its brief fifty-year history, the Pere Marquette Railway’s Lake
ferry fleet played a significant role in the development of railroad
service, both in the United
States and abroad.
The fleet began modestly in 1897 with a
single ship, only five years after this type of craft was introduced on
the Great Lakes.
the early 1900’s the fleet had grown to six vessels and had surpassed
rivals in terms of size and sophistication of operation.
The PM was so successful that their marine
managers were consulted by ferry operators who sought advice on vessel
construction, dispatching, and icebreaking techniques.
Representatives from Finland,
and Great Britain
made periodic visits to observe the operation firsthand.
Later, the Florida East Coast Railway
developed a fleet of car ferries running to Cuba
that were very similar in
design and dimensions to those operated by Pere Marquette.
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
freight was carried. In those fifty
years the Pere Marquette car ferries made well over 160,000 lake
transported roughly 4.5 million railroad cars loaded with over 75
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
the Pere Marquette Railway was merged into the much larger Chesapeake and
Ohio Railway. For many years thereafter,
operations were known simply as the “Pere Marquette District of the
Railway.” Ferry service continued and
expanded for a time, but by the mid-1970’s, the C&O and its rival Lake Michigan ferry operators contended that
services were no longer economical to operate. High
fuel and labor costs, and faster, more efficient
train handling and
routing had rendered the ferries obsolete.
ferry operators were ultimately successful in their abandonment
routes systematically abolished beginning in 1978.
The last cross-lake railroad ferry ended
service on November 16, 1990 when the former C&O Railway car ferry Badger made the final trip between
Kewaunee and Ludington, thus closing the final chapter of a
Currently, the Badger
as an auto and passenger ferry between Ludington and Manitowoc,
sailing May through October. She is the
last steam passenger ferry serving
the Great Lakes.
For information and reservations call Lake
Michigan Carferry Service, 1-800-841-4243.
Authors Note: Much of
following material has appeared in periodicals published by the Pere Marquette
Historical Society (www.pmhistsoc.com).
always seeking information, stories and
photos on the PM car ferries for future articles and a comprehensive
detailing their history
Art Chavez, Milwaukee,