Tragedy on the Ferry, Capt. Evans’ ‘Retiring’ Wife

Pocahontas ferryboat steamed between Cape Charles and

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

March 10,  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. 


I don’t know if this is right or not, but I call the Pocahontas, the Princess Anne, the DelMarva, I call those the ferries.  And then the Elisha Lee and the Virginia Lee and the Maryland, I called them steamers.  But I guess they are all technically steamers. I thought these were diesel engines and that they didn’t run on steam.  Were they coal fired?

Oil fired.  No coal fired ferries.  There was that heavy oil.  You had to heat it to get it to burn. They had to heat it to pump it into the boat.  The boat had tanks on there which was enough to carry the boat one day, maybe two days.  But in these tanks they had heaters.

What was the most curious thing that ever happened to you?

[Grace]: During the hurricane you know he lived at where the State Park is. 

I remember that.  I thought you all had the neatest house down there.

[Grace]:  There was a swimming hole and all that.  They told him everything was all right, but he had nine trees on his house.

Nine trees.  That was Hurricane Hazel.  They told me everything was all right and I got home and there were nine trees!

[Grace]: His wife took the kids and brought them to Cape Charles.

I have a picture I want to show you and see if you can recognize some of the people in it.  Looks like some kind of dignitaries.

That’s Nolan Chandler, and that’s Frank Belote.  And that’s Captain George Daniels.  That’s me.  Might be Kirwin Forrest there.  That’s Ed Hockaday.  Harvey King.  That’s Ernest Ewell.  He was a ferry captain, too.  Might have been when they re-commissioned the Princess Anne.

I guess that slowed her down.

You want to know something, made her faster.  Lighter, the stern was down further in the water and we made better time.  They made them faster.

So they lengthened the Princess Anne, the Pocahontas and the DelMarva.

[Grace]:  That’s what we wanted to remember to tell them about, when they cut them in half.

That’s what we’re talking about.  Did you get to go up there when they cut them in half?

I did one of them.  I went up there for the Pocahontas.

I would remember coming home from college at Christmas time and it would just happen that you would end up on the same ferry with a lot of other people coming home from other colleges.  It was like a reunion on the boat.  I kind of miss the ferry.  It’s a lot classier than riding across the bridge.

[Grace]:  I don’t know why they couldn’t keep one ferry, just as a tourist attraction.

I would do that if I had the money.  I would rebuild that terminal and I would have a steamer or ferry and have it run to Richmond or something.  Then make a circuit around the bay.

Do you remember there was an instance where one of the ferries was pulling out from Cape Charles and a cable caught around the car and pulled it out of the back of the ferry?

A man and a woman in there and the man was a preacher, and a dog in there.  As the ferry pulled out, the bumper of a car caught in the chain that pulls the ramp.  As I pulled out, it pulled that car overboard.  But prior to that, the preacher had gotten out and was standing there by the car.  Waiting for his wife to get straightened up so she could get out.  But that’s when the boat pulled out and pulled that car off.  The bumper stuck out and the bumper was where the chain was and it caught in that.  The man was out, but the woman and the dog was in there.  I remember I was on another boat and I had to sit out there and wait for it to get something down there to get the car out.  They finally got it out and got the woman out.  She was dead, of course.  And the dog was dead.  She didn’t have any water in her lungs, so she must have died [from] the cold water.

[Grace]: I think you ought to tell them how you retired.

They had a superintendent up there in Cape May and he used to come down to our bridge once a week.  He came down from Wilmington, Delaware.  Of course, they were in charge of the bridge up there, too.  The Delaware Memorial Bridge.  And he come down from there once a week, every Thursday.  So this one Thursday he came down and had an office back there that he went into.  And my wife, she come walking in my office.  Everything all right?  Yeah, she said, come on back, I want to say something here.  So I walked on back and I saw Mr. Bright back there, she said, I know, I want to talk to you back there.  She said, “Mr. Bright, Captain Evans is going to retire.” I had no idea, no thought of retiring!  I was 62 years old.  Anyway, that wound up my career!  That was 1982. After thinking things over, I was glad I retired.  She passed away in 1998.  We wound up going to Chicago to see my daughter.  I got less pension, but I’m not going hungry now!

This concludes Capt. Evans’ reminiscences. CLICK HERE for Part 4, CLICK HERE for Part 3, CLICK HERE for Part 2, CLICK HERE for Part 1.



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