Preview: A DAY’S WORK, Part II—an excerpt: River Scows

Hosted by OCH co-founder Maynard Bray

Bill Bunting’s two books (Parts I and II) entitled A Day’s Work have intrigued us at OCH for some time, having been listed as a favorite read by at least one of our OCH Guides. They’re about life in Maine as it used to be between 1860 and 1920, told in photographs and marvelously informative essays written by Bill. Things maritime are included—about a third of Part II, in fact—and they are what we’ll feature, but there’s great stuff about farming, lumbering, quarrying, ice harvesting, and other commercial pursuits of the late 1800s and early 1900s as well. I guarantee you’ll learn more than you can imagine about how ingenious our forebears were in using brains, brawn, and natural materials like wood.

With Bill’s blessing and that of owner/publisher Jon Eaton of Tilbury House, and with assistance from Bill’s wife (and former Tilbury publisher) Jennifer Bunting, OCH will be periodically posting more excerpts as a way of reviewing these exceptional books. We’re starting with the 384-page second volume which is still in print and available. I hope these excerpts convince you to place an order. Here’s the link to Tilbury House:, and to Amazon:

The Dresden-Richmond ferry on a passage across the Kennebec River

The Dresden-Richmond ferry on a passage across the Kennebec River, likely in the 1890s Dr. Charles E. Burden

One buggy carries bags of corn or meal, the other, a crate of poultry. Two bridled pulleys, rigged fore and aft, ran along a cable. (Anoter photo indicates that this ferry ran along a light wire cable, which sank to the bottom to be clear of river traffic. Ferries on non-navigable rivers used hemp cables, which were sometimes suspended above the surface.) Lee-boards. or “dashboards,” harnessed the current.

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2 Responses So Far to “A DAY’S WORK, Part II—an excerpt: River Scows

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    Michael Miller says:

    Most appreciated detail and context. The regulation of ferrying is most interesting; this is what gave Cornelius Vanderbilt his early income to eventually dominate American transportation.

    River crossings have meant so much in myth, poetry and faith; it’s so disturbing to drive the modern highway and too often not be able to see the rivers running under us.

    Publish more stories like this, thanks


  • David Tew

    David Tew says:

    SO interesting! How, pray tell, was a river-crossing ferry like the one from Bath to Woolwich and back ‘horse-powered’?