The Silver Lake ferry from Swan Quarter Friday morning had an unusual passenger. Photo by Dossey Pruden, N.C. Ferry Division

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By Connie Leinbach

Stories abound about cats hitching inadvertent rides under vehicle hoods, but islander Kate McNally may have dibs on the first known chicken hitching a car ride.

McNally was on the 7 a.m. Swan Quarter ferry from Ocracoke Friday when a ferry worker knocked on her car window and asked, “Are you missing a chicken,” said her fiance William Howard.

Howard related the story since McNally, with their son, Hatton, 1, continued on their way to Greenville to visit family.

But none of their 15 hens had been invited.

“Ferry workers saw it crawl out onto the ferry deck then go back in under the wheel well,” Howard said about one member of their flock. “Kate didn’t know what she was going to do.”

Kate McNally with her freed Rhode Island red hen. Photo by Dossey Pruden, N.C. Ferry Division

When the Silver Lake docked at Swan Quarter, the hen didn’t make a run and ferry staffers got to work removing the left rear tire from McNally’s car, which was the last one in line.

“We had a whole crowd helping,” said Mitch Russell, chief engineer, talking about it at the Ocracoke dock. “We had to take everything out—guitars, baby supplies—and the baby stayed in the back seat.”

As the crew jacked up McNally’s car to get to the wheel, Hatton giggled the whole time, Howard said.

In short order, the workers were able to grab the Rhode Island red hen and gave her to McNally, who tucked the bird inside her coat.

“It didn’t squawk,” Russell said about the chicken. “She was tickled. Then she ducked her head inside Kate’s coat. I think she was embarrassed.”

While McNally, a singer-songwriter, continued on her journey, the ferry workers found a box in which to transport the hen back to the island on the 10 a.m. departure.

Ferry worker Walt O’Neal dropped the hen off at Howard’s house where she promptly dashed into the coop, Howard said.

Howard’s family has a long history of having chickens.

“My grandfather had them; my great-grandfather had them,” he said. “The island used to have all kinds of animals to eat. You needed them to survive.”

Howard was astonished and overjoyed at the ferry workers’ help.

“Those guys deserve a pat on the back,” Howard said as the Silver Lake left on its afternoon run across the Pamlico Sound. “I smiled the whole time. Those kinds of things don’t happen every day. It gives you faith in people.”

William Howard, right, chats about the morning ‘chicken run’ with Mitch Russell, chief engineer. Photo: C. Leinbach
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