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The S.S. Badger getting underway from Manitowoc, Wisconsin
The S.S. Badger getting underway from Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Career (USA)
Name: SS Badger
Namesake: University of Wisconsin
Owner: Lake Michigan Carferry Service
Route: Manitowoc, WILudington, MI
Builder: Christy Corporation, Sturgeon Bay, WI
Yard number: Hull No. 370
Launched: 6 September 1952
Sponsored by: Mrs. Walter J. Kohler (wife of Governor of Wisconsin)
In service: 21 March 1953
Homeport: Ludington, MI
Identification: Official No. 265156
IMO 5033585
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 compound Skinner Unaflow steam engines, totaling 7,560 hp (5.64 MW); four Foster-Wheeler water-tube type D boilers, 450 psi (3.10 MPa)
Speed: 18 mph (15.6 kn; 29.0 km/h)
Capacity: 620 passengers, 180 automobiles, also tour buses, RVs, motorcycles, and commercial trucks
Crew: 50–60
The S.S. Badger connects the eastern and western segments of U.S. Route 10, shown here in red.
Dock ticket office in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

The S.S. Badger is a coal-fired passenger and vehicle ferry in the United States that has been in Lake Michigan service from 1953 until the present. Currently, she shuttles between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan. She is the last coal-fired passenger vessel operating on the Great Lakes.

The boat is named after the University of Wisconsin's athletic mascot,[1] "Bucky Badger". The Badger runs on Michigan time (Eastern Standard/Daylight Time, whereas Wisconsin is in the Central time zone) and riders pay Michigan taxes on their fares.



The Badger was constructed as a rail car ferry in 1952-53 by the Christy Corporation of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin,[1] along with her twin sister the SS Spartan (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.

Launched 6 September 1952, the S.S. Badger entered service 21 March 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.[2] 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 1 July 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.[3]

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 fourteen ferries since 1897 based in Ludington remaining in service.[1] On 16 November 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.[4]

Lake Michigan Carferry Service

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. Returning to service 16 May 1992, on the Ludington-Manitowoc route, the vessel has carried hundreds of thousands of passengers and vehicles across the lake. She is the only operating ferry of her kind in the world and is an icon of car ferry heritage on the Great Lakes.[5]

Conrad retired as president of Lake Michigan Carferry Service in 1993. He died on 9 February 1995. Since 1993 the company has been headed by his son-in-law, Robert Manglitz.[6]

The Badger is the last coal burning steamship in the United States and is powered by the last operating Skinner Unaflow engines (manufactured by the Skinner Company of Erie, Pennsylvania) still in service on the Great Lakes. The Badger makes a dock 490 times a year on her schedule as of 2009, an exceptionally large number of dockings for a merchant vessel.

On average, the Badger completes a trip across Lake Michigan in about four hours, covering 60 miles (97 km).[7] The ferry saves about three and a half hours of travel time (and the frustration of congested highways) compared to the 411 mile (661 km) drive from Manitowoc to Ludington via Chicago. 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 S.S. Badger rarely misses a sailing because of weather related delays.

The S.S. 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.

On 9 August 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 10 August 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 15 August 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.

Future in doubt due to EPA action

The S.S. Badger came under fire from the EPA and environmental groups in late 2008 due to its daily practice of dumping untreated coal ash from its boilers directly into the waters of Lake Michigan. (The Badger had earlier been the subject of EPA Clean Air action but was granted an exemption from regulation.) S.S. Badger President and CEO Bob Manglitz has rebuffed the EPA demand that Badger find a way to capture and safely offload ash, change the fueling configuration of the ship, or cease operations by 2012. Manglitz has frequently equated coal ash to "harmless sand" and vowed to keep the Badger in its original coal-burning configuration. [8]

S.S. Badger at the dock in Ludington harbor


  1. ^ a b c Sign at Manitowoc Ferry dock, Retrieved 30 July 2007
  2. ^ Art Chavez, S.S. Badger. The Great Lakes Car Ferry, pp. 26-51 passim. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-7385-2304-6
  3. ^ Chavez, p. 79.
  4. ^ Chavez, pp. 87-88.
  5. ^ Chavez, pp. 89-91.
  6. ^ Chavez, p. 91.
  7. ^ Lake Michigan Carferry (2006). "S.S. Badger: Big Ship, More Fun!". Retrieved 2006-07-25.  
  8. ^ WLUK-TV Report 6/2/2009


  • Art Chavez, S.S. Badger. The Lake Michigan Car Ferry. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-7385-2304-6
  • John O. Greenwood, Namesakes of the '80's, Volume II. Cleveland, Ohio: Freshwater Press, Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9125-14-28-0
  • George W. Hilton, The Great Lakes Car Ferries. Berkeley, Calif.: Howell-North Books, 1962.
  • Karl Zimmermann, Lake Michigan's Railroad Car Ferries. Andover, N.J.: Andover Junction Publications, 1993. ISBN 0-944119-11-5

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