The Artful Orchestration of Ferry Extraction

In Dawson we usually get 24-hours notice before the George Black ferry gets pulled for the winter.

That’s time enough for one last big haul of potable water, one last really big trip to the grocery stores; time to stock up on fuel for the generator; time to lay in supplies for what can be an unpredictable period of isolation from downtown Dawson.

This year, when the sign went up on the afternoon of Oct. 21 it gave only six hour’s warning.

Mother Nature pulled a fast one this year and it was easy to see why the Department of Highways made the call the way it did, but there was a bit of a panic as ferry loads of vehicles ran back and forth.

This year, the change from one day to the next has been dramatic. On Sunday when the sign went up just after lunch, the ice was thicker than it had been the day before. On Monday morning, when the crew assembled with all graders, cats, and backhoes to pull the ferry, there was no question about it.

It was a cold day for the job. Morning temperatures of -20 C and slightly lower rose to about -16 C by mid afternoon, but it was still no joy to be there.

The experienced crew added some fresh planks to the ramp rails. The ferry pried itself loose from the landing, where it had partially frozen in, and bullied its way to its winter dock. Timbers were inserted at an angle beneath the hull to help it make the transition from water to land. The cats anchored the boat fore and aft and made ready for fine-tuning the pull and graders did the heavy lifting.

After hours of preparation the graders set off, pulling the cables tight, one moving south onto Front Street, the other heading north to the ferry landing. As the distance from the river to the dyke is quite short, it takes two pulls to do the job. The boat is out of the water when the first haul is complete, but it still has to be maneuvered to the flat higher ground, and the rails above the open pit where it spends each winter.

The cats hold everything on station while the cables and pulleys are repositioned for the second pull. The boat isn’t quite even on the rails and there’s some readjusting to be done. It needs to be left in a good position for the push that will slide it back into the river next May.

I snapped my first picture at 11:49 a.m, when the fog was heavy on the river and the ferry was still at the landing. I returned about 3:20 p.m. and took a sequence that ran until 5 p.m., when it was all over except putting away the equipment and tidying up the site.

If it was a long day for me, the observer, it was even longer for those doing the work. They did it well.

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