With docks nestled on the Wilsonville and Canby sides of the Willamette River, the Canby Ferry has a history of carrying travelers safely across the river since 1914.
But due to several bouts of inclement weather and some unforeseen electrical problems, the six-car ferry has been closed for more than 20 weeks since the spring of 2016.
Usually seen gliding along the surface of the Willamette River, being towed by underwater cables and powered from lines above, the blue and white vessel has had an unusually maintenance-heavy year. According to Doug McLain of the Clackamas County Transportation Maintenance Department, the department which oversees the ferry, much of the ferry's time off was scheduled as a result of wear and tear.
"There have been several issues," McLain says. "In 2016 the ferry was closed three weeks for maintenance, and one week due to snow. So far in 2017, the ferry has been closed for 17 weeks — one week due to snow and high water, and 16 weeks for maintenance."
Starting the year off with weather-related closures, it wasn't until an ice storm in February 2017 hit that the biting winter took a real chunk out of the ferry — and its operating time.
"The motor control circuitry was damaged, and replacing the components took several weeks," McLain says. "We have now installed a weather station on the power transmission trolley to help us avoid electrical problems due to ice in the future."
While the ferry was already out of commission for repairs, McLain took the opportunity to move up the date of the quinquennial Coast Guard inspection from October to May along with performing any other necessary maintenance to avoid closing the ferry for an extended period later in the year.
During the May closure, the Coast Guard hauled the ferry out of the water onto a series of airbags to inspect the hull. The ferry was then cribbed up, pressure washed, inspected and painted with a new protective coating. Also during May, the Transportation Maintenance Department replaced the overhead power transmission lines that stretch over the river and power the ferry. After receiving a clean bill of health, the ferry returned to service on May 19.
Despite the closures on Advance Road for the construction of Meridian Creek Middle School, McLain says that the ferry was not significantly impacted by the road construction. However, yet another closure is on the horizon for the ferry in October to replace the main cable and contact wheels on the power transmission of the trolley.
"This typically requires closing the ferry for half a day," McLain says. "It would be unusual if there was not some other unscheduled maintenance performed this year. We know we need to replace the contact wheels on the power transmission trolley at least twice a year, once when we change the main cable and other times as needed... Any other nonscheduled maintenance would be in response to wear, breakage or malfunctioning of various components."
But the cable ferry, officially known as M.J. Lee II, is rolling with the punches and operators don't expect any negative, long-term repercussions from the lost dates of service. Although, McLain does recommend that those planning to use the ferry either check the county's website, call ahead or check the operation-status boards located on the roads leading to the ferry before hanging their hats on it being open — particularly if there's bad weather.
"In some years, high water levels cause the ferry to close for extended periods of time," McLain says. "Other years, not at all."