The Iron Scow – Moving a Centuries History | A New Chapter for the Niagara Falls Old Scow
On August 6th, 1918, two men were working on a sand barge being towed in the Upper Niagara River.
The tug boat that was doing the towing got stuck on a sandbar, and in the efforts to free it, the towline snapped, and the black steel Scow began drifting downstream.
Other tug boats gave chase, but were not able to throw the crew a line.
The men on board, Gustave Lofberg and James Harris of Buffalo New York, dropped the Scow’s 6-ton anchor, but the chain broke and the barge’s drifting towards the thundering Falls continued.
The U.S. Coast Guard used a cannon, lines and a breeches buoy to set up a rescue from the roof of the Toronto Power Plant.
It was gruelling work, and the lines shot to the Scow kept tangling.
At 3:00 a.m., with the block and tackle twisted halfway out, Niagara Falls Riverman hero and daredevil, Red Hill volunteered to go out on the breeches buoy and untangle them.
Eventually, both Lofberg and Harris were retrieved safely after more than 18 hours stranded on the barge.
A local urban legend states that one of the men trapped on the boat came back with white hair from the terror of the rescue.
Since that day in 1918 the Scow has sat firm in its position, jammed up against rock, pummelled year after year by water, ice, wind and rain. The old Iron Scow has been a tourist destination for decades and its story has been by locals time and time again.
The Scow suffered a great deal of erosion over the years, eventually the US facing side of the scow was completely eroded away but the Canadian facing side remained recognizable as a boat,
until Halloween, 2019.
On October 31st, 2019 a wind storm flipped the Scow over onto its side and blew it about 50 metres closer to the brink of the Falls.
News of the shifting Scow gripped the city of Niagara Falls with locals flocking to the scene to see the Scow for themselves.
Having grown up in Niagara Falls, I am very familiar with the Scow and the history, it came as no surprise to me that citizens of Niagara Falls were enthralled by this new turn of events.
Quickly, global news media started reporting on the shift of the Scow every major news outlet reported on the event, Good Morning America even sent a crew to the city to do a live report from the scene.
Local photographers were all trying to get photos from the ground level to show just how much the Scow had shifted and how different it looked.
One woman pulled up an aerial photo I had taken in 2015 of the Scow, taken from a helicopter, this image was one of the clearest photos in recent history to show the erosion on the US facing side of the Scow.
Local businessman Jay Robitaille, owner of Gig Guys Production & Event Services in Niagara Falls, Ontario sent me a message with my photo and asked if I would be interested in working with his company to capture the 1st aerial images of the Scow in its new position, do a comparison of the Scows position from the sky and tell the story of the Scow with this new chapter.
We met at Niagara Helicopter Tours on a cool fall morning where the temperature on the ground was 5 degrees celsius/41 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrangements were made for a special helicopter tour with both doors open, allowing us the best possible vantage point of the Iron Scow.
Our pilot from Niagara Helicopters, Ben, would take us as low as 1,900 feet above the Scow and he would hover so we can see the Iron Scow from the best angles.
The wind was sharp at 1900 feet, Jay and I, safely attached into the helicopter but hanging out as far as we safely could from the open doors snapped photos and video of the icy cold ride. Knowing we only have one shot at this, we had to fight back the urge to warm up our hands and keep shooting until pilot Ben told us it’s time to head back.
Once I arrived home and processed the images it was then time to find the right photo that I could line up and compare to my original photo from 2015. Given the short flight time we had to shoot quick and there was a small window when we were directly above the Scow and I was able to get the photos I wanted.
Looking through the photos I quickly realized that what we are seeing from the shore or ground level is actually the bottom of the Scow. From this aerial photo you can see the front angle, at the top right hand corner. This used to be visible from the shore as the front side of the Scow.
The rear of the Scow has actually almost broken right off and lies at an angle different from the rest of the Scow.
It took some work to line the photos up properly as the angle and height were not an exact match, I used specific landmarks in the 2015 and 2019 photos, specifically a break in Gull island and a line where the Niagara River drops, leaving a jagged edge to line up both photos.
From the aerial view it appears that during the wind storm the old iron Scow actually rolled, cracked in two places, pivoted and moved down river slightly to its new resting place.
Thanks very much to Jay Robitaille and Gig Guys Production & Event Services in Niagara Falls for supporting this initiative and wanting to go where no national news outlet went and wanting to see an actual aerial comparison of the old Scow and the first ever new footage of a piece of Niagara Falls History.
Will the old Iron Scow sit in place for another 101 years, or will it continue to rust, break apart and take the plunge over the horseshoe Falls?
Only time will tell
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Thanks to the following for some of the footage used in the video:
Some Footage Courtesy Of:
Niagara Falls Public Library Archives
Karin Miedema/Karins Photography
The Vanishing Point
Christine Hess Photography
Niagara History and Trivia