The Block Island Times

The turning of the tide

By J. V. Houlihan, Jr. | Nov 24, 2013
Photo by: J. V. Houlihan, Jr. Russo and Kenneway dismantling steel

Back in the day, at the end of the State Pier was where the business end of the Block Island Ferry Company once stood. If you were going to Block Island, then you walked to the end of the pier, bought a ticket in the small shed on the north side of the pier, and then boarded the boat. If you had a car reservation, you queued up by backing your car down the pier to the ramp—nothing's changed. If you shipped freight, after it was dropped off we'd hand truck the stuff or use the forklift; mostly, the freight was humped aboard the ferry by the crew. The nexus for this operation, was a ramp that notched into the starboard side of the ferry: the  Nelesco, Manitou, Quonset, Sprigg Carol, and Lizzie Ann. One of life's little certainties if you worked aboard  any of these ferries, was that said ramp had to be raised manually with the chain falls on each side of the steel superstructure.

     Audible groans, and some salty nouns and verbs could be heard depending on how low the tide was—the depth of one's hangover could figure into this also. When the tide was low, the ferry would be secured to the pier, and then the first  2 guys would jump down onto the ramp, and begin in unison to yank on the chain falls(see photograph). After the heavy ramp moved a couple of inches, two more crew would spell the first two. And so it went until the ramp was even with the freight deck. It was a lot of work. Next, we took blocks, and secured them to a slab of diamond plate steel that lay on the ramp. After securing them to the ramp and the ferry, we hauled  on the lines of the blocks and then pulled the diamond plate extension onto the freight deck. Once all was secure, the mate gave the order to unload; cars first, then people. Certain things don't change.

      Due to a lack of need, and the new construction on the State Pier, the old superstructure and diamond plate is currently being sliced and diced into scrap by Joel Kenneway, Brian Cox and Eric Russo. Yesterday, as the guys were cutting with welding torches and wielding a sledge hammer, I remembered the faces of the guys who did this job of raising the heavy ramp; nouns, verbs and groans were included in this memory file. Finally, within the turning of several tides, I witnessed a piece of Block Island Ferry history, as it was being dismantled, dissolved and dispatched, to go where all history goes—to a place where memories fade in and out like the turning of the tide.

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