Despite the rise of the railroads, in the 1850s the Erie Canal is still a major route for transporting goods. Farmer Dan Harrow (Henry Fonda) takes a canal boat job to save money for his own land. Mean-spirited Jotham Klore (Charles Bickford) works on the same vessel with his girlfriend, cook Molly Larkins (Janet Gaynor). Dan and Molly fall for each other, but she fears Dan is a coward. When he refuses to fight Jotham, Molly cancels their engagement, and the farmer must win her back.