Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Ferry Brewtiful Day in Scottsville, VA

On Saturday Rob and I headed down to Scottsville, VA, to see the Hatton Ferry, the last poled ferry in the United States. It was a sweltering hot day and I welcomed the opportunity of a car ride with cool AC rather than being outside for too long. We trundled along country lanes and I knew we were reaching our destination when we found ourselves behind a truck hauling two young girls and their tubes. Not a scene you see anymore with today's health and safety officials haranguing every activity. The joy of living in rural America where around so many corners you see folks living as they want, and not as they're told to.
Hatton Ferry came very close to closing down in 2009 due to claims from VDOT that they couldn't afford to fund the ferry because of budget cuts. It's now owned by the Albermarle Charlottesville Historical Society, which established the Hatton Ferry non-profit corporation to take it over. The ferry is about 5 miles from downtown Scotsville, crossing the James River from 9:00am to 5:00pm on Saturdays and Noon - 5:00pm on Sundays, as long as the river height allows it, from mid April through October.
 There's a little visitor center above the ramp with a pretty view looking down on to the ferry over clumps of wild flowers. There were plenty of young folk in the river, most of them bobbing by in tubes, slowly, since the river isn't very deep. We stepped out of the cool car straight into a wall of humidity, the dense heat was a little overwhelming after the comfort of the AC but we weren't able to dwell on our discomfort as almost immediately we were approached by a friendly man asking us if we wanted to ride on the ferry.
His name is Captain Craig, a naval veteran who told us he used to be a cook on a submarine and now he's the captain of a ferry. For the rest of our time here he was an absolute gem, a walking information booth loaded with so many useful and interesting facts about the ferry that I had a hard time trying to take in even half of it. And I often forgot to take notes as he had such an absorbing way of sharing his knowledge that it was like we were listening to a storyteller.
Rob and I were the only passengers on this trip and without hanging around Capt Craig starting winching out the cable so the end of the ferry would swing out and then have the river current assist it to the bank on the other side, 700ft away.
This is the winch, used to haul in the cable or ease it out depending on what angle the ferry needs to be at for the river current to catch it and help it across. The cable is attached by 200lb pulleys to both ends of the ferry and then to each bank. As far as Capt Craig is aware, it's never needed to be replaced since Hurricane Agnes in1972 when he said the ferry was pushed upstream by the intense winds and current. The height that the river rose to is shown at the top of the marker that stands outside the visitor center, 36.51ft!
A quick pose in the middle of the river with the small rapids behind us upriver. And then we had to start preparing to stop the ferry and return. We didn't want to go all the way over as an ominous cloud of biting flies were there, hungrily awaiting us, and we were cowards, so it was all systems go to winch the cable again to get us going back in the opposite direction, with the pole ready for action if needed.
The water had dropped about 5" today but we still couldn't see the rock 'marker' that juts out from the surface when the river at that point is down to 4 ft deep. There are a couple of spots where the currents needs some manual help so I was handed one of the 14ft poles, which weighed a ton, and I gave it my best shot at thrusting us over the water. And failed miserably. But at least the boys made the photo look authentic!
And Captain Craig showing us how it's done properly.
A steering wheel from an International tractor has a new lease of life on the ferry!
This ferry was brought up by rail from the Surry Shipyard,VA, in 1985, this time made from metal whereas the previous ferries had been wooden. I loved the weathered old boards on the ramps at each end and the huge chain that secures the ferry .The ramp into the river is the original ramp used since the beginning of service.
Captain Craig handed us a postcard showing an image of the ferry about 1910. It really doesn't look that different today.
 This image is from the visitor center of the new ferry's dedication ceremony in 1973. It was attended by Richard Thomas  who played John-Boy in The Waltons as well as Doris Hammer, the mother of the series creator, Earl Hammer, Jr.
200 years ago there were more than a thousand poled ferries that carried people across rivers throughout this country, but today the Hatton Ferry is the very last. It's reassuring and warming to know that's it's in such good hands and so obviously treasured. We hugged and shook hands with Captain Craig, promising to return next month, when we'll be down for another ride on the ferry, this time with a motorbike. So we'll have helmets to protect us against those biting flies!
Another link with more information and history is here.
I also found a YouTube video from 2011.
Driving back down into town I spotted a really cool house name, where evidently some very spoiled felines dwell, and then we saw a scary hand drawn poster attached to a front door, with 'Welcome' above it! It reminded me of the nursery rhyme," Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly..." So funny!
There was a more welcoming sight on Valley St in town, The James River Brewing Co., which of course simply could not be passed by. Another couple of 'out-of-towners' were sitting at the bar and then shortly we were joined by a very friendly lady who advised us well on the selection of hummus and beers.
She turned out to be the Mayor of Scotsville, Nancy E. Gill. We couldn't have timed our visit better. We spent the next hour in tremendously welcoming company, sharing a lot of laughs and enjoying the mighty fine beer. Rob and I sang the praises of Captain Craig which resulted in the brewery owner saying she would name a beer after him in the near future! I was very reluctant to leave this small town, its friendliness and charm drew me in, and I was glad that we'd be back soon.
We headed back to Rob's house and interrupted the peace of Miss Marbles who promptly fled as I walked through the door.
She did pose briefly for a couple of portraits but only with plenty of bartering, in the form of treats.
I'd brought down a shotgun to try out so we trudged outside and set up a water bottle target.
I was hopeless. I'm blaming it on the heat for sapping my strength as I hit it first time with Rob's much lighter 22. Of course Rob hit it too and within 10 minutes we were back indoors, escaping from the wilting temperature. I could barely hold up the barrel and my enthusiasm had dried up faster than the perspiration on a penguin but Rob did get a great 'down the barrel' portrait shot for me. Wish I had the nerve to post it on Facebook. I'm praying these temperatures won't be this high for our motorcycle ride next month or Captain Craig will need to fix a diving board for us on that ferry so we can cool off!

No comments: