The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

August 18, 2013

Ferries are fading into the past

A dusty, unpaved Iowa road leads through farm fields to the Cassville Ferry that operates on the Mississippi River. It is reachable from Iowa’s Great River Road. The ferry carries passengers between Turkey River Landing in Iowa to the village of Cassville in Wisconsin.

I never pass up the opportunity to board a ferry boat; their numbers are in decline, and they are a touchstone with the past. At one time there were several in Vermilion County, and thousands in America. Now there are a few hundred in the nation. Sue and I shared the ride with the passengers of a couple of other automobiles and 18 motorcycles.

Bob, one of the crew members of the ferry, walked by each vehicle and collected the fee, $15 per auto and $8 for each motorcycle. Bicycle riders pay $5 and a walk-on can cross the mighty Miss for a couple of dollars. The ferry has two corporate sponsors, Alliant Energy and DTE energy.

When the fees were collected, Bob invited people to walk around as he shared a few facts about the operation. He said a ferry first operated at the place in the early 1800s. The first vessel was a row boat. The ferries gradually improved over the years and he pointed out the current craft can carry two fully loaded semi trucks.

One of the motorcycle riders introduced himself as Mike and pointed out the new Harley Davidson he was riding. It was bright red with lots of chrome, and nothing like the first Harley he had owned nearly 50 years earlier, he said. He was from Iowa and was with a group of riders who were traveling to see the National Brewers Museum in nearby Potosi, Wis. He told me to be sure and visit the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.

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