A Winter Taxi Across the Hudson River, or a Rickenbacker Doesn’t Float

Recently, we posted about the times when New York harbor froze solid. While that is a very unusual occurrence in New York City, a bit farther up the Hudson River, the river freezing over is a yearly event. In the summertime, before the river was spanned by bridges, numerous ferries plied the waters allowing people and wheeled vehicles to cross the river. In the wintertime, things were more challenging when the ice kept the ferries tied to the docks. 

As long as the ice on the frozen river was thick and smooth enough people could walk across or even take horse-drawn sleighs. Things got a bit tricky when the ice was melting or just freezing, or when currents would break the ice into huge moving sheets and islands. 

Here is a story told by Richard Heppner in Hudson Valley One of Lloyd Plass and his ill-fated cross-Hudson Rickenbacker taxi service: 

Though small in stature, Lloyd Plass took big risks – risks in business, with his own safety and, most assuredly, with the safety of others. During the 1920s, Plass, a Highland resident, came to the conclusion that it would be a sound business decision to invest in and represent the Rickenbacker automobile company in the Hudson Valley. Taking its name from the famed World War I flying ace, the stylized Rickenbacker automobile reflected the flamboyance of the era. As sales of the car failed to match expectations, however, Plass – according to his nephew Jon Decker – sought a different way not only to draw local attention to the Rickenbacker, but also to enhance his income. As a result, a new taxi service was introduced: one that would transport passengers in style from Highland to Poughkeepsie.

So where was the risk? The taxi service offered by Plass, at a time before bridges spanned the Hudson, would operate during the winter. In short, passengers would be driven across the expanse of ice that separated the two shores. Easing his Rickenbacker onto the frozen waterway near where Mariner’s Harbor is today, Plass would negotiate his way across Mr. Hudson’s frozen waterway to the opposite shore.

For the most part, his excursions proved uneventful. The Hudson, however, is not without surprises during the winter as currents, tides and temperature work their way with the ice. So it was that the law of averages eventually caught up with Plass and, as family lore has it, his Rickenbacker broke through the ice one day about 100 yards off the Poughkeepsie shore. While passengers and Plass emerged unharmed, somewhere at the bottom of the Hudson lies a monument representative of the trials and tribulations of our all-too-human efforts to traverse the Hudson River during the depths of winter.

Rickenbacker Motor Company was a US automobile manufacturer established in 1922 by Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s leading fighter ace during World War I. The firm made sporting coupés, touring cars, sedans, and roadsters. The company closed down in 1927, after producing more than 35,000 cars, at least one of which is beneath the Hudson River.

Fortunately for the residents of Poughkeepsie and other Hudson River-side communities, the mid-1920s to the 1960s saw the building of more than eight bridges across the river. 

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