By: Megan Pasche
Out in the middle of the Niagara River, not far from the brink of the Falls, sits a rusty old barge that looks completely out of place, and visitors can’t help but wonder: how did it get there? Well, that story is an interesting one.
On August 6th, 1918, a tugboat was towing the scow for a dredging operation that was taking place in the white water rapids of the Niagara River, close to the entrance to the Niagara Falls Power Company hydraulic canal. The tugboat went by the name “Hassayampa”, and it was steered by Captain John Wallace. On board were two deck hands, Gustavy Ferdinand Lofberg and James N. Harris. Lofberg was an experience sailor who knew his way around a boat.
During the dredging operation, the tugboat hit a sandbar that was located ½ mile from Niagara Falls; the towline that was holding the scow snapped upon impact, and it was set loose in the river with Lofberg and Harris on board.
The scow, which measured 122 feet by 30 feet, and was holding over 2000 tons of sand, raced towards the Falls, with the two very panicked sailors on it. They tried frantically to slow the scow down with makeshift paddles, but were unsuccessful. The power of the current was too much. As the scow jetted towards the brink of the Falls, Lofberg and Harris threw open the doors in the bottom of the scow that were used for dumping and the barge became, by a stroke of good luck, lodged in a rock pile about 2500 feet away from the brink.
The two men immediately started to work tirelessly to dump some of the scow’s load, as a way to secure it further and avoid it moving closer to the Falls. They were successful in moving about 50 tons of the scow’s load by hand.
Word soon spread on land that the scow was stuck, and hundreds of people gathered to watch. The fire department was called, along with the Coast Guard, but it was impossible to send in a rescue boat due to the violent rapids and proximity to the Falls.
Meanwhile, Lofberg and Harris began tearing boards from the scow and started throwing them into the water. They were hoping to construct a windlass that a rope sent over from the shore could be attached too. Numerous failed attempts were made to send a rope over, and it was only when someone arrived with a grappling gun to shoot the rope across from the roof of the power plant, that they were able to secure the rope to their windlass. By the time this happened, the sun was setting and darkness was starting to surround the scow and the stranded men. The rescue had to be stopped until sunrise. Floodlights were pointed at the scow, and people on shore held up signs telling the men to “rest” and “hold tight”.
When the sun came up the next morning, people gathered by the thousands to watch the rescue attempt.
A second rope was again sent from the roof of the power station and Harris and Lofberg managed to also successfully secure it to the scow. The two ropes soon became tangled though.
A man by the name of Red Hill Sr. went out hand over hand onto the rope and worked to undo the large knot that had formed; he was eventually able to get out the knot, and he headed back to dry land. From there, both men on the scow were rescued via a breeches buoy, which is essentially a rope based rescue device that is similar to a zip line.
As Lofberg and Harris made it back to land, they were tired from all their efforts, hungry and weakened, but were both remarkably unharmed otherwise. They had spent 17 hours stranded on the scow.
Both men lived out the rest of their days and never set foot in the Niagara River again. Red Hill Senior was awarded a Carnegie Life Saving Medal for his heroic efforts.
The men did such a good job securing the scow, that to this day, it remains where it originally became lodged, and it is best viewed from the walking path along the Niagara Parkway.