Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in the Log Cabin Democrat on October 26, 2020, as the Toad Suck Ferry was returned to Toad Suck Damsite Park.
By Andy Robertson
The Toad Suck Ferry is back home.
Operating across the Arkansas River at the site of the lock and dam from 1956 to 1972, the 20-foot wide, 60-foot long steel ferry arrived at its resting place on the Faulkner County side of the river Sunday and was placed Monday morning.
The ferry was moved to north Arkansas upon completion of the lock and dam and Highway 60 bridge.
What once transported passengers from the Faulkner County to the Perry County side of the river, began transporting passengers across Lake Norfolk and Bull Shoals.
For nearly 60 years, the ferry saw many passengers, but in 2016, it was retired.
Next came a message to the city of Conway Chief of Staff Jack Bell.
“We got a notice from what was the highway department then,” Bell said. “They said it was surplus to them and they’d sell it and gave us a scrap price for it. We’ve been working on it since then. It’s been off and on that we’ve worked on it.”
Bell said an estimate to put the ferry on a truck, transport it to Conway and then lift it off a truck was for $84,000, which left little hope that it would return.
“We finally got an estimate to move it and it was exorbitant,” he said. “It was a terrible amount. So, I kind of gave up on it.”
However, the disappointment ended this summer.
“The highway department called this summer and asked if they could bring it to us,” he said. “We said ‘absolutely.’ All we had to do was build a path and pay for the crane to get it up.”
Bell said getting the ferry back to its Arkansas River location was a collaborative effort.
“It’s been a cooperative effort between the county, city and the state,” he said. “We’ve been working on it off and on, and finally started getting hot and heavy this fall.”
The scrap price Bell mentioned to buy the ferry was $2,035, but the total operation cost would be about $50,000 after building a concrete slab and renting a crane to place the ferry.
“The cost to buy the barge was $2,035, but the pad was close to $30,000,” he said. “We haven’t gotten the bill on the crane, but we’re thinking it’s going to be close to $10,000. The city council appropriated $10,000 for the purchase and toward the crane. It will go back to city council for money for renovations and get it back to what it looked like before. I think it will be great if we can do that. It’s been a great process. The total is probably around $50,000. That’s spread out over the city, county and the state. The estimated cost to put it on a truck, bring it to Conway and lift it off the truck was $84,000. It was a big benefit for ARDOT to volunteer to do that.”
As it currently stands, the ferry is left to its steel skeleton, but Bell hopes to renovate the ferry back to what it looked like during its heyday, which included a cabin, paddle wheels and its white and orange paint.
The ferry will still be on display despite not looking like it once did, which will allow people to come and look at it and reminisce.
“It will just be for looking at,” Bell said. “It won’t have access to it. We’ll put some kind of barricade around it. It’s here for people to bring their grandkids out and say, ‘I rode that ferry.’”
Photo by Andy Robertson