The Niagara Scow (also known as the Old Scow or Iron Scow) is the unofficial name of the small scow wreck which in 1918 brought two men dangerously close to plunging over the Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the Niagara Falls. The wreck could be seen, upstream of the falls, until Halloween Night 2019, when a sudden change took place.
Gustave F. Lofberg and Frank Harris were onboard the Great Lakes Dredge and Docks Company (Old Scow) on August 6, 1918, dredging sandbanks upstream of the waterfall from the Niagara River. As Captain John Wallace’s tugboat brought the Hassayampa over to carry the scow back to shore, it broke free and soon started floating downriver towards the falls.
There are contradictory claims that Lofberg and Harris were able to release the scow’s false bottom to dump their load of sand and silt, but the boat was trapped 838 yards (766 m) from the edge of the falls on a rock shoal, leaving the two employees of the Niagara Falls Power Company stuck in the middle of the raging water torrents. Later reports indicate that, as a safety precaution, Lofberg had tied a rope between himself and the scow so as not to fall overboard while the scow was beached, while Harris tied one between himself and a free barrel.
The Niagara Falls (Ontario) Fire Department attempted to use a grappling gun to shoot a lifeline out of the barge from the top of the roof of the Toronto Power House while waiting for the US Coast Guard to come from Youngstown, New York, carrying a heavier grappling gun, as a rescue boat was out of the question. They managed to send a lifeline over to the barge when the US Coast Guard arrived, and both marooned men made it safely back to shore via breeches buoy, 17 hours after they first grounded.
Old Scow remained on the rock shoal where it ran aground and began to deteriorate until 2019 when on Halloween Night, powerful southwest winds lifted the water levels of Lake Erie’s East Basin to record highs. The historic Old Scow was shifted off the rock with these record-high flows, allowing it to drift closer to the edge of the falls. According to a source at the Niagara Parks Commission, the scow drifted an estimated 50 metres downriver, and the wreck seemed to have “flipped on its side and turned around”.
Nature’s act or Halloween? Nobody’s going to know! Someday the “Scow” may make it over Niagara Falls.
Thanks to Dave of Freakography for the video and photo.
Follow Freakography on Facebook.