How the Niagara Scow got stuck in the Niagara River

On August 6, 1918, a terrifying incident played out very close to the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. It involved two stranded men on a scow. If you visit Niagara Falls, you can see the wreck of the scow a short distance from the brink of the falls even today. The story behind this wreck is one of courage and heroism.

Gustave Lofberg and James Harris were on the scow that day going about their work of dredging up sand banks. They were upstream from the waterfall on the Niagara River. Suddenly, due to a problem, the scow broke free from the tugboat that was supposed to take them to shore. Carried by the strong current, the scow headed towards the brink of the mighty falls. The two aboard the scow faced almost certain death if it went over the brink. As the scow kept moving on the raging waters towards the thundering falls, Lofberg and Harris looked on helplessly.

Stuck Boat in Niagara River: The Niagara Scow

And then all of a sudden, the scow miraculously stopped as it got stuck on a rock shoal just 766 m from the brink of the falls. Meanwhile, people at the power plant close to the falls had noticed the scow and informed the Niagara Falls Fire Department as well as coast guards. Soon the news spread and people flocked to the banks of the river. Sending a rescue boat was not possible because of the turbulent rapids around the falls. But the question topmost on everyone’s minds was–what if the scow dislodged itself from the rock shoal? It was a scary thought especially for the two men in the centre of the raging waters.

Niagara Boat Rescue

Lofberg and Harris realised that they could be rescued through a rope line and so they built a temporary windlass from the timber in the scow. The rescuers brought a large gun that could launch ropes and fired the ropes. It reached the scow and the two men fastened it on the windlass. Besides this, more than a hundred men put in their might to secure a heavy rope from the roof of the power plant to the scow. A breeches buoy was attached to the rope but got stuck midway due to the tangled ropes. Nightfall was soon approaching and floodlights had to be brought in.

The rescuers postponed the mission till daylight arrived. William “Red” Hill Sr, a riverman with a history of several rescues ventured out to straighten the ropes. He worked continuously for hours to provide a smooth passage for the buoy. Meanwhile, the two men on the scow were worn out but still collaborated with Hill. Finally, the buoy reached the duo. Harris went first and reached safely and Lofberg followed. It was indeed a happy ending after spending more than 16 hours stranded on the raging waters.

Niagara Scow still in Niagara River

You can see the Niagara Scow even today and a plaque on the shore describes the history behind it. View the scow and get inspired by the tale of bravery and heroism!

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