Canal Tugboat Urger Turns 110 Years Old

Flagship of NYS Canals Fleet now Center for History, Education

ALBANY, NY (06/13/2011)(readMedia)-- A tugboat that has plied the waters of New York's Canals for nearly eight decades years turns 110 today, according to the New York State Canal Corporation.

The tug Urger is the oldest state vessel operating on New York's waterways. It now functions as a floating museum and a classroom for schoolchildren.

Brian U. Stratton, director of the New York State Canal Corporation, said, "The Urger is classroom, time machine, and floating ambassador all rolled into one. The rich history of this venerable old tug is matched only by her continuing contribution to educating -- and inspiring -- thousands of New York's future leaders each year."

On Monday, June 13, the Urger will travel from Albany to Schuylerville, Saratoga County, on the Champlain Canal, for a program for school children on June 14.

When the Urger, now the flagship of the state canal fleet, slid down the ways at Johnston Brothers Shipyard in Ferrysburg, Mich., on June 13, 1901, the Detroit Free Press dubbed her the "finest boat in the local fishing fleet."

Originally christened the Henry J. Dornbos, the vessel was operated by the Verduin family on Lake Michigan for 20 years. Due to her unparalleled seaworthiness, the vessel was occasionally used by the U.S. Lifesaving Service (a forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard) for rescues on the lake.

In 1922, the vessel – given the eponymous name Urger in recognition of her new duties – entered into service in New York as a maintenance tugboat on the recently completed Barge Canal, "urging" scows and barges along in conjunction with dredging and other maintenance activities. She remained in active, everyday operation until 1986 when she was retired from her regular maintenance duties.

In 1991, the Urger began a new chapter in her storied life as a floating museum and classroom under the command of Capt. Schuyler Meyer Jr., president of the non-profit State Council on Waterways. He operated the program under a permit from the Waterways Maintenance Division of the State Department of Transportation.

The Urger has spent the past 20 years serving as the focal point of a program to educate fourth graders about the importance of New York's historic Canal system and the role that it played in the state's economic and social development.

More than 100,000 school children have gone aboard the Urger during this time, and disembarked with a renewed sense of the Erie Canal's incredible legacy.

In recognition of the importance of environmental stewardship of our waterways, the Urger program also helps visiting students "connect the drops" – a way to illustrate the relationship between our activities and water quality.

Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said: "I salute New York State Canals for preserving the Urger and for using this rugged working boat as an ambassador for our incomparable and historic canal system. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, this familiar tugboat has come to symbolize the history and technology of the New York State Barge Canal and our state's rich history of canal transportation."

Dr. Clifford Siegfried, director of the New York State Museum, said: "We share the commitment of the Canal Corporation to making the history of the canalways accessible to the public. "The Urger is a perfect example of how to make history come alive for students of all ages."

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said: "The Erie Canal connected Albany with the Great Lakes, and paved the way for westward expansion. Today, the venerable Urger epitomizes that timeless connection as she travels across the State carrying her cargo of history and education. As the eastern gateway to the Erie Canal, the City of Albany salutes this storied vessel and congratulates the Canal Corporation on this remarkable milestone."

Beth Scimeca, executive director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission, said "At 110 years old, the Urger continues to bring our canal history to life. As ambassador and educator, she shows us all that we have a proud past and an exciting future on our historic canals."

Ronald L. Oswald, chairman of the National Maritime Historical Society, said, "Yes, there is definitely something magical about tugs that attract young and old alike. Now 110 years young, Urger's sweeping lines and bright livery are a joy to behold as she carries on her work of educating the public about the critical role of our inland waterways in the growth and development of New York State and the country."

Thomas X. Grasso, president of the New York State Canal Society, said, "Like the venerable Day Peckinpaugh, this indefatigable workboat has defied both time and the odds to endure as a symbol of the history, innovation, and unprecedented impact of New York's Canals. Vessels like the Urger and the Day Peckinpaugh help tell a story and interpret a past. The interpretive floodgates they open will unleash a wave of learning, appreciation, and increased awareness for our canals which was heretofore unknown and which would otherwise be gone. The Canal Society of New York State salutes the heroic efforts begun by Capt. Schuyler Meyer in 1991, and the great work which continues by the New York State Canal Corporation today, to preserve this great vestige of our maritime heritage."

When the Urger turned 100 in 2001, Willard Scott wished her a happy birthday on the Today show.

When the Urger was launched in 1901 she has equipped with a coal-fired steam plant. Today, she is powered by a direct-reversing diesel engine with no transmission. When the captain needs to operate stern propulsion (back up), he or she will signal to the engine room with a series of bells and jingles, and the engineer will stop the engine completely, and restart the engine in reverse. Only a handful of vessels continue to operate like this today.


The New York State Canal System is comprised of four historic waterways, the Erie, the Champlain, the Oswego and the Cayuga-Seneca Canals. Spanning 524 miles across New York State, the waterway links the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes and the Niagara River with communities rich in history and culture.

The New York State Canal Corporation is a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority. Canal operating and maintenance activities are supported by Thruway toll revenues.

For more information the New York State Canal System, please call 1-800-4CANAL4 or visit