#TBT: Icebound Car Ferries in Ludington

Carferries Icebound in Ludington 1913

Icebound Carferries at Ludington, photo courtesy Karl Bahle

The caption reads “Carferries 15, 17, 18 and 19 – Fast in ice at Ludington, Mich March 22, 1913” and from that, I was able to dig up some tasty history! Carferries.com has great information on the Pere Marquette fleet of ferries that was based in Ludington. They say (in part):

At various times between 1897 and 1947, the Pere Marquette operated a total of 13 ferries on Lake Michigan, running between Ludington, Mich. and Milwaukee, Manitowoc and Kewaunee, Wis. These ships were then an efficient means of bypassing the congested rail yards in Chicago. They plied routes varying between 60 and 97 miles in length, and were often plagued by violent storms and heavy ice. Given the fact that most of the cross-lake runs were made at speeds of 12 to 14 miles per hour, a remarkable volume of freight was carried.

In those fifty years the Pere Marquette car ferries made well over 160,000 lake crossings and transported roughly 4.5 million railroad cars loaded with over 75 million tons of freight. Even these numbers are somewhat conservative, as early records no longer exist. They also carried approximately 1.6 million passengers and after the mid-1920’s, about 380,000 automobiles. Additionally, over the course of its history, the railroad operated a total of 4 river car ferries. These ran between Port Huron, Mich. and Sarnia, Ont., and between Detroit, Mich. and Windsor, Ont., connecting the PM’s Michigan and Canadian lines.

  • Pere Marquette 15 – launched in December of 1896 as the original Pere Marquette. She reportedly burned 30 tons of coal on an 1897 round trip from Ludington to Milwaukee. In 1924, the vessel was renamed Pere Marquette 15, and scrapped in Manitowoc in 1935.
  • Pere Marquette 17 – launched in 1901, hauled 2 “Jack Johnson” battleship guns in 1915, sold to the State of Michigan to be the car ferry “City of Petoskey” <-great info and photos there!
  • Pere Marquette 18 – here’s where the history gets a little murky, as the ship that was launched in 1902 sank in 1910 off Sheboygan, Wisconsin, so either the date is wrong on the photo above or that’s another ship! UPDATE: Karl informed me that the original 18 did sink in 1910, a new one was put into service in 1911 and sailed until 1954!
  • Pere Marquette 19 launched in 1903, ran aground numerous times before being sold for scrap in 1940. She was reduced to a barge profile and renamed the Hilda.

If you’re wondering “What happened to Pere Marquette 16?” that link has great info on the 16, only wooden car ferry in their fleet!

View Karl’s photo bigger and check out his Lake Boats album for many more photos!

3 thoughts on “#TBT: Icebound Car Ferries in Ludington

  1. I think it was February, 1951, the City of Flint. I was 9 years old. We were stuck in the ice for 18 hours a few miles from Ludington. Ice cutters would make a path, but it seemed that intake of ice and slush were causing the problem for the ferry’s coal fired steam powered engines. Long after dark, a strong wind broke up the ice–could hear it coming like cannon shots from miles away. The waves crashed against the boat until it was covered top to bottom with ice. Sad to say, the 8mm home movie camera films my father made were lost, but the memory of that crossing will only die with my passing.

    Liked by 1 person

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