooling their efforts and The American Canal and Transportation Center was born.
Tom also became acquainted with Virginia canal and river expert, Bill Trout. The two Bills and Tom began corresponding in the late 1960’s. This exchange culminated with Tom‘s suggestion that they consider forming a nationwide canal organization, mainly because none existed and there was a need for one. They met at Tom’s home in Meade Md. In January of1972 and laid the groundwork for the American Canal Society. Tom was Founding President and Editor of the newsletter, Bill Shank as Founding Vice President and Production Editor of the newsletter and Bill Trout as the Founding Secretary/Treasurer and Contributing Editor.
Always a canal ‘enthusiast’, Tom says he became a canal ‘professional’ when he retired from the Navy and was associated with the National Park Service in 1972. He was first the Canal Assistant for the George Washington Memorial Parkway, next Supervisory Ranger of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, then a contract industrial archaeologist for the Denver Service Center on the C & O Canal Research Team.
Tom and his wife moved to Shepherdstown, West Virginia in 1976 and he went on to obtain a second BA (in History), an MA in Social Studies in Education, and an MA in Industrial Archaeology. Tom also obtained a Doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies and took on a variety of Canal Restoration Projects. All this while he remained active in the American Canal Society. Tom Hahn continues to be active in the American Canal Society, in publishing canal books and ’collecting’ substantial Degrees from well-known Universities, plus his life as an active Chief of an Indian Nation.
He stepped down from the ACS presidency in 1978, but remains an active Director and advisor. Tom, in 2002, relinquished his office as the Chairman of the Kansas Delaware Council and is currently the Ceremonial Chief of that tribe.
Tom passed away May 23, 2007.

William E. Trout III, PhD – Author, publisher, and Co-founder and past president of the American Canal Society

William E. Trout III (Bill) was born in Staunton, Virginia on April 21, 1937. He attended Westhampton Junior High School and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High in Richmond, Virginia in 1955. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of Richmond in 1959. He studied Drosophila Genetics under Nobel Prize winner H.J. Muller at Indiana University, receiving an A.M. in Zoology in 1964 and a Ph.D. in Genetics in 1965.
After spending a year at the Biology Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee under a National Institute of Health Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Bill Trout joined the laboratory of Dr. W.D. Kaplan in the Biology Division of the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California. His medical-field publications include pioneering works on the genetic study of nervous diseases, ageing and behavior. Bill Trout III was listed in WHO’S WHO IN THE WEST (1974+) and in AMERICAN MEN AND WOMEN OF SCIENCE.
Bill Trout first became interested in canal history and lore in the 1950s when his boy scout troop made overnight hikes along the James River and Kanawha Canal in Richmond Virginia. Bill remembers asking everyone what the canal was and where it went. Nobody could answer his questions so he began working it out for himself.
Bill used opportunities to canal-look whenever his job took him to a site where there was a canal. He also took off three months each year to return to Virginia and conduct field and archival research. By the mid 1960s Bill Trout had explored a number of canals, poured over archival records and had enough confidence in his knowledge to begin writing historical canal articles.
Bill Trout’s name came to the attention of canal experts Bill Shank and Tom Hahn. Tom later called Bill Trout the “most intrepid” Canal Enthusiast he had ever met. The three began an active correspondence. One of the prime topics was the need they perceived for the formation of a National Canal Society. The three men got together in January of 1972 at Tom’s quarters in Ft Meade. There, a National Canal Society was initiated. Bill Trout became the ACS’s Founding Secretary/Treasurer and Contributing Editor for the Society’s newsletter.
Bill retired temporarily in 1983, “with the intention of working on a book for a year”. Bill’s ’temporary’ retirement became permanent, at which time Bill Shank and Tom Hahn decided that it was Bill Trout’s ’turn’ to take over as president of the ACS, which he did from 1985 to 1997.
Bill Trout is also a co-founder of the Virginia Canal and Navigation Society and a current member of the boards of the American Canal Society and of the Virginia Canals and Navigations Society and a past board member of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.
Bill Trout has had more than two hundred articles and notes on canal archaeology, history, parks and preservation published. He is also the author of The American Canal Guide, an ACS series of regional inventories of America‘s Historic Canal Resources.
His awards include the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s E. Boyd Award for excellence in Historic Preservation, the Historic Petersburg Foundation’s Petersburg Heritage Award, the Preservation Alliance of Virginia’s Katherine Glaize Rockwood Distinguished Preservationist Award, the Council of Virginia Archaeologists’ Virginia Sherman Memorial Award, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia’s Antiquities’ Mary Mason Anderson Williams Award, and the James River Association’s Guardian of the River Award.
Bill Trout and his wife Nancy (both ACS Directors) now live in Virginia where Bill plans many, many more historical publications and projects.

William J. “Captain Bill” McKelvey, Jr. – Author, publisher, canal explorer, international trip leader and past Vice President and Director of the American Canal Society

by S. David Phraner

In what was to be the first of many feature articles about the exploits and achievements of Bill McKelvey, the May 8, 1952, issue of the Bloomfield (NJ) Independent Press said of him, “He is a good example of interest, ingenuity….. and persistence.” At the time, he was 12 years old.
After high school, Bill joined the Army, serving between 1957 and 1960. His tour included Korea and William Beaumont Army Hospital in El Paso, Texas, where he served as an Engineer Assistant. At Upsala College he majored in Business Administration. His interest in safety led him into the insurance field. He completed courses in industrial safety at New York University, and fire protection technology courses at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. As a professional safety specialist and fire inspector, he supervised a staff of seventeen field inspectors. His responsibilities included corporate safety programs and training for major clients of his firm.
The capstone of his career was a stint as Senior Railroad Specialist with CIGNA. In this position, Bill was “forced” to travel around the continent, visiting various railroads, advising them, and evaluating the safety practices of each railroad’s operations and physical plant. He retired as an independent Loss Control Consultant, specializing in railroads, rapid transit, and light rail properties.
As his professional career was advancing, Bill’s avocational enthusiasm was churning. His interest in railroad history and technology expanded into curiosity about other modes of transport. He thus contracted the “canal bug.” Bill McKelvey’s work for the preservation of canals and their history is well known. He became a life member of the American Canal Society and served as a Director and Vice President. He is a Director and life member of the Canal Society of New Jersey and a life member of the Pennsylvania Canal Society.
Bill is perhaps best known in canal and railroad circles as an event coordinator and overseas study tour leader, interpreting canals, railways, and other industrial archeology in England, France, the Netherlands, Wales, and Ireland. He has planned and executed ten successful canal study tours overseas for the Canal Society of New Jersey.
In 1976, Bill was key to the successful return of navigation to the Delaware & Raritan Canal. Sponsored by the Canal Society of New Jersey, a lifeboat disguised as a D&R canal boat and pulled by an outboard motorboat disguised as a 4-mule team, took first place as the best float at the Raritan River Festival. For the Society’s 25th anniversary, Bill helped plan a D&R Canal boat rally, featuring rides on the canal in a vintage mahogany Chris Craft, an authentic New England whaleboat, and several steam launches.
Books. Bill buys, sells, publishes, authors, and, if time permits, reads books. He has authored The Delaware & Raritan Canal: A Photographic History (1975); Champlain to Chesapeake: A Canal Era Pictorial Cruise (1978); and Lehigh Valley Transit Company’s’ Liberty Bell Route (1989). Years ago, he established Canal Captain’s Press to market his and hundreds of other titles in canal and comprehensive transportation history and technology. Recently, Bill endowed the non-profit Friends of the NJ Transportation Heritage Center with the entire assets of his Canal Captain’s Press. This gift included the entire book inventory of the business. If that were not generous enough, Bill volunteers to manage the mail order and counter book sales on behalf of the Heritage Center.
He edits and produces the Transport Heritage newsletter six times a year. Writing most of the articles himself, Bill covers topics from status reports on equipment preservation and archival donations to campaigns in support of the institutional travails of the Heritage Center.
Most of Bill’s current energies are directed at helping to establish a long overdue surface transportation heritage center for the State of New Jersey. Having Bill on board is like trying to contain a tempest in a Morris Canal boat feed box. He is a charter member of Friends of the NJTHC and has served as secretary and then President for multiple terms. His advocacy for the heritage center, (which features an important New Jersey canals component) ranges from interim custodian (and collector) of artifacts and newsletter editor, to organizer and manager of Friends of the Heritage Center annual symposiums, delegate to United (NJ) Railroad Historical Society (the other support group for the Heritage Center) and tireless general worker.

Terry Woods Author, publisher, canal explorer, Director and past President of the American Canal Society, past President of the Canal Society of Ohio

by Larry Turner

Terry has been a canal buddy of mine for over thirty years and is an expert on the canals of Northeastern Ohio and more. He is a graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, followed by a masters degree from the University of Akron in 1972.
He is a great family man, the father of five children and husband to Rosanne since 1966. Terry also baby sits his many grandchildren often, and took care of his ailing parents for many years. Terry is a good guy and still takes time to share his love of canals with anyone who asks for help.
After graduating from Ohio State, Terry received an army commission and went on active duty in 1962. He served at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, and Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was also company commander of the 574th Field Maintenance Company in Landes de Bussac, France. He then worked as an engineer for E.W. Bliss in Canton, OH, and the Timkin Company, also in Canton. He finally spent the rest of his working career with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio with thirty years of service.
Terry’s love affair with canals in Ohio started before 1966 and centered around AL Simpson’s Canton newspaper articles and the historic reconstruction of the St. Helena II in Canal Fulton, OH, a world famous canal boat replica and tourist attraction. Terry started writing “Canal Comments” in 1969 for six different newspapers covering Ohio’s three canal boat replica rides, Canal Fulton (St. Helena II), Roscoe Village (Monticello II), and Piqua (General Harrison). At that time, he wrote over one hundred fifty articles on canal history and had papers published by the Canal History and Technology Symposium at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, in 1982, 1988 , 1994, and 2004.
Terry taught canal history at the University of Akron and Kent State University. He testified before Congressman John Sieberling in his efforts to establish the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area located between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. He also worked on the canal boat building project within the Boston (Ohio) General Store, an 1840’s canal are building restoration within the NRA. Terry also worked with the University of Akron’s Archival Department in setting up our canal history collection.
Terry was editor of Towpaths, the quarterly publication of the Canal Society of Ohio for four years, society historian for seven years, and president for two separate terms. He was chairman of the American Canal Society’s Engineering Design Committee from 1992 to 1997 and ACS president from 1997 to 2002. He is currently chairman or a member of several ACS committees.
Terry appeared as a canal history expert on New Philadelphia, Ohio’s Clear Channel 19 in May of 1982 and on Dayton’s Think TV 16 on October 1, 2005. This latter program was rebroadcast on public TV throughout Northeastern Ohio. He recently starred on Western Reserve PBS on July 13, 2009 on the subject of “Stark County: A history of Stark County” which partly was on canals.
Terry has written books and been on video documentaries. His first book Twenty Five Miles to Nowhere, the story of the Walholding Canal was published by the Roscoe Village Foundation in 1978. A greatly expanded version was released in 1991. The Ohio & Erie Canal, A Glossary of Terms was published by the Kent University Press in 1995. The Ohio & Erie Canal in Stark County was published by the Massillon Museum in 2003. Ohio’s Grand Canal, A Brief History of the Ohio & Erie Canal was published by the Kent State University Press in 2008.
Terry has been a lift long student of the canals of the world.

David F. Ross Editor, American Canals, Director, American Canal Society

by Terry K. Woods

David F. Ross was an enigma, being very good at any job he tackled in this canal hobby of ours, yet very different from the majority of ‘canal buffs’ in his outlook and perspective. I only met Dave face to face on a few occasions, but had many dealings with him through snail-mail letters at first, then e-mails as we both dove into the computer age.
Dave took over as editor of the ACS magazine AMERICAN CANALS in 1992. I was Chairman of the ACS Engineering Design Committee and our committee members were quite active writing articles chronicling the various aspects of U.S. canal engineering. Dave had taken over as Editor from Bill Shank who was an accomplished canal historian, writer, editor and publisher, with a long history of experience and credits. Yet Dave took over and established himself quickly and effortlessly as the best (in my opinion) of a long line of great American Canals editors.
David Ross was efficient, direct, and honest with all ‘his’ writers. I don’t know if he had any formal experience at being an editor or was just naturally good at it. He seemed to know just what to do editing a magazine that depended on authors of a specialized subject and paid nothing. Dave treated all the authors wonderfully, sending long detailed letters of the changes he proposed in the articles. He made many changes in my work, something I have never tolerated before, or since. All his changes made the articles much, much better and I began to trust Dave with any changes he proposed.
He always acknowledged an article when he received it. He made the changes and informed the author of them quickly and, more importantly, got the articles into the magazine quickly. He always sent out a couple of copies of the magazine to each author whose article was in it immediately upon publication – before it was received by the regular membership.
I first came face to face with Dave in Rochester New York in the fall of 1992. A symposium of canal buffs from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain met to hear papers on Navigable Canals. I gave a paper on the Muskingum Improvement – the only still operating canalized river in my state of Ohio. I don’t remember the exact topic of Dave’s paper, but it went against the symposium’s theme of restoring historic canals into navigable waterways. He stated, in fact, that the nation’s old artificial waterways were gone and they should be treated as what they were, historically interesting, dead things. I admired his outspokenness, though I’m not sure many other attendees did.
Dave’s attitude toward historic canals was not expected, for he was a boatman. He owned a $20,000 (in 1990’s money) cabin cruiser that he ‘sailed’ up and down the nation’s waterways. He was also chairman of the ACS Navigable Waterways Committee.
The last time I saw David Ross, he was standing on the stern deck of his beloved 21 foot, twin engine, C-Dory, ROSA PARKS (so named because, like her name-sake, she was “more meddlesome than glamorous”) in a lock of the Chicago Ship Canal in Illinois. I was on a cruise boat as part of the 1998 World Canals Conference, in the same lock with Dave’s craft. He had come up to Illinois from Tennessee through various parts of the Inland waterway.
Dave’s tenure as American Canals Editor came in two parts. He had a disagreement with the publisher’s policies and resigned in 1994. Then, in 1997, a few months before I became the 4th ACS president, our then editor resigned suddenly leaving us without one. The incumbent president threw the “problem’ onto me and I got on the phone to David Ross.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Dave was then in his 70s and enjoying a well deserved retirement from all deadlines. Still, I asked him to be the editor of American Canals once more. He was not too thrilled with the prospect of taking over a very demanding job. I tried to talk him into it by saying that he could work at his own speed, pretty much be his own editor and publisher, and, above all else, have fun with the job. There was a long silence from Dave’s end. Finally he spoke. “I’m not sure I want to have a job that is fun”.
I relented, told him he didn’t have to have fun with the job, he could make it as unfun, as he liked. Dave accepted the position as American Canals editor and was terrific at it until his sudden death in July of 2002.

Frank B. Thomson – Historian, Canal Museum Director

by Terry K. Woods

frank thompson canal boat    F_Thomson3

There is a 65-foot-long, 14½-foot-wide reconstruction of an early Erie Canal Line Boat at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, New York. It was christened at the museum on November 25, 1985. The name emblazoned across the transom of this craft, the Frank Buchanon Thomson, is that of a real person, the first director of the museum, who died on April 2, 1976 at the age of 42.
A native of Albany, New York, Frank Thomson attended high school at Utica Free Academy and was a 1955 graduate of Harvard College. At the time of his death, Frank was working on a doctorate degree in American history at Syracuse University.
After leaving Harvard, Frank was a graduate assistant at Syracuse University. He also worked at the Daniel Parish Witter State Fair Agricultural Museum and the county’s French Fort, Salt Museum, and Pioneer Museum. He later became director of the agricultural museum. In 1962 he was selected to become the first director of what later became known as the Erie Canal Museum. The building selected for this honor was an abandoned state office building that had at one time housed the Syracuse Weigh Lock on the Erie Canal. In a remarkably short time, Frank and his staff turned this one-of-a-kind museum from an empty building with few artifacts into a working museum with an annual attendance estimated at 90,000.
Not long before his death, Frank Thomson had been named an advisor to Alfred State College in audio-visual technology. He and his wife, the former Dorothy Campbell, taught popular mini-courses on canal history and pioneer crafts at University College and Onondaga Community College. Frank was also on the faculty of the Cooperstown summer seminars and was director of Syracuse University’s Summer Institute program, “Canals as Living History.” He was with the local bicentennial coordinating office and was in charge of programs for the planned visit to Syracuse during the summer of 1976 of the State Bicentennial Barge.
Frank Thomson was also considered a prime mover for the program to develop a “living history” state park on the remains of the old canal between Syracuse and Rome. He was named by Governor Rockefeller as secretary to the park study committee. During his short life, Frank was a teacher, historian, fund-raiser, student, and history activist. His last projects involved planning to expand both the canal museum and its activities, the growing Erie Canal Park east of Syracuse, and the local observance of the Bicentennial. Frank Thomson was a busy man.
On the local front, Frank Thomson was a member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, the DeWitt (his hometown) Rotary Club, DeWitt Community Church, Harvard Club of Syracuse, University Club, Century Club, and the Onondaga Gulf and Country Club.
I knew Frank briefly during the mid 1970s. He was Director of the Weigh Lock Museum, as it was known then, and one of the real movers and shakers in what was then a fledging canal history hobby. We corresponded frequently about canal history matters, and he invited me to take part in his “canals as living history” sessions. In one of his letters, Frank mentioned that the Weigh Lock Museum was hosting a “Canals for a Nation” seminar from June 30 through July 11, 1975. One of the day’s sessions was titled, “The Canals of Mid-America.” I was editor of the Canal Society of Ohio’s publication, Towpaths, at that time and, since 1975 was the sesquicentennial of the     beginning of Ohio’s canals, we were putting out a special sesquicentennial edition that contained historical descriptions of all of Ohio’s separately named canals. I was anxious to see how other canal historians treated the history of Ohio’s canal era.
I was scheduled to spend most of the last part of 1975 in Europe for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber             Company, starting up equipment. While I was away, my wife and three children were to stay with my wife’s folks in Pittston, Pa. It was just a short, couple of hours drive from there up I-81 to Syracuse.
I reasoned that Frank certainly couldn’t object to my coming up and sitting in on that one session —free of charge of course—since I was in the area. I broached the idea to Frank in a letter and, much to my surprise, he agreed. He even sent me directions to the museum from Pittston and suggested a time that we should meet.
When I arrived at the museum, Frank personally showed me around. During lunch I asked him who was teaching the course that day. I don’t believe he even missed a bite. He just answered, “You.”
It didn’t turn out that badly. I had finished writing the first two issues of that year’s Towpaths and had much of the research finished for the last two, so I had sufficient information to draw from. Also, the course’s format was informal and intimate and the entire atmosphere easy and relaxed. I enjoyed myself immensely. I also came to have additional respect for Frank Thomson. He had easily out-conned a con man. He had acquired a faculty member for his course for the price of one lunch. Of course, it was a very nice lunch.
I went to Luxembourg shortly after that and was there until after the middle of November. I don’t remember if Frank Thomson and I ever communicated again after I returned or not.
I know I was completely shocked to learn of his sudden death in April 1976, as were all of us in the canal history hobby at that time. Frank had been working at home early in the morning on a speech he was to give at Syracuse University later that evening when he suffered a fatal heart attack. The subject of his talk was some aspect of the Erie Canal, I’m sure. We all lost a good friend and a fine and important historian well before his time.
Frank B. Thomson of New York State is nominated to be a member of the ACS CANAL BUFFS HALL OF FAME by Terry K. Woods, past ACS President and Dr. Daniel Franklin Ward, Director of the Erie Canal Museum of Syracuse New York.
Revised 2/8/13