ORAL HISTORY: Sinking Ships, Ice Breakers

Pocahontas ferryboat steamed between Cape Charles and Norfolk, captained by Bill Evans.

March 3,  2014

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cape Charles Historical Society has for more than a decade been recording oral histories of the area’s earlier days.  In 2006, Bill and Jan Neville interviewed the late Capt. Bill Evans. A grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities enabled 15 interviews to be transcribed, and the Historical Society has made this one available for readers of the Wave.  All the transcriptions may be read at the Cape Charles Museum.)

Excerpts from a March 31, 2006, interview by Bill and Jan Neville of Ferryboat Capt. Bill Evans and his wife, Grace. 



You mentioned Les Morgan.  What were some of the other captains?

Captain Morgan.  Captain Stone, he was a head captain, Captain Justin Stone.  There was a Captain Daniels, too, George Daniels.  He was from the Norfolk side.  They eventually took him off the boat and put him port captain.  And then there was Frank — they took him off the boat and made him port engineer.  And there was a Nolan Chandler, he was an engineer at one time, and they put him out there as superintendent.

Who was Stanley Lewis?  Was he a captain?

Stanley Lewis?  He was a captain.

Wilbur Brownley, do you know him?  Ed Forrest?

I’ve heard of Brownley but don’t know him.  Ed Forrest was a railroad guy.  And Brownley, seems like he was railroad, too.

Those concrete ships.  Were they WWI or WWII surplus?  Did they have a name for them?

Oh, they’re from World War II.  They carried freight.  I only know them as concrete ships.

I had a friend out in the Pacific in WWII and he said when a Japanese bomb would hit one of those things the air was full of concrete chips shooting all over and the other ships would have to duck.  It wasn’t shrapnel, it was concrete chunks coming at you.  How did they get from Texas?

They towed them up here.  They were floated.

How did you sink them?

That was easy!

Did they dynamite them?

What we did, we took them in there, put them in their place, then we pumped them full of water, each one of them, and put them on the bottom.  Then we brought a dredge in and dredged all that out inside of the harbor and put all that dredging in there — in the ships.  That settled the ships and that’s how they stayed there.  It’s been a mystery to me, because when they first took those ships over there by law if the Virginia Ferry ever went out of business, or moved, they had to move the concrete ships.  But it so happened, before the Virginia Ferry went out of business, the State took the ferries over.  That’s prior to building the Bridge-Tunnel.  So they got by with that one.  So the concrete ships are still there.


Let me ask you another question — this is skipping around a little.  You mentioned Plantation Light.  When you were leaving Cape Charles, Plantation Light would be on your left or port.  Is that right?  I’m trying to remember.  I rode by them when I was a kid, but I never could remember which side of Plantation Light we went on.  Or did they go on both sides?

No.  When you come out, here’s Plantation Light, you come out here, you have ranges, you followed the ranges out.  Well, down here you had another set of ranges.  Come out here and when you see these ranges, you cut a hard right and come out.

That would take you to the north of the Lighthouse.  Those ranges are still there.

I don’t know if they are or not.  I know Plantation Light, I think they moved that.

They actually destroyed it, I think.  But I don’t know if you’ve been to Bay Creek.  They’ve built a replica of it.  It’s really nice and pretty accurate replica.  It kills me when I think about things like that.  That could have been floated into Cape Charles and put somewhere down at the beach and it would have been a neat thing to have.

That thing has been a lifesaver many times.  A thick fog, you didn’t have nothing else to go by.  You could pick it off right at a good distance, you’d hear it “woooo-uh” — it was a wonderful sound!

Did you ever have any situations where you were worried about sinking?

It seemed to me like they lost a shaft and there was a big hole in it.  But the boat didn’t sink.  They ran it aground.

How about ice?  Did you ever get caught up in the ice?

Yes, we had right much ice.  And I’ve seen ice come out of Cape Charles and we’d have to break ice all the way out past Plantation.  And sometimes you’d have to back up and hit it again.  And I haven’t seen ice like that in many a year.

Did you worry about damaging the hull?

No, we didn’t worry about that.  We’d back up and hit it again and back up and hit it again!

[Grace]:  That’s how you broke it?  By backing up and hitting it?  Son of a gun!  Where are you going to hear this but from him?

This concludes Part 4. CLICK HERE for Part 3, CLICK HERE for Part 2, CLICK HERE for Part 1.



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