SS Badger

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Career (USA)
Name: SS Badger
Namesake: University of Wisconsin
Owner: Lake Michigan Carferry Service
Route: US 10, Ludington, MichiganManitowoc, Wisconsin
Builder: Christy Corporation, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Yard number: Hull No. 370
Launched: September 6, 1952
Sponsored by: Mrs. Walter J. Kohler (wife of Governor of Wisconsin)
In service: March 21, 1953
Homeport: Ludington, MI
Identification: Official No. 265156
IMO number: 5033583
Nickname: "The Big Badger" (Charles F. Conrad's favorite description)
Status: Active
General characteristics
Type: Passenger and automobile car ferry
Tonnage: 4,244 gross tons
Length: 410 ft 6 in (125.12 m)
Beam: 59 ft 6 in (18.14 m)
Depth: 24 ft (7.32 m) molded depth
Installed power: Steam, coal-fired
Propulsion: Two four-cylinder compound Skinner Unaflow steam engines, totaling 7,000 shp (5.22 MW); four Foster-Wheeler water-tube type D boilers, 470 psi (3.24 MPa)[1]
Speed: 24 mph (21 kn; 39 km/h) max
18 mph (16 kn; 29 km/h) cruise
Capacity: 620 passengers, 180 automobiles, also tour buses, RVs, motorcycles, and commercial trucks
Crew: 50–60
SS Badger
Location 700 S. Williams Street
Ludington, Michigan
Coordinates 43°56′57″N 86°27′04″W / 43.94917°N 86.45111°W / 43.94917; -86.45111
NRHP Reference # 09000679[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP December 11, 2009
Designated MSHS March 6, 1997[3]

The SS Badger is a passenger and vehicle ferry in the United States that has been in service on Lake Michigan since 1953. Currently, she shuttles between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, connecting U.S. Route 10 between those two cities. She is the last coal-fired passenger vessel operating on the Great Lakes.

The ship is named after the University of Wisconsin's athletic teams, the Wisconsin Badgers.[4] The Badger runs on Michigan time (Eastern Time Zone, whereas Wisconsin is in the Central Time Zone) and riders pay Michigan taxes on their fares. She runs on a seasonal basis from May to October.[5]


The SS Badger connects the eastern and western segments of U.S. Route 10, shown here in red.

The Badger was constructed as a rail car ferry in 1952–53 by the Christy Corporation of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin,[4] along with her twin sister the SS Spartan (named after the mascot of Michigan State University) with a reinforced hull for ice-breaking. She was originally used to carry railroad cars, passengers and automobiles between the two sides of the lake all year long. Today, the ferry connects the eastern and western segments of U.S. Route 10 in the two cities from May to October.[5]

Launched September 6, 1952, the SS Badger entered service March 21, 1953, for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (from 1973 a subsidiary of the Chessie System). The C&O had acquired the rail car ferry operations in Ludington with its acquisition of the Pere Marquette Railway in 1947.[6] After 1972, service was gradually curtailed; all but the three newest vessels were retired, and sailings to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin were discontinued, leaving only the route between Ludington and Kewaunee, Wisconsin. On July 1, 1983, the Chessie System ended its car ferry service when it sold the steamers Badger, Spartan, and City of Midland 41 to Glen F. Bowden of Ludington. He organized the Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company (MWT) to continue the operation.[7]

The railroad car ferry concept on Lake Michigan was facing serious economic troubles during the 1980s and by November 1988, the Badger was the only vessel running. She was the last of the 14 ferries since 1897 based in Ludington remaining in service.[4] On November 16, 1990, facing bankruptcy, Bowden laid up the Badger, ending 93 years of railway car ferry service out of Ludington and 98 years on Lake Michigan as a whole.[8]

Lake Michigan Carferry Service[edit]

The SS Badger on Lake Michigan

After sitting idle for a year, the three ferries were purchased by entrepreneur and philanthropist Charles F. Conrad of Holland, Michigan, (and a native of Ludington). He undertook a major overhaul and refit of the Badger exclusively for carrying passengers and automobiles. The only operating ferry of her kind in the world, she is an icon of car ferry heritage on the Great Lakes.[9] Conrad retired as president of Lake Michigan Carferry Service in 1993. He died on February 9, 1995. Since 1993 the company has been headed by his son-in-law, Robert Manglitz.[10]

The Badger is the last large coal burning steamship in the United States and is the last vessel in service on the Great Lakes to be powered by Skinner Unaflow engines (manufactured by the Skinner Company of Erie, Pennsylvania).[a]

On average, the Badger completes a trip across Lake Michigan in about four hours, covering 60 miles (97 km).[13] The ferry saves about three and a half hours of travel time compared to the 411-mile (661 km) drive from Manitowoc to Ludington via Chicago, which would take approximately seven hours, or more (depending on Chicago traffic). The ferry offers a number of entertainment options and eating facilities on board, as well as passenger staterooms equipped with sleeping berths. Because of her size and strong construction, the SS Badger rarely misses a sailing due to weather.[citation needed]

The SS Badger is also unusual in that it is a registered historical site in two states. The Michigan Historical Commission and the Wisconsin Historical commission each named the Badger as a registered historical site in 1997. In 1996 the Badger's propulsion system was designated a mechanical engineering landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.[citation needed] In 2002 the Badger was named Ship of the Year by the Steamship Historical Society of America.[14] She was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 11, 2009.[citation needed]

On August 9, 2008, the Badger suffered a stern bearing failure, causing the company to cancel the ferry's sailings for nearly a week. It was the first time the ship had ever experienced a stern bearing failure. On August 10, she sailed under her own power to the Bay Shipbuilding yard in Sturgeon Bay for repairs. As there was no opening at the time for the work to be done in the dry dock, a team of divers was flown in from California to assist in the repairs. Regular sailings resumed August 15, 2008. It was the first time since 1994 (when she struck a rock at Ludington) that the Badger was laid up for unscheduled repairs and the first time since 2005 that the company canceled a sailing because of mechanical failure.[citation needed]

The Badger '​s large deck space allows it to transport tractor trailers and larger commercial loads. In 2012, it carried more than 1,000 commercial loads. The ship carries wind turbine components from Wisconsin, some 150 feet (46 m) long and 150,000 pounds (68,000 kg). The Badger '​s fall season was extended two weeks into early November to carry additional wind turbine loads.[15]

Environmental impact[edit]

A wind turbine being loaded onto the ferry

The SS Badger came under fire from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmental groups in late 2008 because of its daily practice of dumping untreated coal ash from its boilers directly into the waters of Lake Michigan. Burning 55 tons of coal a day produces 4 tons of ash.[16] Coal ash is a byproduct of the Badger '​s propulsion system.

The Badger had earlier been the subject of EPA Clean Air action but was granted an exemption under the law due to the historical significance of coal fired, steam powered vessels like the Badger. Company officials compared coal ash to "harmless sand" and planned to keep the Badger in its original coal-burning configuration.[17] In an effort to continue to minimize the environmental impact to the lake, the SS Badger has explored a number alternatives including, storing the ash on board and unloading upon arrival in Ludington. Another option once considered was the use of compressed natural gas, this would allow the historical boiler system to be maintained and making the SS Badger the first "green" ship on the Great Lakes.[16]

Lake Michigan Carferry signed a consent decree with the DOJ and EPA in March, 2013 to end ash discharge within two years, utilizing a new ash retention system.[18] The revised consent decree was filed in September 2013.[19][20] In January 2015 work began on a conveyer system that will store ash in four containment bins on board. The ash will be sold for use in cement-making.[21] A new combustion control system will allow the ship to be more efficient by burning less coal and generating less ash.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The 1906 lake freighter St Mary's Challenger, another steamship still in service on Lake Michigan also had Skinner Unaflow engines, fitted during a refit in 1950, until 2014 when it was converted into a barge.[11] Also the Canadian lakes steamer, James Norris, had Unaflow engines, but was retired in 2011.[12]


  1. ^ "SS Badger Engines and Boilers". ASME. 7 September 1996. 
  2. ^ Staff (13 March 2009). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  3. ^ Staff (2009). "SS Badger". State Historic Preservation Office. Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Retrieved 26 June 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Manitowoc and the Car Ferries / S.S. Badger
  5. ^ a b "S.S. Badger History". Retrieved September 28, 2014. 
  6. ^ Chavez (2003), pp. 26–51 passim.
  7. ^ Chavez (2003), p. 79.
  8. ^ Chavez (2003), pp. 87-88.
  9. ^ Chavez (2003), pp. 89-91.
  10. ^ Chavez (2003), p. 91.
  11. ^ "Great Lakes Fleet Page Vessel Feature – St. Marys Challenger". 
  12. ^ James Norris
  13. ^ Staff (2006). "SS Badger: Big Ship, More Fun!". Lake Michigan Carferry. Retrieved 25 July 2006. 
  14. ^ "Ship of the Year". Steamship Historical Society of America. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
  15. ^ Staff Reporter (September 25, 2012). "Transporting wind towers extends Badger sailing season". The Herald Times Reporter (Manitowoc, WI). Retrieved September 26, 2012. 
  16. ^ a b Kesling, Ben (November 6, 2012). "Ship From Bygone Era Fights to Keep Sailing". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 18, 2012. 
  17. ^ Hawthorne, Michael (2011-10-01). "On Lake Michigan, a coal-burning steamship gets a pass". Chicago, IL: Chicago Tribune. 
  18. ^ Staff (2013). "Lake Michigan Carferry Reaches Agreement With EPA". Lake Michigan Carferry. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  19. ^ "EPA Strengthens S.S. Badger Consent Decree in Response to Public Comments; Penalties Increased for Failing to Cease Coal Ash Discharge to Lake Michigan by the End of 2014 Sailing Season" (Press release). U.S. EPA. 16 September 2013. 
  20. ^ Staff (2013). "Lake Michigan Carferry, Inc., S.S. Badger". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  21. ^ SS Badger, last of coal-fired steamships in U.S. waters, gets new lease on life
  22. ^ Steve Begnoche. "Badger receives new combustion control system", Ludington Daily News, May 5, 2014. Accessed July 21, 2014.(registration required)
Works cited
  • Chavez, Art (2003). SS Badger: The Great Lakes Car Ferry. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2304-6. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Greenwood, John O. (1984). Namesakes of the '80's, Volume II. Freshwater Press. ISBN 0-912514-28-0. 
  • Hilton, George W. (1962). The Great Lakes Car Ferries. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books. 
  • Zimmermann, Karl (1993). Lake Michigan's Railroad Car Ferries. Andover, NJ: Andover Junction Publications. ISBN 0-944119-11-5. 

External links[edit]