David Haynes (WRBS) has been talking about the Davis Ferry since the first time I met him over a year ago. From the first time we talked about it, I expressed an interest – I always enjoy unique and interesting rides and destinations. I believe there are only 3 ferries left operating in Alabama. The stars aligned and we set out early on Wednesday morning, headed down south for our first stop in Thomaston – at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center . David had set up an interview with a board member to discuss the Center and the upcoming Pepper Jelly Festival for an upcoming article in Alabama Living. After sitting in on the interview, we had a quick visit to the gift shop at the center, where they displayed a wall of pepper jelly, and rows of folk art from Alabama artisans, a few of which David had met and interviewed. After awarding us with some pepper jelly, we were on our way south to the ferry.
Arriving at the end of the pavement, we encountered what looked like a controlled-burn of the woods, as we entered the dirt section leading to the Alabama River and Davis Ferry. At the end of the road, a family had setup a fishing spot in front of our bikes, but reported no bites “due to wind”. We munched on “lunch” and waited for the ferrymen to get back from their lunch break. We saw Bart (Bartab) roll up on the other side, as we noticed some activity and the other side of the river spring to life. A few minutes later, the ferry cranked up, and a plume of water came up on the side of the craft – they were under way. They more than half way across when I realized the water-plume was formed from a paddle-wheel, just like the steam boats. One, thinly-constructed paddle-wheel was moving that large craft across the swift Alabama River. It was worth the trip just to see that antique in operation, a bonus to get to ride across.
As the craft landed, Bart rode his Triumph Tiger onto the ramp like a Marine landing on the beach on D-Day. He was the only traveler, and quickly turned around to board the craft again with us. On board, we hardly felt movement, but the craft moved us to the other side quite quickly, maybe 200 yards across. Upon landing on the other side, the operators hustled us off, and we wandered through the park that ran along the side of the river.
This is where our trouble began.
Bart had explained why his engine was running the whole time we were crossing – he was having issues with his motorcycle battery . He commented he had another battery just in case, but did not want to fool with it if he did not have to. So we rolled to the end of the park, and as we were leaving Bart stalled the bike. No big deal, he has another battery, right? He quickly installs the battery, hits the start button and we hear the whine starter, but no engine spinning.
So after 45 minutes of troubleshooting, an attempt to pull the engine case loose, and more bump-starting-by-tow-rope, we decide to pull it to the top of the hill. Well that turned into let’s-tow-it-30-miles to the first mechanic we can find, or sign of civilization, or whichever comes first. Pretty hairy stuff pulling any bike, with a bike. Hairy for the puller AND the skier, pulling uphill, on a dirt road, then almost 30 more miles up and down hills and twisty roads, we were experts by the time we arrived at M&S Auto in Camden.
Bart strolled in, asked if we could simply leave the bike inside his shop until tomorrow. Certainly no hayseed from Camden would know anything about a sophisticated European adventure machine. How could he know anything more than 5 grown men, probably with a combined 100+ years of riding and mechanical skills, that were unable to diagnose a complex electrical problem? He insisted he might be able to solve the problem, and have us back on the road. So instead of insulting the hayseed, Bart removed seat, and pointed towards the battery. In less than 2 minutes, the hayseed expert mechanic pointed out the problem – the battery was spun around and the terminals were crossed. Within 15 minutes, the hayseed engine surgeon had changed the fuse, charged the battery, and had the bike running again, with all of our tails between our legs – how did we miss that? How did the starter turn (albeit backwards)? Lights came on?
Glad we got it back running, I should have tipped the guy – it was worth $20 not to have Bart riding BITCH all the way back to Hoover.