Ferry Service Kicks Off 331St Year In Tiny Eastern Shore Town (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Ferry Service Kicks Off 331st Year In Tiny Eastern Shore Town

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:03
We'll leave Finzel Swamp behind now, and head a couple hundred miles across Maryland to the eastern shore community of Oxford. That's where you'll find a ferry service that was established a long, long time ago, back in 1683, to be specific. At the time, the ferry was designed to move horses and men between Oxford and Bellevue, across the Tred Avon River. During the boom years of the seafood industry, it also took cannery workers back and forth to their jobs.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:33
These days, the ferry caters more to tourists than to commuters, people from places like Washington, D.C. or Baltimore, who come to Oxford to enjoy the quiet side of life on the Chesapeake Bay. Our very own managing producer, Tara Boyle, climbed onboard the ferry recently to meet its owners, and sent us this audio postcard.

CAPTAIN TOM BIXLER

00:00:56
Engines on.

MS. JUDY BIXLER

00:00:58
Hi, I'm Judy Bixler. I'm president and owner of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry.

BIXLER

00:01:03
I'm Captain Tom Bixler, one of the -- also the owners of the Oxford Ferry.

BIXLER

00:01:06
We started originally in 1683, when the county called upon Richard Royston to provide a ferry service for this area. That was back in 1683, before America came about, so we've been around for a long time. This will actually be 331 years for the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry.

BIXLER

00:01:25
What it was, was a barge that they used to scull, which is basically rowing, and/or pulled across by rope. Unfortunately in those days, it was people that were probably slaves at that point. The area was utilized, this ferry was utilized because it was a home port for the eastern shore of the United States, and the tobacco industry was shipping lots of tobacco and farm products at that point.

BIXLER

00:01:54
The ferry has been owned by a number of different people over the years, but there were a number of women actually who owned the ferry, and one of the famous women was Judith Bennett. And she actually outlived three husbands running the ferry. So I often tease my husband Tom that he better be careful, since I'm Judy and she was Judy. He better beware.

BIXLER

00:02:19
We're standing on the bridge of the ferry, doesn't get any prettier. The sun shining, 75 degrees, we overlook the harbor of Oxford and the Tred Avon River, and then we get to enjoy all the wildlife and all the folks that come to visit us, so what could be better?

BIXLER

00:02:38
We get lots of eagles, lots of osprey, we've had numerous instances where there was actually dolphins, porpoises swimming in the river. One day, Judy actually had about 75 of them surrounding her, which was an odd experience, you know, way up the river like this inside the bay. But there is always lots of ducks and geese and, you know, many, many things roaming around. We've actually had deer swimming across the river, so there's no lack of wildlife.

BIXLER

00:03:12
In order to remove our gate, we use a large nail that holds the gate in place, and then we -- it's counterbalanced, so it doesn't -- it's quite tall. It's almost 25 feet long, but it's not that heavy because it's counterbalanced. So I can move the gate without too much trouble, unless the wind is really strong, and sometimes I really have to put some effort into it. Tom was involved in working on a ferry when he was in college, it was a summer job, and he said that someday when we retire, this is what he'd like to do, own a ferry.

BIXLER

00:03:41
And I think if you ask people back when I was growing up if they ever thought I'd be a ferry boat captain, they would have laughed at you. But it's really a spectacular job. We meet people from all over the world, and we actually came here, moved to this area in order to own the ferry.

BIXLER

00:03:56
We are the oldest privately held ferry in the United States. There is one other ferry, a lovely little operation up in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, which precedes us by about 13 years. But they've had the great luxury of being subsidized by the state of Connecticut, and we've had to make this thing work with, you know, just us.

BIXLER

00:04:17
The ferry is very stable. People don't understand that it actually gets more stable the more weight it has aboard it. They get out here when the waves are running and they're saying, oh, is it gonna be bad? Am I gonna get seasick? The ferry is -- really runs along very smoothly. You don't feel the motion. It's a wonderful vessel and you feel very secure aboard it. But it is a responsibility. So we're always on guard, paying attention, and then we're dancing with other sailboats. We're running with the watermen. It's kind of like an orchestra out here. We go in circles around each other, and it's a neat experience, it really is something very special.

WILSON

00:04:56
That was Judy and Tom Bixler, speaking with "Metro Connection's" Tara Boyle. If you want to see what the ferry looks like, or check out its schedule for this season, we've got more info on our website, metroconnection.org.
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