Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ferry Tales

Coming from the south, it's only 17 miles from Winifred to the McClelland-Stafford Ferry at the heart of Missouri Breaks National Monument. The route is well-signed and aside from the steep, loose-gravel descent to the river, it's cake. But it's a whooole nuther story coming from the north. If it hadn't been for Jim Dumas, I'd never have found it. 

Stage Stop in distance near left edge of sign 
I was bedding down for the night at the junction of Cow Island Trail and Warrick Road when Jim & family stopped to see that all was well. I explained my intentions and he spent the next 20 minutes making sure I wouldn't get lost. Thanks again, Jim!

Jim's grandfather homesteaded their ranch in 1904. As a child Jim said they'd sheltered in the old stage stop while waiting for the school bus; the stage served several bustling communities in those days of Westward Expansion.  

When I asked how it felt to have lived his life in one place he said he didn't know since he hadn't any experience to compare it to. He expressed envy at my lifestyle, but he, his wife and children, all looked quite happy.

Perhaps they leave the OPEN sign up regardless?

Although I saw three FERRY signs, there are several turns and "Y"s where you're on your own. Jim's directions helped a lot (see above), but having my Garmin Vista Cx saved the day. (I refer to it more often these days, but it was this trip that really introduced me to how useful it can be.)  

It's at the Top O' The Hill, less than three miles from the ferry, that the yellow diamond sign gives pause-for-tho't. 

On my reconnaissance walk I noted where, just before it got REALLY steep (vid doesn't convey steepness), somebody had turned around. The tracks were a bit smoothened, apparently from slippage; it must have been damp. It's summairz 'bout 70 miles back to the hamlet of Big Sandy and we'd, Eggbert & I, spent two days gittin' here so, even with little traffic (rescue?) my debate was biased to'ard makin' the leap. Jim had said the road on the other side was better...if the ferry was operating. No one I'd asked knew. And if it wasn't, even with it dry I wondered if I'd be able to get back up. (I envisioned unloading the pie-annuh an' the kitchen sink, then backing up the road -- I'd recently been advised that reverse sometimes works better in these si'chee-ay-shunz -- and the several "hikes" it'd take tuh git hit awl back intuh the car. But hey, what else did I have to do?) I'd figure it out.

Jack Carr and another guy each have a four-day shift as Motorman. 

Click HERE for video of Eggbert going aboard.

Click HERE for a vid of the history of the McClelland Ferry told by Jack Carr.

Click HERE for a vid of the Wheelhouse and additional history by Jack Carr.

When I asked if there had been much competition for the job, Jim allowed as how there wasn't. After all, who'd want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere like this? He said he enjoyed it; that the river was almost alive and the passengers' stories are interesting.

The controls are simple. There's a throttle (red knob) and forward, neutral and reverse (black knob). The blue drum at the top of the picture is the drive wheel. The cable around it is what pulls the ferry across. It's powered by a Japanese-made three cylinder diesel. Eggbert beamed with pride as Jim nodded knowingly in his direction. 

Although there's been a ferry since the 1920s, this one's only been in operation ten years. That mud at the upper right of the sign used to be a swallow's nest.

The river's flow is controlled by dams, but Jim said the level had dropped over a foot in the past week. It seemed pretty benign this day. 

There's a lot of BLM land to the south, but much of the north is private; dispersed campers forewarned. Lucky Herrmann found this overlook camp.

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