Sunday, April 29, 2012

High Water and Still Going

Every work day, and often on the weekends, I check the Willamette River monitoring website that shows the river levels. It gives a prediction of the levels for the next ten days, and the first 3 days are usually very reliable. Lately, the site keeps showing these swings, low water, high water, low water, high water. We opened last week on Monday, after being closed for 4 days. I was expecting that we'd close again on Wednesday or so, since the predictions showed the river being around 13.25 or 13.5 by Wednesday afternoon, and that's when we typically close.

But then last week, a backhoe came down and dug out a bunch of rock. And on Wednesday afternoon, E came down and really worked with me on using the steering cables and slowing the motors at certain times to land better. It made a huge difference. I operated on Wednesday to about 13.8 feet. The river was ferocious by that point. It looked so swollen, fast, and terrifying. Occasionally, huge logs would float by, but mostly it was just the force of the river itself that was crazy.

Over my weekend, the newest ferry operator, and now-regular BV operator, K had her first solo shifts. I think she did pretty damn awesome, considering the fact that the river went to 15 feet and the ferry stayed open the whole time! I drove across the ferry yesterday afternoon, when the river was at about 14.5 feet, and holy cow, that was crazy high water! I'm really excited to keep the boat open more. It means fewer shop days, fewer days in the winter where we're closed, and more time that the ferry can do it's job, and serve the locals.

Then, of course, I had to close the ferry this morning. It wasn't even the water level that did it at all! One of the motors, the one on the downstream side, kept kicking off. I'd be puttering across the river, and suddenly there'd be no power on the downstream side. Alarms would sound, and I'd race around trying to see if I can fix it. I know what breakers to flip, how long you need to wait, and the proper procedure to reset the drives, but once, it took a half hour to kick back on. I got stuck on the wrong shore (my car was on the opposite) for awhile, and it kicked off once when I was landing, once in the middle of the river. Thank goodness I was able to land using just the upstream motor.

It was hard to get ahold of people, bosses, electrician, dispatch, to get help or tell them I'm closed, but finally, several hours later, I'd talked to the people I needed to, the electrician will probably be coming down tomorrow, the road closed signs were closed, and dispatch had sent out announcements that the boat was closing. All in all, it wasn't that terrible. It was 1:30, warm weather, and I was heading home on a Sunday afternoon!

In other news, I don't think I've mentioned the amazing opportunity I get to experience this week. I am going to be interviewed for the NPR radio show "The Story". The Story is a really fantastic program where the host, Dick Gordon, spends a good deal of time simply interviewing interesting guests who have an interesting job, experience or life to share. I emailed them and submitted my story about how my life has changed since losing my Planning job and working on the ferry. They called me two days later! I'm going up to Portland where I'll sit in a studio and be connected with the host in North Carolina. The program will be broadcast on May 16th, I think. The theme of the program that day will be in honor of Studs Terkel's 100th birthday. I'm so honored. I get so nervous just thinking about the interview. I'm so glad it won't be broadcast live. But I'm so excited to tell my story, and even more excited that someone thinks I have a story worth sharing!

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