SS Badger. Photo: The Interlake Steamship Company

Historic SS Badger Lives to Steam Another Day

Ira Breskin
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January 12, 2021

By Ira Breskin

The historic SS Badger will live to steam another day.

SS Badger, the last coal-powered car ferry providing regularly scheduled service on the Great Lakes, will continue its popular run across Lake Michigan, says Interlake Holding Co., its new owner.

Interlake recently announced that it had purchased all the assets of Pere Marquette Shipping Co and Lake Michigan Car Ferry Co., Badger’s former owner.

“As a maritime company, we understand how important the Badger connection between Ludington, Mich. and Manitowoc, Wis. is to those communities,” said Mark Barker, Interlake Holding president, in a press release announcing the purchase.

Car-ferry operations between Ludington and Manitowoc date back more than 100 years.

From 1953 and 1990, 411-foot LOA Badger provided railway-car ferry service between those two cities; the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway then owned the ship.

Badger reemerged in 1992 after then new owners had it overhauled and converted into a passenger-car ferry. (The coal-fired steamer also carries semi-trucks and walk-on passengers.)

On its 62-mile, four hour cruise, Badger can accommodate as many as 600 passengers, traveling in 180 cars. The appeal: the voyage cuts travel time, at least in half, versus driving between the two small cities directly across from each other on opposite sides of Lake Michigan.

Badger sails seasonally between May and October. Ship officers and crew are members of the American Maritime Officers union.

On Jan. 20, 2016, the National Park Service designated 69-year-old Badger a National Historic Landmark. Christy Corp., now part of Bay Shipbuilding, built the ferry in Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.

Prior to the ship winning its historic designation, Lake Michigan Car Ferry spent $1.2 million to equip it the with a high-tech combustion control system. The new control system that increases Badger’s engine efficiency also reduces its coal consumption, thereby cutting stack emissions.

In addition, Lake Michigan Car Ferry in 2013 signed a consent decree to collect Badger’s residual coal ash (laced with mercury and arsenic) and no longer dump it into Lake Michigan. The agreement settled a long-running battle with the Environmental Protection Agency.

As part of the sale agreement finalized on Dec. 30, Interlake also acquire ATB Undaunted/Pere Marquette 41. The company did not disclose the purchase price.

Interlake, with headquarters in Middleburg Height, Ohio, near Cleveland, also operates nine Great Lakes freighters. Moreover, it owns Seastreak. It has five ferries that operate in New York Harbor and serve other east coast locations, some seasonally.

Ira Breskin is a senior lecturer at State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, NY and author of The Business of Shipping (9th edition, 2018), a primer that explains shipping economics, operations and regulations.

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