Ferries were necessary, caused headaches

Published 5:54 pm Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Until recent years, ferries were very much a part of life on the Coosa or any other river system, being the only way to reach the other shoreline. There were very few bridges, making them necessary, but the ferries brought with them lots of problems and being very costly for the counties involved.

Why below the dams, you might ask? Ideally, the ferry needed constant current against it, keeping it straight and overhead cables to steer it into the landing. These were powered by an old Ford flathead engine—forward and reverse. Sounds simple enough, right?

Believe it or not, the first ferry I knew was below Mitchell Dam, near Gravel Beach. My family had friends over on the Coosa side, and we would visit them from time to time. I rode the ferry a lot back then because a pretty little girl liked to ride it! It’s hard to imagine me taking that much time away from fishing. Ummm, wonder what happened to her?The ferry, of course, was replaced by the Folsom Bridge in the mid-1950s. The ferry on Lake Mitchell, below Lay Dam—Wow!, what a nightmare. It was a problem even in the good days and was down more than it ran. I dealt with all those problems personally. In the late 50s, I bought a little place on the Coosa side after my hitch in the Navy. Ironically, the problems and trying to solve them were to cause me lots of headaches in years to come.

An interesting one in the middle of Lay Lake about mid-lake. The 4-H Club had little or no current, making it almost impossible to operate. The county engineer designed a system to have a cable on the floor of the lake. The ferry would pick it up as it went along. Problem was, as the cable was picked up, it created a boating hazard!They tried a toll fee to help defer the cost to operate, but that didn’t work. To this date, there is lots of heavy discussion about a bridge at that site.

Back To Mims Ferry, which was to be my nemesis. You could never imagine some of the problems. Chilton officials saw what looked like a way out. They worked out a deal so Coosa County would take over operations, and Chilton would pay the operator. The operator was never sober—I mean was completely out! Folks complained to me, I talked with the probate judge, and finally my chief ordered me to arrest the Judge!He didn’t know that judge. I walked in with my hat in my hand and said, “Judge, we have a problem.” That’s as far as I got. He said, “You tell that bunch in Chilton County to operate it halfway across. I don’t give a … If I had to operate it, I would stay drunk, too.” Well!I promise, there’s a lot more to come from the ferry.