Thanks to Detroit News for this:

The S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry Service is a passenger and vehicle ferry that has been operating on Lake Michigan since 1953.

The S.S. Badger is the last coal-fired passenger steamship in operation in the United States. It is also the largest car ferry to ever sail Lake Michigan.

The 410-foot long ship can accommodate 600 passengers and 180 vehicles, including: RVs, motorcycles, motor coaches, and commercial trucks during her sailing season (May-October).

There are 20 crewmembers working in the Engine Room, which is the largest part of the ship’s crew.

S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry

Currently, the ship shuttles between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a distance of 62 miles.

The S.S. Badger has recently been sold.

Ohio-based Interlake Holding Company announced Wednesday it purchased the SS Badger, along with two other vessels and assets of the Pere Marquette Shipping Company and Lake Michigan Car Ferry Company.

Besides the SS Badger, the deal includes acquisition of the Articulated Tug-Barge Undaunted-Pere Marquette 41 and the SS Spartan, a sister ship to the Badger that’s currently not in operation.

S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry

Mark W. Barker, president of Interlake Holding said he’s welcoming new employees, vessel lines and customers into the company’s Great Lakes operation. The Badger, with its storied history, will continue on, he said.

“The Badger has a very consistent, loyal fan base and followers,” Barker told The News. “This vessel is a National Historic Landmark. That’s a neat aspect of it and something we truly appreciate.”

Under the acquisition, Interlake Maritime Services was created to manage the new businesses and Interlake Steamship Company’s fleet of 9 freighters.

Robert Manglitz, president of Pere Marquette Shipping and Lake Michigan Car Ferry, said the agreement was “a good fit” for the family-owned companies.

S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry

“It was critical for us to find not only a highly committed and capable vessel operator but also a company that shared our culture of putting its employees and customers first,” he said.

The families that own Interlake Holding also own Seastreak, a fleet of high-speed passenger ferries that operate in New York Harbor and from various locations on the east coast, including New Bedford, Mass.

LMC and Tug-Barge Executive Vice-President Don Clingan noted car ferries in Ludington have been an economic driver for the community for more than 100 years.

The Badger first entered service on Lake Michigan in 1953. The ship briefly halted services amid financial challenges but underwent an overhaul.

S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry

“When the Badger ended service in November of 1990, many employees and local citizens believed that the era of car ferry service had ended,” Clingan said. “The rebirth of the Badger in 1992 marked a major milestone in maritime history on the Great Lakes.”

This ownership change 29 years later, Clingan added, marks another milestone that will extend its legacy into the future for both port cities.

Barker said discussions about the succession plan arose in late summer or early fall.

“That conversation ended up leading to where we are today,” he said.

S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry

The ownership changes took effect Wednesday, December 30, 2020. Interlake assumes all employees and is in the process of bringing them on board, Barker added.

The sale comes several years after the Badger was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior.

The ferry serves as the last example of the Great Lakes rail and car ferry design that influenced the design of ferries around the world. Lake Michigan had the first of three open-water Great Lakes crossings for rail cars.

The SS Badger’s future previously was uncertain when U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials targeted the ferry, which is powered by coal, for dumping coal ash into the lake during each crossing.

Badger Bingo onboard the S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry

In 2013, a federal judge cleared the way for the car ferry operation to continue following a $2.4 million upgrade to its ash retention system and combustion controls to stop the discharge of ash into Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan Carferry made the modifications to the ship over a two-year span.

Barker said the Spartan is stationed in Ludington but it hasn’t run in years. The company, he said, intends to explore opportunities for it.

SS Badger Car Ferry


Did you develop the new coal ash retention system?

Yes – that was our team. We took a bulk product conveyor system never used on a ship and modified it to haul ash. It was a huge but fun challenge, and not many chief engineers have that level of input. Not only did I get to work with the vendors to help design the system, but I went to Washington, D.C. to meet with the EPA. We also did a combustion control upgrade to reduce the amount of coal burned and ash generated by burning the coal more efficiently, and we’ve seen a 25 percent reduction in ash output. I’m happy with what we did – it was a big accomplishment.

What would people be most surprised to learn about the Badger?

The ship never shuts down during the season. Once we fire up the boilers in May, it runs around the clock until October. It takes several hours to bring it online, and there wouldn’t be time to shut it off and get it running for the next crossing. And because the boilers are always running, we always need people here. The entire navigational crew (Deck and Engine departments) stays on the Badger throughout the season – each person is provided a private room in the crew-berthing areas plus meals, laundry facilities, Wi-Fi and other comforts.

S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry
S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry
S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry
S.S. Badger Lake Michigan Carferry

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