Some time before we drove our youngest child to college, our friends advised us to start a hobby, or begin a project to help us survive the dreaded empty nest syndrome. Because we had always been interested in history, we visited many museums throughout New York State, taking along our four kids, at least half of whom protested. As we drove through our neighboring towns, we noticed the many historical plaques along the highway noting old canal locks, aqueducts, and buildings associated with the Erie Canal.
Jack’s interest in technology led to reading about the planning and construction of the Canal. During an evening out, and after a fun discussion, we smiled at each other and said “Let’s write a book!” What “empty nest syndrome”?
We spent many hours in the library in the Erie Canal Museum, located in the old Weighlock Building in Syracuse researching the history of the Canal. We found a wealth of anecdotal history, old business records, and diaries of people prominent in the many aspects of the Erie. Based upon a canalerâ€™s recollection of a childhood incident involving throwing rotten eggs, Jack wrote most of the first chapter.
Similarly, at a day’s visit to the Erie Canal Village near Rome, we wrote page after page of descriptions. We tried to capture the essence of the boat, the buildings, the rooms where action would take place, and even descriptions of fellow tourist passengers on the canal boat ride.
We wanted Jonathan to be a normal pre-teenaged boy, although some conflict was necessary in order to have a canal adventure. Jonathan’s step-mom provided conflict, his best friend moved away, and he has a hard time learning the blacksmith trade in his father’s shop. Then, he is uprooted from the familiar to work with an uncle he hardly knows in a town some eighty miles from home.
Also during our research in the Museum library, we read about a historical figure named Deacon Eaton. There were extensive records concerning his activities as a missionary to lost souls on the Erie. There were thousands of boys working thoughout the length of the Canal, and most were badly treated orphans. Charles, the canal orphan, is a result of that research.
The tragedy of slavery led us to write the theme of the Underground Railroad into the book. We knew of a farmhouse near where we lived that was alleged to have a “hidey-hole” in an upper room. So, we thought, why not a hidey-hole in the canal boat? And, we decided, Uncle James’s canal boat should be named The Deliverance.
One late spring, a serious windstorm blasted through our town, moving one house two feet off its foundations, and driving tree branches through the roofs of others. It tore up the cedar shakes and broke windows on our house, and dented our neighbor’s aluminum siding. Obviously, powerful storms could come through central New York, so we added the tornado-caused adventure and resulting injury to Charles.
It is our desire to place this book, which includes historical fact from a Christian perspective, into the hands of youth both as an adventure and the encouragement to overcome their own adversity, great and small.