I drove from the Douglass house to the Finnegan Ferry, named after the Scottish homesteader who first operated a ferry here in 1913. According to local lore, John Finnegan’s wife was as famous for the fine pastries she served at her rooming house as John was for his enduring physical strength. He could still turn the ferry’s hand springs at the age of 75. The current ferry operator, John Kuchle, is also known for his physical strength. “John was a tough guy when he was young,” Molly told me by way of introduction. “A formidable foe.”
Kuchle has been a Finnegan Ferry operator for six years. He grew up nearby and farmed and ranched in the area for 40 years before running pack horses and mules for hunting camps in northern Alberta and B.C. Kuchle knows many of the farmers on both sides of the river. The small snatches of conversation he enjoys on the five-minute ride across the river keep him up to date on the local gossip. “You’re gonna get to know what everybody’s up to,” he said.
Sometimes he’ll meet passengers whose parents and grandparents farmed in the area years earlier. “It makes it nice for them to come back,” Kuchle said, and he asks his most interesting passengers to sign a guest book and “write a little story.” Most of his passengers are locals, like John Douglass. “He’s been here forever,” Kuchle said. “He crosses lots. He’s got a brother that farms big on both sides of the river and runs lots of cattle. He’s got three boys with him and they cross steady here all summer long.”
One of Kuchle’s other regulars is a young man who used to cross the river to play poker with his friends. “I’ve known him since he was a little kid,” the ferry operator said. “He’ll sit somewhere and play cards and visit with the boys, and he’ll get here maybe five to 12. Or five after 12.” Even though the ferry stopped running at midnight, Kuchle would always wait a few minutes for the card player. “I got to calling him Midnight,” Kuchle said. “Now everybody calls him that.” Midnight and his wife just had a baby, though, and he doesn’t cross for late-night cards as often.