Charles Short: Maintenance man at Cape May-Lewes Ferry

Millsboro native involved with drag racing on the side
September 10, 2019

Charles Short may look young, but for the last two decades he’s been working hard to ensure the Cape May-Lewes Ferry operation runs smoothly. 

The Millsboro native and Sussex Tech grad is an expert in the field of electronics. It got him in the door with the Delaware River and Bay Authority back in 1998, and he’s proven himself as a major asset the last 21 years. 

Before taking a job at the ferry, he was training in avionics in Reading, Pa., learning how to do electronics on jets and airplanes.

“But I wanted to finish college, so I came back home,” he said. “I needed a job while I was going to school, so I applied here.”

He was hired as a general maintenance technician by Gerald Hitchens and Tom Powell. He quickly impressed his bosses, repairing the video arcade games on the five ferry boats and the games in each terminal.

“Video games were popular back then,” he said. “They broke down all the time and they needed someone to work on them.”

It was a perfect opportunity for Short to showcase his skills in electronics. Shortly after, the ferry offered him a full-time job and was even willing to pay for the rest of his school at Delaware Technical Community College, where he was enrolled in the electronics engineering program.

“After that, I just kept moving up,” he said.

He eventually became supervisor of maintenance. Now, he’s the senior maintenance manager, overseeing 28 full-time and 10 part-time employees. On any given day, he could be in Lewes or Cape May or one of DRBA’s other properties – Delaware Air Park in Dover and Cape May Airport. If his day is in Cape May, he’ll hitch a ride to New Jersey on a morning ferry.

On the day of his interview with the Cape Gazette, he was in Lewes replacing one of 50 rubber fenders around the ferry dock that provide a cushion for the vessel when it comes to port. Another day he could be working on the ferry vessel repairing the HVAC. No day is the same as another, and Short likes it that way.

One part of the maintenance operation Short does not deal with is the mechanical maintenance of the ferry’s engines. That task falls to Director of Ferry Operations Heath Gehrke. One ferry is out of commission now, and crews are working to fix a generator before it’s put back into service.

In his free time, Short likes to work on cars, particularly his high school car, a 1991 Ford Mustang, which he drag races with his friend Craig Walls. Walls is the driver and Short does a lot of the work, particularly the electronics.

“Anymore, drag racing is nothing but electronics,” he said. “We try to do all the work together, but I do all the wiring, of course.

“He doesn’t need to touch that,” he added with a smile.

They compete in a class called X275 Drag Radial. The consider their home to be the track in Cecil County, Md., but they race all over the country. In March, they competed in an event called Sweet Sixteen in Georgia, where they took home second place.

Short’s love of cars and racing goes back to his childhood. He fondly remembers going to races in Georgetown and Delmar with his dad.

It was also his dad who urged him to go into the electronics field.

“I kind of wanted to go into the automotive industry, but my dad thought I should try electronics because that was the next up-and-coming thing,” he said. “I’m so glad I did because I really enjoyed it. The field is just so broad.”

Short’s wife Katie works at East Coast Garden Center in Millsboro. They have two kids – Collin, 5, and Callie, 2.

  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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