Incident at Shipley Ferry
by W. Dale Carter, copyright 2009
In the summer of the year 1909, the Shipley Ferry was fully operational with W. P. Doran acting as chief helmsman. Most of the customers were farmers who were transporting their farm products by wagon to local markets. The ferry barge was well designed for this task; however, during the summer of 1909, a traveling salesman from Chattanooga, Tennessee was traveling on the old Shipley Ferry Road in his new Model 10 Buick Roadster “White Flash” peddling his wares and made the decision to cross the South Fork of the Holston River on the Shipley Ferry barge… a decision he later regretted. Old man Doran had never before ferried an automobile across the river and was inexperienced in the secret of unloading a car from the ferry.
An automobile crossing the river on the ferry was a big event. Old W. P. Doran had his wife and daughter dress up in their Sunday clothes and a photographer was present to record the event. All went smoothly with the loading of the auto on the barge. The salesman engaged the Buick in slow speed by pressing down on the middle pedal and gently eased the auto onto the deck of the barge. Old W. P. Doran manned the two oars at the rear of the barge and maneuvered the barge slowly across the gently flowing river. The photographer was ready and took a photo of the event.
When the ferry docked at the east landing of the crossing, old W. P. Doran instructed the salesman to start the engine of his car and drive it off the barge. At this point, Murphy’s law came into play. Old man Doran was not aware of Newton’s third law of motion. That is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. The salesman gently eased the car off the barge and as soon as the front wheels of the vehicle were firmly on dry land, he gunned the engine; the barge shot back in the opposite direction and the new Model 10 Buick “White Flash” rapidly sank into the water of the river. Everyone stood in awe as the salesman emerged from the sunken vehicle, his fine tailored suit clinging to his body dripping wet.
What went wrong? Had old W. P. Doran P analyzed the task at hand, he would have realized that when the front wheels of the vehicle were firmly emplaced in the soft earth on the river bank, it required a certain amount of force to push the vehicle forward. Of course, that force was supplied by the 1909 Buick’s rear wheels now located on the barge. The barge floating in the river offered little resistance to the force of the rear wheels and consequently was pushed backward into the river. Isaac Newton figured this out a couple of centuries before, but old W. P. Doran was not well versed in the laws of motion.