Peel's Ferry on Highway 125

    10:06 PM, May 13, 2010   |    comments
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    • The ferry runs every day of the year on Bull Shoals Lake
    • Robert Mersman is one of six "sailors" employed by the highway department.
    • The feryy crosses a bout a 2 mile stretch of water on the lake

    Back in the day, they were scattered all around the state.
    They had names like Moro Bay, Toad Suck and Spring Bank.
    Most have been replaced by bridges. But on Bull Shoals Lake is Arkansas' one and only remaining free ferry.

    A wooden ferry operated at the site when it was just the White River. But Bull Shoals Lake created a gap of almost two miles.
    Now the Highway and Transportation Department runs the ferry.

    "There's only six of us that do it, and one supervisor," says Robert Mersman, who has been working the ferry for seven years.

    He's one of a handful of real-life sailors working for the state of Arkansas. The ferry makes a round trip about every 45 minutes, hauling people and vehicles to the Missouri side of the lake and back.

    The ferry runs year round, only interrupting service for thick fog or high winds.

    Mersman says each man gets plenty of time at the helm. "Practice. I mean, you're landing about 20 times a day for each guy and you learn to read the wind."

    "We used to ride it every week if we needed to pick up something at pro-tem," says Barbara Springstew and Jimmy Ray Jones, who live nearby on the lake.

    The ferry saves them a 50 mile drive when they need to get to the other side. And according to Springstew, it's pretty much the reason they live here in the first place.

    Springstew recalls, "This is how I found my house. Because we say the ferry on the map and thought well, we might as well ought to go ride the ferry. We've never rode one. And that's how I found this area, was the ferry."

    Branson is only 30 minutes away from the Missouri side.
    That makes the ferry popular with bikers and folks just out for a scenic drive.

    Ken Lancaster and family drove over from Bella Vista, "We're just spending the day driving around the Ozarks, feeding some fish and having fun."

    It's a chance to get out of the car of off the bike for a bit, to hear the rush of the water and leave the driving to someone else for a while.

    It may not be white knuckle excitement. But it's still a lot of fun - for about 15 knots.

    I asked Scott Burleson, one of the sailors, "Ever wish you were like one of those guys in Alaska on the "Deadliest Catch" instead of this?

    "No," replied Burleson, "No. I like it here. That's too cold and too far from the bank for me."


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