PEEL, Ark. – In years past, before the days of extensive highways and bridges, travelers relied on ferry boats to get from point A to point B. At one time, there were more than a dozen ferries in the state of Arkansas. Today there is only one about three hours north in Peel, Arkansas tucked up against Missouri.
On a crisp fall morning, among the red and orange leaves and the sun glistening across Bull Shoals Lake, the road ends and the water begins and the past comes face to face with the present.
“I first rode it in August of 1974. It’s pretty incredible and it really hasn’t changed,” Ferry rider John Terrell said.
The Peel Ferry first set sail from Arkansas to Missouri in 1968. At that time, there were 17 ferries in operation across the state but one by one the stop signs came down for good. Now, this is the only one still tugging along day after day morning until night.
“It’s wonderful. It takes you back to being able to stare at the world the way it belongs,” Ferry rider Mike Hartig said.
From locals like Ronda and Gilda Fletcher to tourists like Jamie Penton, hundreds of people ride the ferry every day.
“We’re from south Mississippi and you know there used to be ferries down there and there’s no ferries left,” Penton said.
“Every time some of the relatives come in, I bring them down to ride the ferry,” Fletcher said.
It seems like just about everyone has a ferry tale. Some like Curly Johnson have stories that span a lifetime.
“I started in 1972,” Johnson said. “We spent more time together than we did with our family. We just had a lot of good times.”
Johnson spent close to four decades working on this barge, almost too much time to count.
“That’s kind of tricky,” Johnson said.
He retired, for the first time, in 2000.
“This is where I wanted to be,” Johnson said.
He came back soon after.
“And I would just run the tug,” Johnson said.
Some might think it’s a peaceful gig.
“People are kind of nuts,” Johnson said.
Curly would tell you otherwise.
“We saw this truck come down, run through the gate and we were on the other side and it just sailed into the water,” Johnson said. “The old boy got out, stuff floating everywhere.”
In the midst of the crazy, Curly says there’s one moment that gives him peace of mind.
“There was a lady who told me one time that she saw an angel on each corner of this ferry,” Johnson said.
In all his years working, and beyond, everyone has made it to and from each shore safe and sound.
“I kind of believe maybe those angels are sitting on the corner of this thing,” Johnson said.
From leaving a legacy to continuing one, Bill Wenneker first rode the Peel Ferry when he was a kid.
“I was probably this high,” Wenneker said. “My grandpa bought a lot here way back when, when the lakes first opened and we’ve had the same lot ever since.”
Now, he’s bringing his grandkids on the same trip.
“It’s neat because they are going to grow up knowing their grandpa,” Wenneker said.
The Peel Ferry is not only connecting two states but generations. With each ride comes a new story and each story is just a drop in the lake full of memories.
The ferry runs only in the daylight hours. During this time of year, the last ferry leaves the Arkansas side at 4:40 p.m. and the Missouri side at 5:00 p.m.