Car: (Satellite, a guess)
The ferries ran to St. Ignace, MI.
This ferry operation was the northern terminus for Pennsy's Grand Rapids & Indiana branch for NYC's Michigan Central.
Loading trains on the railway ferry Chief Wawatam in Mackinaw City, Michigan.
|Mark Hershoren posted
"Loading trains on railway ferry Chief Wawatam at
Mackinaw City, MI".
(Photo by Clyde Johnson, Martin Bliss collection)
Association for Great Lakes Maritime History posted
An undated image of the railroad car ferry Chief Wawatam being loaded with passenger cars at Mackinaw City, Mich. (Image Source: Detroit Public Library Digital Collections – Burton Historical Collection). The photograph was taken by Clyde Johnson. Given the vessel’s history and the fashions worn in the image, it may be circa 1910s or 1920s.
Additional Historical Information
Launched in 1911, the Chief Wawatam was a railroad car ferry that was built in Toledo, Ohio by the Toledo Shipbuilding Co. for the Mackinac Transportation Co. The 351-foot vessel (LOA) was designed to carry rail cars year-round between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, Mich.
Formed in 1881, the Mackinac Transportation Co. was a joint venture of three railroads, the Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette Railroad, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, and the Michigan Central. The Chief Wawatam was their largest and first steel-hulled ship.
With a capacity of 26 rail cars, the ferry was equipped with three triple-expansion steam engines which powered three propellers, two on the stern and one on the bow. Because of the strength of its propulsion and hull, the vessel was often used for ice-breaking in the Straits of Mackinac.
In 1916, the Mackinac Transportation Co. began transporting automobiles across the Straits of Mackinac. They were loaded on rail cars for the crossing. That service was discontinued in 1923 with the introduction of a state-run automobile ferry service across the Straits.
Due to the decline in railroad passenger service following World War II, the last passenger train left Mackinaw City in 1955. The Chief Wawatam continued to provide ferry service for freight cars and was acquired by the State of Michigan in 1977.
Leased to the Straits Ferry Corp., the ship provided ferry service across the Straits of Mackinac until 1984 when it was withdrawn from service and permanently laid up at Mackinaw City. In 1989, the vessel was sold to Purves Marine Ltd. which converted it into a barge.
In 2005, one of the ship’s steam engines was restored for display at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Wis. Another was donated to the City of St. Ignace. A third engine may still be owned by Purves Marine. The vessel was scrapped at Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. in 2009.
John DeBeck: Does anyone have or know of the loading pattern for freight vs. passenger cars on the Chief/Sainte Marie? I must assume that passengers had to debark from the cars while loading and then reboard on the other side? I am curious about this due to weight factors of one type of car vs. the other, and all of the time I spent watching the ferries in Kewaunee as a kid. Curious because of cars like col cars and auto racks being loaded, too---and see the AA ferry roll over in Manistique with coal cars loaded incorrectly. We also have a CITY OF MIDLAND 41 model on our HO train layout that has correct track layout, and in operating sessions, it must be "loaded" and "unloaded" acording to spec. The Chief, however, was one of my favorite boats, and I remember first seeing her laid up in Mackinaw City on a family trip in 1984, and later as a barge outside Algoma Steel in the early-mid 1990s. I have the rare book about the Chief, found in a bookstore here in Door County years ago, but I don't recall a mention of the loading patterns.
Daniel Gless: John DeBeck I have that book too. Good one. The Manistique roll over was due to iron ore cars loaded incorrectly. You have to load a few on the right, then on the left and so forth. Do it wrong and over it shall go.
Buzz Burns: Would love to see a picture of the engines.
Association for Great Lakes Maritime History: Buzz Burns Video of engine in 2016 when the Wisconsin Maritime Museum had a computer simulation of an engine telegraph connected to it which allowed visitors to operate the engine at different speeds and directions. However, it proved difficult to maintain and eventually was shut down in favor of displaying the engine operating at a constant speed. In addition, much of the original hand lubricating system had to be replaced with an automated system in order to allow the engine to be displayed in operation.
John Starz Jr.: Does the museum ship the icebreaker mackinaw sit now about where the chief is in this picture ?
Les Bagley: John Starz Jr. yes, almost exactly there!
|Beau Soleil Langlois posted (I love St. Ignace!)
Chief Wawatam (Roy Cole)
|Evil Adams, Jul 2018
|Robert Campbell posted
The Chief Wawatam at the Mackinaw City dock in February 1977.
Christian A. De Kok: I think the steam engine at the museum in Manitowoc is from this ship.
Craig Fitzhugh: Christian A. De Kok It is in the museum in Manitowoc. They poured the cement foundation, installed the engine, then built the museum around it. I sailed on the Chief Wawatam back in 1980.
Marine Historical Society of Detroit posted two photos with the comment: "In the boiler room and pilot house of the railroad car ferry Chief Wawatam, 1978. Thomas Manse collection."
Marine Historical Society of Detroit shared
|Dave Gottschalk posted
Detroit and mackinac 974 works the Chief in Mackinaw City. No date and I don't know who the photographer was for credit. I'm assuming late 70's early 80's.
Steve Hunter I had the pleasure of watching the Chief Wawatam being unloaded/ loaded in 1981... it was a huge pleasure as it brought me back to childhood memories of another steam carferry very close to my heart, CNR's SS Prince Edward Island. Thanks for posting!
|Mike Harlan posted
Mike Harlan The Staights, the Chief Wawatam , 1911 to 1984
Kerry McMillen Mackinaw city
Mike Harlan posted
Dennis DeBruler According to comments in another group: Chief Wawatam, 1911-84, in Mackinaw City.
Paul Rabenhorst posted two photos with the comment: "Carferry CHIEF WAWATAM."
Steve William Lindsey
Barry Sell posted two images.
The Chief Wawatam was the 3rd railroad carferry designed by Frank Kirby for the Mackinac Transportation Company at the Straits. She entered service in 1911.
The first image is of federal troops who were transported by train across the ferry to help put down the copper strike on the Keweenaw Peninsula which ran from the summer of 1913 until spring of 1914.
The Chief was also the main rail connection for midwestern summer resorters and fall deer hunters heading for the UP. Her dock in Mackinaw City was also the jumping off point for the Island Transit Company’s Algomah to Mackinac Island and The Snows, so it could be quite crowded at times.
The Algomah had been originally used as a break bulk ferry by the railroad. She’s seen to the left of the pier in the second view.-
[This postcard faded more than the comparable one above.]
|Dave Gottschalk posted
I don't remember where I bought this slide at or who the photographer was to give credit too but here are a couple Detroit & Mackinac crews working Mackinaw City. I think this would be 1981 or 82.
Brandon Beaudoin Looks like an excursion train!
Dave Gottschalk If I remember correctly. ....it was a special train for a candidate for governor.
Richard Fiedler I vacationed here around 1980 and was not aware of the ferry. I woke up I the morning went out of my motel room and saw bellows of black coal smoke. I'll never forget the Chief Wawatam and watching it get switched.
Dave Gottschalk Mackinac to st. Ignace. 1911 till 1984 I believe
Dan Coburn The Chief and the St,Marie used to be contracted out by the Coast Guard for icebreaking. These ships were famous for their icebreaking abilities. They broke ice as far north as above the Soo Locks and South as Lake Erie.
Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad was one of the railroads that carried freight up Michigan to this ferry.
This abandoned train elevator in Mackinaw City was used by the railroad ferries when they ran across the Straits of Mackinac linking Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula. It is right next to the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum.
Kevin Toombs: It’s called a Dock Apron, levels and connects the tracks on land meet the tracks on the ferry.
Kelly Sandford Glover shared
|Mary Cook commented on the post
Here is a picture of the apron in use as train cars come off the Chief in the mid-20th Century.
|Greg Bunce posted
The railroad carferry Chief Wawatam ran between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace across the Straits of Mackinac between the two peninsulas of Michigan. It was the last hand fired boat on the Great Lakes. Coming into Mackinaw City August 1978.
Greg Bunce The engines are in the Maritime Museum in Manitowoc and the hull was cut down into a barge that worked out of The Soo. I was fortunate enough to be allowed down below when I worked for the Michigan Northern and it was like stepping in a time warp. Brass on everything in the engine room.
|SS Chief Wawatam, Public Domain
Colorized postcard photo of the SS Chief Wawatam train ferry at Mackinaw, Michigan.
Mark Hershoren shared
Loading the Chief Wawatam with passenger cars bound for St. Ignace at Mackinaw City, Michigan.
|Greg Bunce posted
The Chief Wawatam's arrival in Mackinaw City after it's maiden voyage October 8, 1911. Photo from the Marine Historical Society of Detroit.
|Greg Bunce shared
Michigan National Guard troops on their way to the Copper Country during the Miners Strike of 1913.
West Michigan Post Card Club photo
Michigan (National Guard) Troops Crossing Straits of Mackinac for the Copperfields (during the great Keewenaw Copper Mine Strikes of 1913-14) - unused real photo postcard.
|Don Harrison commented on the above photo
Here is a handsome shot of the Photographer Clyde Johnsons color printed version of this great image!!! :-) UNM UpNorth Memories Don Harrison Description: SHIP Mackinaw St Ignace MI c.1912 SS CHIEF WAWATAM Mackinac Transportation Co Steamer Railroad Car Ferry used to cross the Mackinac Straits before Mackinaw Bridge built Photographer Clyde Johnson of Mackinaw City MI.
Jackie Rowe I made trips to UP on that ship.
|Barry Sell posted
Michigan Mackinaw City State ferry and Railway Docks
Les Bagley: The railroad ferry Sainte Marie (II) in the distance, and The Straits of Mackinac state auto ferry at the elevator in the foreground.
|Mark Hershoren shared
Chief Wawatam, Mackinaw City, Lining the apron,
(Photo by Martin Bliss)
|Mark Hershoren shared
Loading the Chief Wawatam at Mackinaw City as seen from the pilot house. Check those cars to the right.
(Photo by Martin Bliss)
Blane Jacobs provides a link that I think explains the two passenger cars on the side.
|Greg Bunce posted
A great John W. Barriger photo of what appears to be a Michigan Central train on the boat dock at Mackinaw City, Michigan. On the left is the railroad car ferry Chief Wawatam and on the right a ferry for Mackinac Island.
Richard C. Leonard I watched NYC engines (2-8-0s) switching the ferry at Mackinaw City in 1945, and I can't place this scene. For one thing, I can't figure out how these stub end tracks would have been used since there had to be a clear passage from the ferry past the depot(which would be behind the photographer, on the left) into the yard. Also I wonder if passenger cars went across to St. Ignace on the ferry. Are you sure this is Mackinaw City? Can you identify the locomotive number? Of course track arrangements could have changed between whenever Barriger took the photo and 1945. I would be glad to see any explanation of this.
|Greg commented on his posting
I think that this postcard can clear up some of your confusion. The Barriger photo is looking towards the depot from the end of the dock. The Chief Wawatam was loaded from the bow, not the stern like Pere Marquette, Grand Trunk and Ann Arbor ferries. The ferry did handle passenger trains, the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic did originate and terminate trains in Mackinaw City with the car ferry carrying them between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.
Richard C. Leonard Then these are holding tracks at the very end of the dock (hence the wheel-arresting devices). The slip for the ferry then branches off to the left, from behind the passenger car. That does accord with my memory, because I recall the NYC 2-8-0s shoving cars onto the ferry on a curved track, using idler flats.
A comment indicates that this was really taken in St. Ignace.
|Great Lakes Shipping History shared
John Campbell That’s the former Ann Arbor No. 4 in its latter years as the City of Cheboygan! Nice photo and thanks for sharing!
U.P. Michigan photo
Straits Car Ferry 1950.
Before the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957, you'd have to line up, sometimes the night before to catch the ferry and go across the straits to the Upper Peninsula.
Michele Jarvey-Maurina This photo brings back memory’s. Our dive club was involved in the “Intentional” sinking of the Straights of Mackinac. After a few years and a gazillion hours of preparation/cleanup we still couldn’t get the permits in Wisconsin, so worked with a Chicago group.
It was intentionally sunk in 2003 off Navy Pier. Here’s a link to the sinking https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=w4tdSSacgMc&feature=youtu.be
And here is what it looks like underwater:
Jerry Koryciak As I remember, there were three ferries named Mackinaw, St Ignace and Petoskey. I remember riding on the The Petoskey on our way to Minnesota in the summer of 1958, before the completion of the bridge.
Shirley Burnham I think there was one called, City of Munising.
ferries stopped running when the Bridge opened Nov 1, 1957.
Mary Whittaker Martzolf The last ferry used to cross the straits was called The Vacationland.
Joan Vinette Shirley Burnham two ferries became potato storage boats on Washington Island. These were The City of Munising and The City of Cheyboygan.
Les Bagley U.P. Michigan After 1951, Dock 3 was used in St. Ignace and Dock 2 was relegated to only coaling and winter layups.
Les Bagley There were a number of ferries in the State Fleet at one time or another but only 5 in the 1950s until the end:
Ariel - 1923 only
Mackinaw City - 1924-40
Sainte Ignace - 1924-40
The Straits of Mackinac - 1928-57
City of Cheboygan - 1936-57
City of Munising - 1937-57
City of Petoskey - 1940-57
Vacationland - 1952-57
In addition, at times the State leased the Chief Wawatam and Sainte Marie (II) Railway ferries to help with rush periods and winter service with icebreaking.
Vicki Shaw Mary Whittaker Martzolf I remember that the Vacationland was the best of the fleet. We were always pleased wen we got to go across on it.
Alice Bennett I paid my way to college selling popcorn in the lines.
David Finlay My grandmother went into labor with my mother on that ferry.
Les Bagley Sorry, that's not Mackinaw City. This is a photo of Dock 2 in downtown St. Ignace, where the marina is located today. The ship is the City of Cheboygan, formerly the RR ferry Ann Arbor 4. Photo was taken post-WWII, but before 1951 when Dock 3 opened south of town to accommodate the newly built ferry, Vacationland. It was probably taken from the upper floor of the building across the street.
Les Bagley Greg Torsky it’s Dock 2 in downtown St. Ignace.
Les Bagley That's a neat photo! Does anyone know the original source? Shameless plug: for more pictures of the ferries, check out the book "Michigan State Ferries" from Arcadia. (I wrote it.)
Marybeth Wohlfert The line started at Moran and took almost 2 hours to cross the bridge on July 8!
Robert Tiura I remember a headline in a Detroit newspaper saying that the line was 27 miles long the day before opening day of deer hunting. One year, about 1960, we were in line next to two flatbed trucks with Unlimited hydroplane boats that were going from Detroit to Seattle for the next races. The boats were tipped up at about 45 degrees to keep the load narrower than 12' so they could drive on two lane roads. It was a Saturday and the drivers had to get out of Michigan before midnight because Michigan didn't allow trucks on the highways on Sundays.
John F. Lawrence posted
A 1950 Life Magazine pic. It may have been around July 4th. Anyway, the caption on this shot says the wait was 12-14 hours.
From the superstructure, she resembles the City of Cheboygan
This is how I got to my grandparent's house as a kid living in Flint.
More info: https://greatlakes.bgsu.edu/item/433449
Up North Voice posted
If you don't mind, please share this photo of the Mackinaw Straits Ferry to people who may be interested! This is a picture of Mackinaw City, Michigan - 1950. This was before the bridge was opened on November 1, 1957, ending decades of the two peninsulas being solely linked by ferries. A year later, the bridge was formally dedicated as the "world's longest suspension bridge between anchorages." -- Photo courtesy of Pete Ridlon.
Sandra Howell posted
This photograph of the Mackinaw Straits Ferry, which shuttled people back and forth between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, was taken in 1950. This is how it was before the Mackinac bridge opened on November 1, 1957 and ended decades of the two peninsulas being solely linked by ferries. A year later, the bridge was formally dedicated as the "world's longest suspension bridge between anchorages.
Photo courtesy of Pete Ridlon.
|U.P. Michigan commented on their photo
Before they figured out how to raise the bow so that cars could roll on they used an elevator to raise the cars upon the deck.
|Kyran Clune posted
Bob Carr: I remember being in that tower.
Kyran Clune: Bob Carr Many Cars were elevated in that elevator.
Daniel A. Mitchell: Note the elevator tower for lifting cars to the upper deck of the older ferries. A slow cumbersome procedure.
Mike Harlan shared
Launched in 1903, the cross-lake ferry City of Munising was built in Cleveland, Ohio by the American Ship Building Co. The 350-foot vessel (LOA) was designed to carry rail cars and passengers across Lake Michigan. It was sold after completion to the Pere Marquette Steamship Co. which christened it the Pere Marquette 20.
In 1938, the ship was sold to the State of Michigan and converted into a ferry to transport automobiles and passengers across the Straits of Mackinac. The conversion work was done in Manitowoc, Wis. by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. When work was completed, the vessel was renamed the City of Munising.
The ship was converted into a double entry ferry in 1948 and laid up in 1957 after the new bridge over the Straits of Mackinac opened to the public. In 1959, it was sold to K & K Trailer Service Co. which planned to use it to transport trucks and trailers between Muskegon, Mich. and Milwaukee, Wis. The service was never established.
In 1961, the vessel was sold to the Washington Island Storage Corp. for use as a storage vessel for potatoes. Its engines and propellers were removed at Benton Harbor, Mich. and what was now a barge was then towed to Washington Island, Wis. Unofficially renamed the No. 2., the vessel was sold for scrap in 1973 and towed to Italy for dismantling.
A description of the ferry service before the Mackinac Bridge was built.
John Campbell posted three photos with the comment: "All that remains of the railroad carferry slip in Mackinaw City. St. Ignace was the first railroad carferry to cross the Straits starting in 1888, followed by Ste. Marie, Chief Wawatam, and Ste. Marie (II). The Chief continued ferrying rail cars to St. Ignace until 1980’s until the apron there collapsed in August 1984."
|Bruce Mcpherson commented on John's post
very cool..here's the remains in Frankfort, MI another big car ferry slip
John Campbell Bruce Mcpherson Thanks for sharing, Bruce! Not too many of these structures remain. Elberta slips are gone. I think Manistique slip is still there. The GT Milwaukee and GT Muskegon slips are in shambles, but I think still stand. Kewaunee slips long gone.
The icebreaker in the background is now a museum
Detroit & Mackinac RS2 #977 unloads the coal-fired "Chief" ("S.S. Chief Wawatam") at Mackinaw City, Michigan in June, 1979. These car ferry operations once afforded the D&M with a steady flow of traffic but by the late 1970s they were nearing the end. Rob Kitchen photo.
Brandon Lee You can still ride the Badger, a rail ferry converted to haul automobiles. Do it soon though, every year they fear might be it's last.
Billy Krieg With the popularity that the Badger has, I doubt that it will be taken out of service besides regular maintenance and dry-docking.
Brandon Lee Billy Krieg the environmentalists have been trying to kill it for a long time.
Billy Krieg Brandon Lee even with those concerns, retirement is far from the last option for the ship. they no longer dump their ash into the lake and they can switch to burning biofuel alternates compared to coal such as the fuel that was tested on the Everett railroad.
Randy Alan Brandon Lee, you are spreading old news. The Badger has been cleared by the EPA for operation into the foreseeable future. Move along, nothing to see here.
Mike Castellow At least one of the Triple Expansion steam engines from the ferry still exists.
Rchard McPhillips III shared
Brian Bernard By 1977 there was talk of cutting her down to a barge -of course that happened a few years later.
Joseph Seaman Brian Bernard it was never cut to a barge. It sat privately owned at detour coal dock for years before finally being scrapped. I was up close and touched it when I was a kid.
Brian Bernard Joseph Seaman I understood she was purchased by Purvis Marine and they used her as a barge but later scrapped her. My memory in the matter of the Chief Wawatam is a bit fuzzy, though! I photographed her at the Soo in the Summer of 1982.
Mike Harlan shared
|Mike Crarnecki commented on Mike's share
|Clyde Hendrickson posted
The Chief Wawatam ferry that crossed between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, Michigan. From a postcard.
|Clyde commented on his post
Engine from the Chief Wawatam now in a museum. It was a coal fired ship in operation from1911 to 1984.
[It is in the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, WI.]
|Clyde commented on his post
|Clyde commented on his post
In the '50s they built the Mackinac Bridge, which provided an alternative to using the passenger train & ferry. [Opened in 1957.]
|Greg Borgwald posted
Inspired by Clyde Hendrickson's post, here's a picture of the Chief Wawatam, Mackinaw City, MI, _8-26-78
James Hill: One of its engines is being put together on display going west on 2 just leaving Ignace. Another is restored and on display in wisconsin.
I don't know if it is docked here or at St. Ignace.
|safe_image for a share by Eric Pieper
Chief Wawatam a car carrier in service from 1911-1968 where it was cut down and is in use today has a barge.
Brandon Adams: She was in use till about 1984, then cut down to a barge. She was scrapped in 2008 or 2009.
|Mike Braybrook commented on Eric's share
One of her engines sitting next to US 2 in the UP.
[The comments indicate that the other engine is set up to function in the museum in Manitowoc, WI. And some of the parts of the ferry were used to make an art installation on the Canadian Soo waterfront:https://www.sootoday.com/.../lets-talk-about-the...]