Luking will sign copies of his book ‘Last Ride on Chamberlain’s Ferry’
“When I was a boy, I’d stand at the edge of the water at the end of Chamberlain Ferry Road. Mom would point out towards the middle of Clark’s Hill Lake. ‘Right over there, a few hundred feet to the right of that island,’” she’d say. “‘That’s where I was born – and my brothers and sisters, too.’
“She’d talk about Grandpa pushing the ferry boat across the wide Savannah River, and she’d tell how all the children came up together in the little ferryman’s house. She’d share funny stories of those days long ago,” wrote Dr. Steve Luking in his new book, “Last Ride on Chamberlain’s Ferry.”
The son of Bill and Bettie Luking of Lincolnton, Dr. Luking, a family practice physician in Reidsville, North Carolina, said his original intention was not to write a book. “I just wanted to write some things down for my kids and for their children someday. But then I realized that the story of the ferry years and life on the river was worth the telling.”
Dr. Luking will be the guest of honor at a book signing, sponsored by the Friends of the Lincoln County Library (FOL) from 3 until 5 p.m. on Friday, August 31. Copies of the book may be purchased at the event for $20 each.
“Last Ride on Chamberlain’s Ferry” is actually comprised of two books: Book One is titled “The Ferry Years” and relates the story of how the author’s grandparents, Gordon and Pauline Bradford, and their two young children moved into the ferryman’s house on Clark’s Hill Lake in 1918.
“Seven days a week, my grandfather pushed the boat across the wide Savannah, while his wife tended their growing family up on the hill. Eleven more babies were born in that little house on the river.”
Then, in the 1930s, the family was informed that a dam was coming. When the structure became a reality in the 1950s, the ferryman’s house sank 35 feet below the surface of Clark’s Hill Lake.
In Book One, Dr. Luking has salvaged the history of the ferry and the river community by interviewing over 90 people, many of whom experienced the era firsthand.
Some of the chapters in this section of the book include “School Days,” “The Ferryman’s House,” “Cows and Butter and a Dark Corner,” “A Turtling Tutorial,” “The Ferry,” “Harvest,” “Storms,” “’Fessor Grier,” “Grandpa Tom,” “The Community,” “Children of the River,” and “The Last Interview.”
Among the photographs appearing in Book One are those of an aerial view of the ferry (circa 1920s); the ferryman’s house; various family members and individuals in the community; the ferry itself; Mulberry School; fourth and fifth-grade students at Four Points School in 1928; and Jesse Brame with a certified “gollywhopper.”
Moreover, the cover of the book as well as some of the illustrations therein were produced by local folk artist Leonard Jones.
It appears as if the ferry began operating in the late 1800s under different names. In 1900, it became Chamberlain Ferry and remained so until it closed in 1939 or 1938, when the Fortson-Dorn Bridge was completed.
A hand-written charter, addressed to Louis Napoleon Chamberlain, established the following rates for passage on the ferry:
A “footman” or foot traveler: five cents.
A drove of hogs: 2.5 cents each.
Cattle, horses, and mules: five cents.
A horseman: 10 cents.
A one-horse vehicle: 10 cents.
A two-horse vehicle: 50 cents.
A four-horse vehicle: 75 cents.
A six-horse vehicle: 100 cents.
Titled “The Homeplace,” Book Two of “Last Ride on Chamberlain’s Ferry” follows the family after they are forced to leave the river. For about a decade, they move frequently, sharecropping across the county. Eventually, the oldest son, Bill Tom, who is serving in the United States Army, purchases a farm for his struggling parents and younger siblings back on the old ferry road. The family regains a homeplace, where Mr. and Mrs. Bradford live out their last days.
Book Two features photographs of various sharecroppers in the area; family members; the new homeplace; the True Fellowship Pentecostal Church, which was formerly Mr. Henry Partridge’s country store; and the Wilkinson House.
Among the chapter titles in this section are “The War Years and the Warriors,” “First Light,” “Croppers,” “The Homeplace,” “Sports Afield,” “Catfishing Lessons and Roadkill Stew,” “The Story of a Road,” and “Uncle Bill Tom.”
In other comments, Dr. Luking said, “I spent eight years on the book. My motivation for writing it was two-fold: I thought the story of the ferry and the river community was a great one from a historical perspective, and I felt a strong need to honor the lives of all who were part of it.
“I think too many books are published about the ‘famous’ folks and not enough are written about those who lead equally fascinating and substantial lives outside the limelight.
“Secondly, I wanted my children and by default, everyone’s children to have a chance to consider and hopefully learn from the sacrifices and experiences of those who lived just a couple of generations ago.”
Luking went on to say that the most fun he had was knocking on the doors of strangers, soon finding himself in their world as they shared their life stories.
“The hardest part about writing the book was every single word,” he explained. “I wanted the entire book to be meaningful in a myriad of ways – I wanted to organize and write it to the best of my ability.
“Also, the decision to expand the book beyond the ferry era added literally years to the project, but I knew I had to do it.
“I cried when I wrote and then re-worked the chapter titled ‘Uncle Bill Tom,’” the author continued. “He truly was a hero to my mother’s family, and I loved him dearly as a child. Since then, my life experiences have only strengthened my admiration for him – I have gained a deeper appreciation of what he did for his family and others.”
According to Dr. Luking, once he had finished writing the book and it was safely stored on his computer, he felt a deep sense of peace. “I knew that this journey had been so fulfilling to me alone – even before I had let anyone read the manuscript – that I could take the computer and throw it in the lake below my house, with the realization that all of the years of research and writing were worth it. I had already received more from the project than I had put into it.
“This isn’t to say that sharing the story is not important because it is. I think the book will be very meaningful to many of the readers.”
He added that he is looking forward to seeing old friends and family members on Friday.
Dr. Luking lives in Reidsville with his wife, Sara; his son, Forrest; and their dogs, Sadie and Bailey. The Lukings’ daughter, Melinda, is a teaching fellow at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
“Last Ride on Chamberlain’s Ferry” is the doctor’s first book.
“I have a couple of ideas for other books,” he said, “but nothing planned for the near future. I need to catch up on my ‘honey-do’ list, which is about half as long as the book.”
For those who are unable to attend the book signing, copies will be available for purchase at the library.