18404. A Man Named Scat

The Eaton family of Cumberland had deep roots in the canal. During World War I when the demand for coal was great, the Eatons operated two boats along the C & O Canal. The federal government had about a dozen boats built to help with the movement of coal to Indian Head, Maryland, and the Eaton family ran one of those boats in addition to their own boat. “We had a– well, a pretty-good sized family, and so they asked my dad, would he take another boat. So me and my dad and my youngest sister next to me [Lillian], well, we run one boat and my oldest sister next to me [Norah] and my mother [Elizabeth] and my oldest brother [Harvey], why, they run the other boat.” “My daddy was Big Scat and I was Little Scat. He just took me just about every place he could take me you know, and how he got that name, it’s a long story, but he drank a little. Back in them days, he drank barrel whisky, that’s what they call the scat whisky. It was a cheap whisky, and that’s where he got his name. Of course, his name was Charles Franklin.” And Little Scat’s name was James. James Eaton remembers getting new mules from Joe Higgins near Green Ridge. “He raised mules and they’d rent them to the Canal Towage Company.” “When we tied up in the fall of the year, why, we rode the mules down and they’d winter them there” at the Higgins place. “In the spring, we would go down on the train and get off at Green Ridge Station and then get the mules and ride them back up the towpath.” During actual boating along the canal, Little Scat and his sister were not allowed to ride mule back. Sometimes late in the evening Scat and his sister Lillian were scared and liked to ride on the mules backs after locking through. When their father saw them doing this he said “Get off, hit the ground. And we both had to get off then. I never will forget it.” Little Scat’s favorite place along the canal was Williamsport. “I loved Williamsport. It was a nice little town; it was close to the canal. They had a soda fountain there, at that time, we’d get our ice cream and pie and stuff like that there, what I mean.” Georgetown meant waiting. “We laid in Georgetown as high as four and five days at a time before we got unloaded, at different times.” Many of Scat’s siblings were born along the canal. “My youngest sister, Mary, she was born in Point of Rocks, it was a midwife brought her. And George, I think George was born around Seneca. That’s the one that drowned up there. All of us, as I say, had midwifes and that’s the reason I had trouble, actually, getting my Social Security, what I mean, because we never had no birth certificates.”

After the flood of 1924 closed the canal, the Eatons ended up at the inlet feeder lock at the canal terminus where they remained until 1957. As the Cumberland/Ridgeley Flood Control project was being built, a rail spur was added to connect the B & O to the Western Maryland and the construction of that rail line required the removal of the small Eaton house. Regarding the end of canal shipping days and the move to the inlet guard keeper’s house, Eaton said “It was just a different life living in a house than it was on a boat. We sort of missed the boat, though.” Life was never quite the same for a man named “Scat”.