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CROSSING THE NIAGARA BY FERRY WAS DAUNTING

Recent delays at the Peace Bridge -- and in building a new one -- lead me to reminisce about the days when there was no bridge at all, and we had to cross the river by ferry.

In 1927, my father had just bought a cottage at Crescent Beach in Canada, where we were to spend our summers for the next 10 years. The Peace Bridge was not ready for traffic until August of that year, so we had to resort to boat travel.

For our family, this became an annual ritual on Memorial Day weekend. It began early in the day, when we started loading our cars at the front door of our home in Snyder. Our "motorcade" consisted of Dad's Stearns-Knight touring car (side curtains removed for the summer) and Mother's Reo Flying Cloud sedan.

Our little wire-haired terrier, Pal, was always quick to get the message, and would jump into the open touring car hours before our departure. About two hours were spent loading bedding and other household items into the cars. Then Mother had to make several nervous trips back to the kitchen to make sure the gas was turned off.

Finally we were off, Dad leading the way in the Stearns, with me in the back seat and Pal in my lap, digging his claws into my bare legs. Mother followed in the Reo, with my little brother, Billy, barely visible over the dashboard.

There were not so many traffic signals in those days and we did not have many stops. One, however, will live in my memory.

Dad had stopped somewhere on Buffalo's West Side and our pugnacious Pal had spotted another dog. Suddenly he exploded from my lap and began racing down one of the alleys. My father ran off in hot pursuit, noisily falling over garbage cans and boxes. A half hour later, he returned with Pal in his arms and shoved him into my lap, warning me, "Here, dammit, now hang on to him!"

We finally reached the ferry landing -- and my most dreaded moment. We were first in line that day, waiting at the dock when the gate went up and the gangplank lowered.

It trembled and rattled under the weight of our Stearns as I looked down in horror at the dirty water below -- garbage, sewage and slimy green stuff -- and envisioned the horror of dropping into it. Dad's only worry was that Mother's car, somewhere in the rear, wouldn't make it on the same trip.

Once we were all aboard, we put a leash on Pal and went up to the top deck to watch the river traffic. There were three ferries in those days -- the Orleans, the Fort Erie and a big side-wheeler, the City of Toledo. All three were in operation at the same time; two departed simultaneously from Buffalo and Fort Erie docks while the third was midstream in transit.

At last we pulled into the Fort Erie dock and the eagerly awaited treat of the day -- Canadian fish and chips. These were served to us wrapped in newspapers. Back in those days, the ink didn't come off on your fingers or -- in this case -- on your potatoes.

Finally we were under way again to Crescent Beach and a glorious summer of fishing, swimming and sailboating. It was heaven. School never seemed so far away.

HARRY O. BRUNN lives in Amherst.

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