Jul 5, 2007
John Henry is one of several larger-than-life American heroes associated with specific occupations, like Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Old Stormalong and Febold Feboldson. But the incident depicted in the many versions of the John Henry ballad actually may have occurred in some fashion. There's just no way to know when, where, how and wherefore. But it's nice to believe there's some to truth to this parable about people being stronger than the machines they create. One reason it's so difficult to trace the mists of myth is that John Henry is a common name, and it appears to have been especially common among African-Americans working on the railroads. According to one version of the tale our hero was a former slave, and in another version, he was a prisoner rented out as a laborer. The town of Leeds, Alabama claims to be the site of the famous episode, but so does Tackett, West Virginia, which even has erected a statue of the most famous hammer-wielder since Thor. There's also more than one Big Bend Tunnel; but there's only one C&O Railroad.
There's also one C&O Canal. Or at least there was. Well, the canal's still there, but it's no longer canaling. Begun on July 4, 1824, the canal was planned to extend all the way from D.C. to Ohio (thus the name Chesapeake and Ohio Canal) but was halted at Cumberland, MD. During the period of operation, this shallow waterway ferried coal, grain and other freight on boats pulled by mules. Crews working on these boats sometimes brought their families along on these slow journeys, making them the 19th century equivalent of RV families.
Today, the canal, is a national park, and it's paralleled by a bicycle path 184 miles long that we've been wanting to trek on out Treks for a long time. With a week off during our busy summer schedule (because of, appropriately, the Fourth of July) and with Zephyr off in North Carolina again, Dennis and Kimberly decided this was the time to do it, even though it means we have to alternate days, and thus each only do half the route, son one person can drive the RV along too.
But wait! We didn't have to settle for just one trail. We discovered another one in Pittsburgh (YRT) that connects with the C&O in Cumberland. And our last show before the break was in Pittsburgh. So instead of divvying up a mere 184 miles, we're doing 330. There now we feel more akin to John Henry.
Dennis (John) and Kimberly (the Foreman) Goza