Ferry man: Working on the weekends

Since 1870, the Hatton Ferry has been helping folks cross the James River one gentle float at a time. What was once a major throughway from Albemarle to Buckingham and back has become a weekend excursion for day-trippers.

Now sponsored by VDOT and the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, the free ride is provided by 25-year-old Ashley Pillar. An AHS graduate, Pillar studied aviation in college, worked railroads last summer, and now spends his weekend plying the James.

The job seems simple enough. The ferry is tethered to a steel cable across the river. Ashley cranks the bow side up, which points the ferry towards the current. Water presses alongside the boat, propelling it across the river. Getting back is a little tougher, as the calm water gives little "umph," so Ashley uses a large pole to push the barge back across until it catches enough current to propel itself.

The science is simple, but the experience is much more complex. We live in a world of modern conveniences. No one uses the ferry much anymore, since we can now drive across bridges.

However taking the ferry allows time to touch base not only with the water, but also with the ferry operator. It's something that brings a little humanity to a daily commuter world.

Watching Ashley pole the barge back home after delivering a single driver safely on the far bank, you notice satisfaction in his face. It may be a simple feat, but that's all it takes to cross some obstacles in life.

Ashley Pillar, only the 8th or 9th ferry operator since 1870

This was a slow day on the river.

The ferry landing is also the pick-up spot for tubers, dude.

Ashley Pillar mans the winch to steer the ferry forward. What a beast!