Tuesday the 9th dawned bright with beautiful puffy clouds for a day that the Board members of the Bemus Point Stow Ferry had been keeping secret for over a week. Today is the day the Ferry will be picked up by a crane and placed on specially built metal foundations so the hull can be repaired. This day seemed to take years to get to as it was originally to be on May 1st this spring. The Pandemic and stay at home life we have all been living has changed expectations for lots of things more personally important to families and workers in Chautauqua County than the repair of the Ferry. But to all of the volunteers who have worked hard for two years on her to get her to the point where the hull repair is the final piece in the puzzle, it is right up there with being able to get back to work, seeing others freely and seeking out a new normal. We have planned for this, thought about this and sacrificed so that this day could come. We event tried patience but none of us are particularly good at that part.
The Benchley Crane, weighing 158,000 pounds lumbered down the Stow Ferry Road early, setting up right in front of the entry to the Ferry, and right outside the picture window of the new owners of Stow Landing Cottages and their guests. Soon, with more crew working, there was a parade of semi-trucks backing down the Stow Ferry road from Route 394, each with two very heavy counterweights on the back. These were stacked like building block behind the cab of the crane until they totaled 308,000 pounds of counterweights.
A crowd was building despite the lack of advertising about this day as the crane was remarkable from across the lake in Bemus Point and for anyone coming from Bemus to Stow on the Route 86 Expressway. This is a small community and word of mouth travels quickly. Thanks to Rob Yates, Town of North Harmony Supervisor, there were official looking sawhorses with signs and beyond that a blockage of neon show fencing to keep everyone back and safe. There were a lot of lookers hiding behind the cottages and bushes, all with a pretty good view of the show.
Next the crane operator exchanged his weightlifting tool at the end of the boom for a large hook. With that he picked up the specially designed I-beam rigging to attach to the deck of the Ferry. A lot of the numbers and concepts of what was going on in front of our eyes was supplied by a lady who was short of stature but long on her ability to explain the lift. Eva Burg is an engineer for Hohl Industries and was instrumental in the planning and design of most of the rigging used. She said she loves her job and especially likes to share her information with others who might be interested.
When the rigging was completed, the crane rotated until it was over the Ferry, still at her berth at the landing, and attached to the I-beams on the exposed metal deck. These are all new over the past two years of repair. With the help of workers and a few volunteers pulling on a line connected to the outer edge of the Ferry, the crane operator swung the Ferry so that her non-engine side was within a few feet of the shoreline. The fishing dock had been temporarily removed for the lift, thanks to Rob Yates. They did a test raising of the Ferry, with the crane operator calling out that the weight of the Ferry and the rigging was 90,000 pounds. They picked her up several more times until the true center of gravity of the Ferry allowed her to hang level. Then, with all eyes glued to her hull, the Ferry was rotated in mid-air, so it faced the shore perpendicularly. Slowly she was brought over the eight foundations or pylons and lowered until she was about a foot off of the 5-foot resting places. Lots of measurements were done from the foundations out to the edge of the Ferry, with workers pushing or pulling her a bit to center her perfectly. She was lowered and the crowd went into great shouts of success and applause. I don’t know where they all came from, but it was a really good show for us all. AS a side note, someone asked Eva, the engineer, what she would rate this lifting project on a difficulty scale of 1-10, with 10 the hardest. She didn’t even hesitate and said probably a 3. A three? We thought it was at least a 12! She admitted that bridges were a little tougher to plan for than this.
That brings us to the obvious question of financing a repair this complex and expensive, despite the discounted price David Hohl has come up with for us. We have four grants applied for that we felt, with the help of an excellent grant writer, satisfied all the criteria. These are all pending and, if they come in, will cover a significant part of the cost. We have, up to this point, been able to cover all our costs of repair with the money we raised over the last two years from you, our generous friends. The grants will probably be affected by the financial needs of the State of New York, making them less than hoped for. So, we are coming back to you to help us fill in the missing money. Your past generosity to our not-for-profit organization has been humbling. We hope that you can all spread the word to others about our fund-raising needs. Every little bit will help. Along with the grants, my book, a continuation of Art Thomas’ _A Ferry Tale,_ will be published when we get the final photo of the Ferry on her first crossing of the narrows after the repair and the installation of the new wooden deck. It is called _The Bemus Point Stow Ferry: A History_. All proceeds from this book go to the maintenance and repair of the Ferry. Send donations to The Bemus Point Stow Ferry, PO Box 339 Bemus Point, NY, 14712. Tax forms, if needed, will be sent back to you. Come see the Ferry from behind the barriers as she is worked on for the next 5 weeks or so. If you have any questions, go to the Facebook page Friends and Fans of the Bemus Point Stow Ferry or The Historic Bemus Point Stow Ferry. There are lots of photos and videos on there for you to look at. Comments will be answered.
Addendum: One week later, the area around the Ferry is quiet, the crane is gone, and it appears nothing is going on until you see several pairs of legs under the Ferry. The old steel has been removed from about a 13 x 12-foot area in the middle of the hull. This is the lowest point of the Ferry in the water and where any water in the hold settled. Over all the years since the hull was made in 1929 in Jamestown, this area has become more and more thin and compromised. The new steel for the repair comes in on Wednesday. The marine welders from Hohl Industries won’t know how well this repair will be until the welding starts. The cut -out might have to be extended but our hopes are that it will all go well this week.
The next step after the new steel is welded in place is to request a survey from the State to approve of the welding before we relaunch the Ferry. THE BIG SPLASH. After the crane is removed and all is quiet, there is further painting of the interior bilges and cosmetic repair and painting of the corner houses, the paddlewheel covers etc. We plan to build a new sectional deck of pressure treated 2 x 4s on edge. It will look like the old deck except it will be in 8-foot segments that can easily be removed for maintenance or repair anyplace on the deck. We are, unfortunately. on a list for our order or pressure treated 2 x 4s. Much like the lack of common supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, and even things like yeast for baking, the pandemic and staying at home has put normally easy to get supplies, like pressure treated wood, impossible to find. This is our big unknown now, and, if the lumber doesn’t come in until after the season our long-awaited launch and return to service might be delayed until next summer. One step forward, two steps back. BUT, keep hoping along with all our volunteers. The Ferry will return!