This is how some of the ferries along the San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers in the Central Valley worked. It had to be a part time proposition there – those rivers just aren’t that wide and during the late summer and winter there wasn’t that much flow so oxen and mules were needed to pull.
It seems like I was researching Burney’s Ferry just north of Riverbank about 30 years ago when I read the explanation about how it operated. I remember I was all excited about it and told Pops how it worked when I ran into him at work the next day, saying it was a brilliant idea. He gave me one of those looks, shook his head and said “No, that’s common sense. You’re just a stupid fucker is all.”