One Tank Trip: Union Canal Tunnel Park


Move on morning rain. There are tours to take.

"At the Union Canal Tunnel Park and the birds are singing, so that's a good sign," said volunteer Martin Brandt.

The Union Canal Tunnel Park near Lebanon is 110 acres. You'll see a boat dock and the Lois Miley. She, along with a volunteer crew, will take you for a ride.

The canal was William Penn's idea all the way back in 1690. He rode his horse along the path and wrote about it in his diary, but without the money to build, it stayed an idea. He thought it would be a good way to move settlers and supplies like timber, stone and farm goods from Philadelphia to the interior of the colony.

Some work began years later in 1792, but the money for the project ran out. They tried to raise some by selling lottery tickets. That didn't really work, so It wasn't until after the war in the 1820s that the real construction began.

"It was hand dug by the Irish," Brandt said. "They were given a pick, a shovel and a wheelbarrow to dig it by hand."

The workers were paid in small sums and jiggers of whiskey. Conditions were harsh and the canal was the easy part. Around the bed was a hillside. They had to dig through it.

"They would drill a hole 18 inches deep, pack it full of black powder, light a fuse and run," explained Brandt.

It took a year and a half for two crews, working two shifts a day, six days a week, to meet in the middle and create the tunnel.

Now, 226 years later, you can take a leisurely ride through it. As you get close to the opening, you can feel the air change. It's cooler and wet inside. You can still see the hand-made holes where they drilled through all those years ago.

Our guide pointed out the mineral formations of the stalactites and a crack that's an earthquake fault.

You'll emerge on the other side, turn around and come back through. Along the way, Marty talks about how it was when mules not tour guides led the way.

That's the conch shell, signaling to the lock tenders that they were on the way. No locks need to open anymore for this ride, but the sound will take you back to how it used to be, when, before railroads, this was the way to travel.

The canal was closed in 1885. Thankfully, today, you can still catch a ride.