THE LAST HAND OPERATED FERRY IN THE UNITED STATES (originally published Jan.2010) 
Wednesday, November 14, 2018, 08:34 AM
Posted by Administrator
The piece that one of my sister-in-laws copied from the Internet said to take Military Road. So, I drove South of our hotel and past the Police Station which is about a twenty five minute walk from the local International Bridge and turned right. I drove past fields of cabbage that looked ready to be picked and fields of brown dirt and some fields of dry cornstalks waiting to be plowed under. To my left, at the edge of the fields were stands of Cottonwood Trees ("Cottonwood" is the name I have given to all short, scraggly trees that line the fields in South Texas).

Beyond the Cottonwoods was part of the new border wall that stands probably 20 feet high near the banks of the Rio Grande River. The wall ensures that illegal Mexican immigrants will be physically fit...now having to both swim the river and then scale the fence.

The Military Road idea didn't work as the road headed left towards another International Bridge about 20 miles West of where I began. I found myself driving past a huge sign that warned that possession of firearms in Mexico is a crime and towards what appeared to be a line of cars stopped for a search on our side of the border. In the old days, you could drive unmolested...by us or them... into Mexico but now I believe we are interested in people bringing cash and guns across the border into Mexico and the Mexicans are interested in stopping guns (and I hope not in getting bribes).

I turned into a strip shopping center a few feet past the gun warning sign and made a U-Turn past a groups of Mexican men, I headed back North and, finally, found Military Road again. In a few minutes, I saw a sign for Los Ebanos Road and, since the last hand operated ferry in the United States is in Los Ebanos, I headed for the road....the road took me back where I started so I drove further West.

At the moment in time that I believed I was in the area of the ferry, I turned South and drove through a residential neighborhood. An old man in a motorized chair (think HumAround) whizzed across the road in front of me. I drove for another few minutes, past a school and then past scrub, fields and a few horses. I found another section of Los Ebanos Road. I turned left...away from a new development and towards the SouthEast.

I drove for a few minutes and, suddenly, the road went over a small bridge and then immediately turned to dirt. It seemed to me that a dirt road called Los Ebanos Road would probably lead to the Los Ebanos ferry. On the other hand, there were no signs and the road was empty.

And, there was a dead white cat smashed as flat as a pancake...centered almost exactly in the middle of the road just a few feet past where the pavement ended. This was not a cat that had been hit by a car. This was a cat that had been run over by a tractor...or a steamroller. This was the flattest dead cat I had ever seen.

I turned back. After a few minutes of re-tracing my route, I saw a car slowly pull away from a house at the beginning of the residential area and next to the pulling-away-car was a man and a boy. "Do you know where the ferry is?" I asked as I pulled up. The man did not speak English. The boy did not know what a ferry was. "Chalan" his father said to him. The old man in the motorized chair was whizzing back across the street and the man called him over.

"Go to the Interstate" the man in the motorized chair told me. "Then go West about 36 miles." He told me to be careful going through La Jola because it was a small town speed trap.

I drove West on the Interstate. It turned into a State Road a few miles East of La Jola and, sure enough, a La Jola cop was trying to pull over a car which was stopped at a traffic light and was having trouble because, it appeared ...and I speculate..., the driver of the car could not imagine why the cop might be interested in pulling him over.

Where rural La Jola meets the city limits of Sullivan there are signs to the right of the road that say "International Ferry" and "Historical Marker". I turned left. A green and white Border Patrol SUV immediately fell in behind me and I drove past two miles of slightly hilly nothing to the outskirts of what must have been Los Ebanos.

I reached an intersection. There was no sign for the Ferry. The Border Patrol SUV was gone. I headed towards the Historical Marker...past several streets of cottage size houses that might have been more at home in Mexico than they were here in South Texas. A crumbling gray brick house joined up with a white brick structure of about equal size; small, elderly, window unit air conditioners jutted at odd angles from a wall or two of every house in sight; carports sagged; fences were rusting. In a large garage a few people were decorating for what was going to be a wedding or quincinera or a too-late New Year's party...music was blaring. In the backyard of a neatly kept stucco house two women and a man sat around a patio table in the late afternoon gray-sky, South Texas gloom.

And then around the corner from the party, past a dirt parking lot, 50 feet down from an empty Homeland Security Trailer and a rickety ticket shack, there was a tiny barge that was the ferry sitting on our side of the Rio Grande. A sign said the ferry closed at 3:30PM. It was 4:05. Across the river, Mexico was about 20 feet away.

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