Boating on a Bullhead

Released in 1981, this song is much more modern than the previous few, however, its text is very similar. Among the many different kinds of boats that traveled along the Erie Canal, one of them was called a ball-head boat. This boat was known and easily identifiable by its rounded prow, the front of the boat. Through time, the term ball-head was morphed into bull-head. As was the case with many boats on the canal, the ball-head boats had very large cabins and very little space on the decks. This forced passengers and workers to spend their time on the roofs of the boats. When the boat was approaching a low bridge, passengers and workers had to lay down flat on the roof in order to pass under safely. If people didn’t see the bridge coming, they were likely knocked off the boat and/or badly hurt.


Oh canawlers, take my warning: Never steer a Bull-head boat
or they’ll find you some fair mornin’ in the E-ri-e afloat.
When a boat tied in the basin at the wood-dock for the night,
and . I lost no time to hasten’ round the bridge to ask a bite.
They filled me up with beans and shote, and lighted me a cob.
They asked me if I could steer a boat and offered me a job.
The next mornin’ I was boosted to the
stern-cabin’s roof; with the tiller
there I roosted and watched the
driver hoof.
Now the boat she was a Bull-head,
decked up to the cabin’s top;
many canawlers now are dead
who had no place to drop.
The bridge was only a heave away
when I saw it round the bend.
To the Cap a word I didn’t say
while turning end over end.
On canawlers, take my warning: Never steer a Bull-head boat