Around 1874, James Rickenbach leased several acres of land from his uncle Solomon (or Solomon's son Augustus) and built a drydock to repair canal boats and built houses for workmen. James built the drydock basin along the canal just north of the existing stopgate (the 'guardlock'), and just south of the culvert where the creek passed under the canal bed. Immediately below (south of) where the canal passed over the creek at the culvert, the canal widened considerably for about 300 feet, then narrowed again at the guardlock. The drydock was located along the west side ('berm bank', opposite side of the towpath) of the canal in this widened portion, situated diagonally off of the canal (pointing northwest). The dock workers could regulate the level of the canal at that point to allow water to enter the drydock when a boat was arriving for repair or was launched. The drydock itself also had a gate at its entrance to the canal. Later, a permanent wood pier was built at the drydock along the canal.

The photograph below, from probably the late 1880s or early 1890s, shows the construction of a canal boat called a 'junker', in what is very likely the drydock basin. The view is probably looking northeast, from the road, with the canal visible in the background on the right side of the photograph. Across the canal on the ride side of the photo can be seen a wooden structure on the towpath, and its reflection in the canal water. This might actually be the guardlock footbridge mentioned by Becky in the memoir. The entrance of the drydock to the canal would then be to the right of the boat, so that the boat would have been launched end-first. The boat itself is mounted on wooden props, which are below ground level inside the basin of the drydock.

You can see another photograph of a canal boat near James Rickenbach's house here.

Left to right: Curtin Rickenbach (James' son), William Freeman, Yorett "Grandpa" Noecker (Curtin's father-in-law), John Noecker, Morris Noecker (Curtin's brother-in-law), Adam Rickenbach (James' son). Photo from collection of Howard F. Rickenbach Sr. (1906-1961)

The sides and bottom of the basin were planked with wood, and the basin itself appeared to be about 5 feet deep. The drydock was 150 feet long, but the limiting length of a boat that could be handled in the drydock was 100 feet. Therefore, boats longer than 100 feet had to be built in two sections, then assembled as appears to be the case with the boat shown below. The two halves of this junker were lashed together on the drydock deck by means of rope on cleats, and by special couplings on each side. Boats built at the drydock were generally about 100 feet in length and 10 feet high, with a displacement of 190 tons. Typically a boat would have 8 cleats and 4 chalks (a double cleat), an anchor and capstan to hoist it with, side railing, a cabin for living and mule storage, a rudder and tiller. Click here for a sketch of two boats built here for James' son Edwin (1856-1894). More details on the boat construction can be found in this description of Edwin's life.

When building a boat at the drydock, the keel (or kelsan) was first laid down, along with the stem and the stern. Then, bottom planks and ribs were placed, which were made of oak. The elbows were cut from oak roots and laid next. The side ribs and spacer beams for dish flanking followed, and side planking (yellow pine?) were placed from the top. Square iron spikes were used in the construction of the boats. The hatches and cabin were caulked. The wood was planed and pitched while mounted on props, like the boat shown above. James purchased the hardware, oakum, pitch, tie rode and other materials from Stichter's Hardware Store in Reading.

In the wintertime, boats were built in the drydock as the canal was drained of water. Construction took place on land during the summer, but boats were brought into the drydock for repair when filled with water.

Want to know what the drydock area looks like today? Click here to find out.

After James' death in 1891, his son Curtin took over operations at the drydock. As the canal era came to an end, James Rickenbach's drydock was closed down probably in the mid 1890s, perhaps precipitated by a coal miners strike which severly crippled canal commerce. Curtin and his brother Wilson and brother in law Morris Noecker went to Camden, NJ as early as 1897 and would later begin a shipbuilding company there.

The photograph below, probably from the 1880s or early 1890s, shows what may be the construction of a boat on land near the drydock (when the drydock was empty of water in the winter or spring). The boats seem large for canal boats, so it is equally possible that this picture may show construction at the Noecker, Rickenbach and Ake Shipbuilding Company in Cramer Hill, Camden, NJ. If so the photograph would probably have been taken between 1897 and 1908.


Photograph from collection of Howard F. Rickenbach Sr. (1906-1961)


Sources: Notes of Howard F. Rickenbach, Sr. (1906-1961), from recollections of his father John Rickenbach (1883-1948). John was James Rickenbach's grandson, and grew up on a canal boat and at Rickenbach Station., so these are first-hand accounts.