"It shall be their duty, at all hours, by night as well as by day, to pass all boats and floats presenting themselves at their locks." —Charles Mercer, President, C&O Canal Company.
Every time his boat passed through a lock, a boat captain put his life and livelihood in the hands of the locktender. The wooden lock gates were a delicate balance between safety and efficiency. They had to be light enough to allow one man to move them, yet strong enough to hold back 140,000 gallons of water. A skilled locktender could judge and adjust the flow of water in or out of the lock to minimize the risk to boat and lock.
Locktenders were responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of liftlocks. Neglect or carelessness could mean disaster. In exchange for a small monthly salary, an acre of land and a house, locktenders heeded the horn blast of boatmen even at 2 a.m. or on Sunday. After all, time was money.