Where are they now? – David Starkweather

“Where are they now?″ is a series that will highlight interesting stories of where our AHS Alumni are and how they got there!


David Starkweather

Class of 1985


David Starkweather graduated from AHS in 1985 and has been busy ever since! Just some of his careers that have kept him going include being a Corrections Officer for the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office, seasonal maintenance worker for UPS, and various positions for the Erie Canal System – he said he’s done it all, from being a lift bridge operator to maintenance assistant to Tender Captain to Engineer and he has worked on just about every piece of equipment and vessel the canal system utilizes to keep it an important waterway for commerce and recreation. But, it is his current role that piqued this blogger’s interest! While he said he has always had a passion for race cars and envisioned a career that involved race cars in some way, he actually drives a very different type of vehicle……ironically, one that operates at an average speed of 5 miles per hour – to quote David: “it runs at about the same pace as paint drying”!

David’s career path has brought him to the position of Tugboat Captain. And, not just any tugboat……he is the Captain of the oldest working tugboat on the Erie Canal – the Dewitt Clinton! The Dewitt Clinton was built around 1925, was commissioned in 1926, and is still a powerful workhorse today! David has worked on the Erie Canal for 25 years and has been Captain of the DeWitt Clinton since 2005 after receiving his Captain’s license in 2000. But, he doesn’t stop there…..for the last 13 years or so, he has worked at Wegman’s part time as a security officer……and, in his spare time, plows snow, works on cars, and more! He also makes time for fun, including riding snowmobiles. He took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his fascinating career and this historic vessel.


David at the helm of his pride and joy – The DeWitt Clinton Tugboat


David and the DeWitt Clinton Tugboat

So, what does a Tugboat Captain do? When most people think of the canal, they think about it being a part of NY State’s history and a great place to take a boat ride. Most people don’t have a clue what it takes to keep the canal open and available for those boat rides. In the early days, it was a major waterway for commerce – an important path for goods to be transported from the Atlantic Ocean inland to the Great Lakes and beyond. Barges and tugboats were a common sight hauling materials and equipment along Governor DeWitt Clinton’s dream. Today, most people forget that these vessels are still essential to the maintenance and life of the canal. Today, tugboats, like the DeWitt Clinton, and Tenders move anything that doesn’t have an engine – barges loaded with materials and supplies needed to maintain the canal system and equipment, such as cranes, G4s (“gradalls” – essentially an excavator), among other equipment that is used to dredge, do tree work, literally anything that can’t be done by the ground crews.

As Tugboat Captain, David is responsible for the DeWitt Clinton and all it is tasked to do. He not only drives the tug where it needs to go, he and his crew performs all the maintenance on the tug, makes the bumpers, and ensures it stays in good working order and looks great while it works! He enjoys his job and takes it very seriously – he knows he has an important piece of history in his hands and he loves it! As we spoke, I could feel the pride he has in being a part of the oldest working tug on the canal. He understands this vessel – knows what it will do and respects that, due to its age, how unique it is compared to the newer vessels – it has its quirks! He loves to show off his tug, too! He gives tours to boy scouts and other groups, has hosted photo opportunities to wedding parties, and participates in festivals and shows.

And, if you think this is a seasonal job, don’t! David and his crew work year round on the DeWitt Clinton. When it is parked for the winter and the canal is drained, they are busy every day working on ensuring the vessel is ready for the next season. They overhaul the entire vessel – redo the floors, take apart all the moving parts to check them and repair/replace as needed, overhaul the engine, and whatever else needs to be done. And, if you ever see a tug or tender up close, notice the beautiful rope bumpers – they make those and they are a work of art!!! And, David is quick to give credit to his crew and the crews on other vessels who work hard every day. During the winter months, David and his crew are not only responsible for the maintenance and overhauling of the DeWitt Clinton, but also two tenders docked in Albion and some other equipment – they also help out where needed on other vessels, as well.

So, when someone asks you where David Starkweather is now, you can tell them that he is enjoying life as an Erie Canal Tugboat Captain on the historic DeWitt Clinton.

Here are some more photos I took of David doing his job – moving equipment to be secured along the banks of the canal in Albion in preparation for the end of the 2014 season.


The DeWitt Clinton docked in Albion on Nov 6, 2014

Notice the beautifully braided bumpers


A rear shot


David at the wheel pushing a “Gradall” (G4) up the canal – approaching the Transit Road bridge


Passing under the Transit Road bridge – Nov 7, 2014


The other side of the Transit Road bridge – headed toward Albion


Here he is at the Brown Street bridge – it was a rainy/snowy day!


Passing under the Ingersoll St lift bridge


Docking the G4 at Albion

It was fascinating to watch them dock this equipment and the tug – try parallel parking a vessel this big in a spot barely larger than the vessel itself by pushing/guiding it up against the bank! Awesome to watch — definitely extremely skilled personnel!


David looking out the window to ensure he’s clearing the barge behind him


Ensuring the G4 is in place and secure

Other crew members:  Roy, Russ, and Tim on the G4 and Steve and Steve with David on the tug


Pulling the DeWitt Clinton in to its spot for docking


Tying her down and securing her for the night!

David and the DeWitt Clinton will make one more trip before securing her in her spot between the Main St and Ingersoll St bridges in Albion for the winter. Soon, the canal will be drained and all the vessels docked along the canal will rest on the bottom – enjoying a much deserved overhaul – until next spring when the canal will be refilled and their work will begin, again! And, David will once again take the wheel for his 5 mph races up and down the canal moving equipment and materials wherever it is needed!

Thank you, David — I had an incredible time working with you to do this post!!!

For more photos of my two day adventure with David, click here to read an expanded post on my personal blog!

Posted by Kim Wright Pritt

Photos courtesy of Kim Wright Pritt