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Coordinates: 43°04′23″N 79°04′15″W / 43.07306°N 79.07083°W / 43.07306; -79.07083

The Niagara Scow.
View of the Toronto Power House with the scow in the background, 1922.

The Niagara Scow (also called the Old Scow or Iron Scow) is the unofficial name of the wreck of a small scow that brought two men perilously close to plunging over the Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the Niagara Falls, in 1918. The wreck can still be seen, upstream of the falls.

1918 eventEdit

On August 6, 1918, Gustave F. Lofberg and Frank Harris were aboard the Great Lakes Dredge and Docks Company[1] scow dredging up sand banks from the Niagara River upstream of the waterfall. When tugboat Captain John Wallace brought the Hassayampa over to bring the scow back to shore, it broke loose and began floating downriver rapidly towards the falls.[2]

There are conflicting reports whether Lofberg and Harris were able to release the false bottom of the scow to dump their load of sand and silt—-but regardless, the boat got caught on a rock shoal 838 yards (766 m) from the edge of the falls, leaving the two Niagara Falls Power Company employees stranded in the middle of the raging torrents of water. Later reports suggest that Lofberg had tied a rope between himself and the scow as a safety precaution lest he fall overboard while the scow was still beached, while Harris tied one between himself and a free barrel.[2][3]

Old scow in 2009

Since a rescue boat was out of the question, the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Fire Department tried using a grappling gun to shoot a life line out towards the barge, from atop the roof of the Toronto Power House while awaiting the arrival of the US Coast Guard from Youngstown, New York, to bring a heavier grappling gun. When the US Coast Guard did arrive, they managed to send a lifeline over to the barge, and both marooned men made it safely back to shore via breeches buoy, 17 hours after they first found themselves drifting towards the falls. The work of riverman William "Red" Hill Sr. was particularly significant; he ventured out to free the tangled breeches buoy line several times throughout the night, and eventually assisted the men to safety. Hill was awarded the Carnegie Medal for his efforts. Hill and his sons would be involved in many other river rescues and recoveries in the next several decades.[2]

In 2018, the Parks Commission celebrated the 100th anniversary of the rescue, particularly Hill's role, and installed a new plaque and panels depicting the event.[4]

2019 shiftEdit

The wreck had been deteriorating over the years. During a storm (remnant of Hurricane Rebekah) on the evening of October 31, 2019, strong southwest winds raised Lake Erie's East Basin water levels to record highs. This resulted in record high flows into the Niagara River at Fort Erie. These inflows at Fort Erie exceeded 12,000 cubic meters per second. The net flow over Niagara Falls exceeded 6400 cms (after power companies draw). It was these record high falls flows that shifted the historic iron scow off the rock outcrop, allowing it to drift closer to the edge of the falls.[5] The scow floated an estimated 50 meters downriver and the wreck seemed to have "flipped on its side and spun around", according to a source at the Niagara Parks Commission. [6] A Niagara Parks photo of the wreck confirmed that it was now lying on its side.[7]

Subchaser SunbeamEdit

A similar wreck, involving a wooden vessel, occurred in June 1923. The craft, previously a World War I submarine patrol boat called the Sunbeam, had been returned to its owner, a New Yorker, after the war ended. The owner sold the boat to a new owner, and the boat was taken west on the Erie Canal, to be docked at a port in Lake Erie. The crew made a navigation mistake and found themselves well into the Niagara River, though still several miles upstream from the falls. They retired for the night in a nearby hotel. During the night, the unmanned boat came loose from its moorings.

The current carried the craft to the vicinity of the scow, and it likewise became caught in the shoals. The owners sold the wreck to Red Hill for one dollar, but Hill decided that the salvage cost was too high, particularly because the Parks Commission wanted a cash bond that would cover any damage caused during the process. Hence, the boat remained marooned and by the late 1930s had broken apart. A 2014 report stated that some people claim that some of its metallic parts are still visible at times when a significant quantity of water is being diverted for hydropower production.[2][8]


  1. ^ "Boat trapped on rocks above Niagara Falls dislodged after 101 years". KOAM. November 2, 2019. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "Niagara Falls – The Scow and the Subchaser". Archived from the original on August 8, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  3. ^ "1918 rescue at the brink of the falls heralded". The Buffalo News. August 8, 2008. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  4. ^ "Niagara Parks Hosts Centenary of the Iron Scow Rescue". City of Niagara Falls. July 19, 2018. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  5. ^ Rankin, Christine (November 1, 2019). "Storm moves barge trapped above Horseshoe Falls for 101 years closer to the edge". CBC News. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  6. ^ "Boat trapped for 101 years near edge of Niagara Falls moves after Halloween night storm". USA Today. November 2, 2019. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  7. ^ "Iron scow in Niagara River shifts significantly from wind storm". Metroland Media Group Ltd. November 1, 2019. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  8. ^ Treadwell, Theodore (October 29, 2014). Splinter Fleet: The Wooden Subchasers of World War II. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557508178.

External linksEdit