GUEST POST from Don: Bad Habits

BAD HABITS sink ships.

Well… in this case it almost sank a ferryboat service.  Valley View Ferry has been in operation since 1785.  That is when former Revolutionary War veteran John Craig petitioned the state of Virginia to operate a ferry at Valley View on the Kentucky River near the mouth of Tates Creek.  (Yup!  The ferry began service in Virginia 🙂  In fact, many of the stone fences you see in this area were also built in Virginia … before Kentucky was established as a commonwealth.)  

In 1785 there were few settlements.  Danville, about 20 miles west, had been around for about a decade, and wasn’t incorporated until 1787.  It was dangerous country.  Indian raiders attacked hunters and traders even until October of 1792.  The land was forested and bears were not uncommon.  One hunting group brought 20 bears they had shot to a nearby trading post to exchange for goods not otherwise available in this wilderness.  Settlers had to clear their own land, build their own cabins, and grow their own food.  Crossing rivers was not easy, but necessary.  Valley View Ferry served the hunters, settlers and traders in the area by shortening their trips and easing their burdens.

Today it is still a huge shortcut for those on both sides of the river and the majority of its passengers are regulars.  No fee is charged to cross, though the skinny, curvy roads on both sides would be difficult for anyone with a travel trailer.  

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The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and three counties share in funding the service.  As I understand it, prior to COVID, county jail inmates were used as ferryboat workers to reduce costs.  The virus ended that option.  The “plan” had been to hire full-time employees, but I am guessing that had been a pipe-dream.

A serious problem “developed” after the Ferry Authority hired the first batch of civilian employees.  (Knowing human nature, my hunch is that the problem had been going on for a bit longer; perhaps inmate complaints were not taken seriously?)  The two captains who were working before COVID were retained to pilot the vessel and each worked 7 long days, then had 7 off.  The new employees were trained.  The ferry re-started service.  However, one of the captains (the one no longer employed) was lax at following safety protocols.  One report suggested he had some health issues which may have limited his mobility.  The full attention of the Ferry Authority became focused on that problem when an accident occurred on July 17, 2020.  An improperly secured truck rolled off the ferry into the river.  Thankfully the driver was rescued without harm.

One news writer presented evidence that, after the accident and before that one captain resigned, bad habits may have re-developed.  The original civilian employees were released or quit … a new capable captain and a new-new set of employees were hired.  I wasn’t there, I just read about it.  I just know that when we moved to the area the ferry was out of service.

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What can I say?  The ferry now has two very capable captains, Embly and West, and a crew of highly trained paid employees.  My wife and I (and our longhair Dachshund, Annie) very much enjoyed safe passage.  The ferry doesn’t just connect two counties in Kentucky.  It also connects with a time, 237 years ago, when mules pulled a flatboat of supplies and settlers across the same river in a region once known as Virginia.  

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