Before the Mackinac Bridge: Remembering the Chief Wawatam

Chief Wawatam, St Ignace, MI by Bill Johnson

Chief Wawatam, St Ignace, MI by Bill Johnson

Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library shares that on August 21, 1984, the Chief Wawatam sailed for the last time:

Since she first sailed the Straits of Mackinac between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan in 1911, the Chief Wawatam carried thousands of passengers, automobiles, and railcars. The last coal-burning vessel on the Great Lakes, the Chief Wawatam made a name for herself for reliable, efficient service across the often-treacherous waters of the Straits. It was often the Chief who would deliver food and fuel to other Great Lakes vessels who became stuck in the thick winter ice.

After the Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957, the crossing time was slashed from nearly an hour by ferry to a matter of minutes by car. While other ferries ceased running almost immediately, the Chief Wawatam stayed in service for another twenty-seven years before finally retiring. Four years later, the boat was sold to a Canadian firm that cut the 338-foot ferry down to a deck barge.

Bill took this photo back in 1979 & writes:

The Chief is closing in on the dock at St Ignace, MI after crossing the Straits of Mackinac with another load of freight cars. There’s a Soo Line crew waiting for the Wawatam’s arrival. They’re taking a break right now, as are the deck hands on the Chief. Soon, everyone will be hard at work, moving their share of America’s freight. This was a daily scene way back when and will never be repeated. I was lucky enough to catch the action on September 24, 1979.

See more in his Boats, Ships & stuff that sails album on Flickr & have a great weekend everyone!

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Leaving Ludington

Badger Departing Ludington by Mark Zacks

Mark got this photo of the SS Badger leaving Ludington last fall. See his latest on his Flickr & enjoy your weekend!

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#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!

Badger in the Mist

Badger Heading Out

Ludingtons SP_0103, photo by Ron DeHaan

Here’s the S.S. Badger heading out for Wisconsin. I rode the Badger many times in my Junior & Senior year of high school (Go Wausau East Lumberjacks!) to get from Michigan to Wisconsin. It was such a pleasant way to cross Lake Michigan, and at the prices they charged there were a number of people who would do a round trip crossing, playing cribbage, drinking beer from a cooler and laughing as they enjoyed the ride.

View Ron’s photo bigger and see more cool shots from the Ludington area in his slideshow.

More ships & boats, more Ludington and more of the Badger (and badgers) on Michigan in Pictures.

The Badger steams on

S.S. Badger - Ludington Mi.

S.S. Badger – Ludington Mi., photo by RJE

NPR has a feature on the upgrades to the SS Badger that allow the car ferry to continue to operate between Michigan and Wisconsin on Lake Michigan:

A slice of history sails across Lake Michigan, carrying cars between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wis. It’s the SS Badger: the largest coal-fired passenger ship still operating in the United States.

For years, the ship was the focus of environmental scrutiny because of its practice of dumping waste coal ash directly into the lake. The pollution nearly stopped the Badger from steaming again — but now, the ash-dumping has ended.

…After decades of letting the Badger pollute the lake, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an ultimatum: Stop dumping or be grounded.

Finally, this off-season, the boat’s owner installed a $2 million solution: a set of blue pipes that collect ash each trip, about 500 tons per year. Once a week, that ash gets trucked to Charlevoix, Mich., for use in making cement products.

You can get all the info on the Badger right here. For an added dose of awesome in your day, check out The Steamer 43 Song by Pete Host, featuring photos of the SS Badger on Absolute Michigan. It’s from a 45 Pete recorded in the early 70s about a sailors life on the C&O carferries out of Ludington, Michigan. With his spare time aboard the Badger, he learned how to play the guitar, and in just a few months, went to Milwaukee Wis. and recorded this song.

View the photo bigger and see a couple more of R.J.E.’s photos of Ludington, Michigan.

More Michigan ships and boats on Michigan in Pictures.

Coming Home

Coming Home

Coming Home, photo by David Frey

David got a great shot of the SS Badger car ferry arriving in Ludington on its last crossing of Lake Michigan for the 2014 season.

View his photo background bigtacular and see more of his Ludington photos right here.

More SS Badger pics on Michigan in Pictures!

 

Michigan Movie Moment: Christopher Lloyd, Mickey Matson and the City of Milwaukee

Christopher Lloyd on the City of Milwaukee

Christopher Lloyd on the City of Milwaukee, photo courtesy Mickey Matson/10 West

While Michigan hasn’t become the movie mecca that was envisioned when the state created its film incentive – in large part because it was abruptly gutted – movies are still being made here. Pirate’s Code: The Adventures of Mickey Matson, was filmed in Manistee and Muskegon and premiers October 16 at the Grand Rapids Public Museum to kick off their 160th year. If you click that link, you can check out the movie trailer! It’s opening weekend of their new exhibition “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship.”

Here’s a production skill showing Christopher Lloyd, one of the film’s stars, on the pilot deck of the SS City of Milwaukee, a car ferry that is now a museum in Manistee that plays a big role in the film.

View the photo bigger and see more and learn more about the movie at the Mickey Matson Facebook page.

PS: Every Friday & Saturday night in October, the City of Milwaukee does a really cool haunted Ghost Ship that’s a blast!