Last days for 63-year-old Rio Vista ferry

October 17, 2008 7:04:17 PM PDT
A floating piece of everyday life in Rio Vista may become history soon. It is a ferry boat that has spent 63 years passing back and forth across the same 800 feet of water. It is a reminder of a different time when life moved a little more slowly.

There are places in the Sacramento River Delta where change appears to come more slowly. That is an illusion, of course.

"It don't seem like it, but after a while everything changes a little bit, you know," says a local resident.

Well, almost everything, like state Highway 84 which still has an 800-foot gap between Ryer Island and Rio Vista. Caltrans still plugs it the old fashioned way with a 63-year-old ferry boat called Real McCoy.

"We're actually not a boat at all. We're a highway," says Van Hendy, the boat's captain.

The Real McCoy is the oldest piece of equipment Caltrans owns and also its most reliable. It runs 24/7 or roughly 200 trips a day. If you do the math across 63 years, that is roughly 460,000 safe crossings.

Hendy has 15 years at the helm of the Real McCoy which saves drivers some 41 miles each way. However, the ferry cannot keep making these 800-foot trips forever. As Caltrans sees it, that is becoming an issue.

It must be cool having Caltrans' oldest piece of equipment under your jurisdiction. Maintenance supervisor Marty Leber says, "sure, a mechanic probably wouldn't say that, but yes."

So the end is near. Next year, Caltrans intends to solicit bids for a new ferry, making these the Real McCoy's last days before its marked ones.

"This boat's pretty tired. It's been running quite a while," says commuter Neil Hamilton.

So does he feel attached to it?

"Yes, but I could get detached if I had a bridge."

So much for 20th century sentiment.

If it looks like a boat and it feels like a boat, how can it be considered a part of Highway 84? "Well, it's a conundrum," explains Hendy.

Puzzling, but also history in this place where change comes slowly and steadily, with certainty.


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