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In 1850, the citizens of Rome, New York await the annual opening of the Erie Canal, which is the main method of transporting goods from Europe to the West Coast. Molly Larkins, the pretty cook for Jotham Klore, the tough captain of the Old Hickory , is so disgusted that Jotham has once again gotten drunk and wrecked havoc in her kitchen that she quits. Molly seeks comfort from Lucy Cashdollar, the wealthiest woman in town, but when Lucy accompanies Molly back to the barge, they discover that the repentent Jotham has cleaned up. Molly is appeased by Jotham's promise that he will not drink or fight without a good reason, and by his assurance that they will marry someday. Needing a new driver for the boat's horses, which are used to pull the boats through the canal, Molly goes to Lucy's employment agency, but all of the men, fearing Jotham, decline the job. One man, Dan Harrow, does volunteer, although Molly is aghast to learn that he is a farmer, an occupation upon which the "canalers" look down. With no other option, Molly hires Dan, who is only seeking transport to Buffalo, where he intends to meet up with his girl friend, Susanna. Susanna's parents do not approve of the penniless Dan and are taking her to Illinois, but Dan hopes that the driving job will change their minds and enable him to settle on a farm with her. As Molly shows Dan around the Old Hickory , they learn that Jotham is fighting with representatives of the encroaching railroad, which the canalers fear will ruin their trade. When Molly's eagerness to view the fight lands her in the canal, Dan gallantly dives in to save her, only to discover that the canal is four feet deep. Despite the fact that Dan gets stuck headfirst in the mud, Molly is touched by his chivalry, which is a sharp contrast to Jotham's rough ways. That night, Molly waits impatiently for Jotham to escort her to a party at Lucy's house, and when he does not arrive, she outfits Dan in Jotham's suit and takes him. The drunken Jotham is infuriated when he sees Dan in his suit but passes out before he can inflict any serious harm. The next day, the boats set out with their cargoes, and Molly anticipates another enjoyable season on the canal. As she spends more time with Dan, Molly falls in love with him, and even connives to have him miss his connection with Susanna in Buffalo. Dan philosophically states that he will catch up with Susanna eventually and continues to serve as the Old Hickory 's driver, although he is unaware of Molly's feelings for him, or of his growing affection for her. Back in Rome, Molly is unsettled by Dan's desire to return to farming, but is glad when he receives a letter from Susanna expressing contentment with her new life. Jotham gets into another fight with some railroad men and is arrested for inciting a riot, after which he is sentenced to a ninety-day jail term and a five hundred dollar fine. Hoping to earn the money to free Jotham, Molly offers to run the Old Hickory with Dan, but Jotham jealously refuses them use of the boat. Determined to make their own money, Molly and Dan pool their resources to buy and restore the Sarsey Sal , the old canal boat upon which Molly was born. Soon the Sarsey Sal is in fine shape, and Molly and Dan transport cargo that other canalers disdain, such as pigs and fertilizer. Upon their return to Rome, Molly and Dan buy presents for each other and finally declare their love. Soon after, they learn that Susanna has married an Illinois farmer, and plan to enter the Sarsey Sal in the upcoming annual canal race. Molly is upset, however, when Dan announces that he intends to use their winnings to settle down with her on a farm. Angered that Dan made up his mind without consulting her, Molly leaves him and, with the help of Fortune Friendly, Lucy's peddler beau, raises enough money to pay Jotham's fine. Molly and Jotham then enter the Old Hickory in the race, and Fortune agrees to drive for the despondent Dan. During the race, Jotham overhears Molly telling Dan that she loves him but wants him to lose the race so that he will not have enough money to buy a farm. Enraged, Jotham engages Dan in a fistfight, which ends with Jotham being tossed into the canal. Dan sweeps Molly into his arms and carries her to the Sarsey Sal , then handily wins the race. Soon after, Dan and Molly and Lucy and Fortune celebrate a double wedding, and Molly admits that she is glad to be a farmer's wife.