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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vacation, pt 2: Badger Badger Badger

Lake Michigan was unusually calm while I was in Manitowoc, and that was one more reason to take the freshwater ocean route to Michigan via the S.S. Badger. The Badger is a “car ferry,” originally built  60 years ago for the C&O railroad, hauling rail cars across Lake Michigan to bypass the ├╝ber-busy Chicago railyards. We’re talking some serious iron here:

Image source: official S.S. Badger site
With the decline in rail traffic, Chicago railyards aren’t as congested as they once were, and C&O eventually abandoned its maritime operations. But there was a demand for carrying the other kind of cars, the ones that we drive everywhere, and a group of people bought the ship and continue to operate it. Unofficially, it’s part of US10; the highway runs from Bay City to Ludington and then from Manitowoc to points west. The ship sports a US10 logo on the stern, which I thought was a fun touch. During the summer, the ship makes two round-trips across the lake per day.

Given the vintage of the ship, it’s a coal-fired steamer. In my opinion, these are the best museum pieces, the ones still doing something close to what they were built to do in the first place. The Badger has a small museum on board, depicting the history of both maritime shipping and the railroads’ maritime passenger systems. Many of the small staterooms are still available to rent along the way—which probably makes more sense on the nighttime crossing, but sometimes you need a mid-afternoon nap.

There’s a couple acres of coalyard adjacent to the Badger’s dock, and this truck hauled at least three loads of coal on board before we departed.

So I bought my ticket and turned my car over to the valets (or whatever the maritime equivalent is), then boarded the ship. In my estimation, the amenities are overkill for a four-hour trip, but I might have thought differently if it hadn’t been perfect outdoor weather. As it was, I spent most of the crossing on the foredeck, lounging on a deck chair and reading—with a little timeout for checking out the rest of the ship. They have two TV rooms, a movie room, a playroom for small kids, the mini-museum, two cafeterias, and plenty of indoor (and outdoor) seating. There weren’t a lot of people on the port side, though, since the wind was blowing the coal smoke right down that side of the ship. They also have wifi, but I didn’t bother.

Eventually, we reached Ludington. It took about half an hour to debark and get my car. I grabbed some food and got on the road, and was at Dad’s after about two and a half hours. It was only after getting here that I found out about another car ferry that goes between Milwaukee and Muskegon, and takes only two hours to make the crossing. I don’t know how much it cost, though, and this was easier with regard to where I was leaving from. Next time we all go to Michigan, we might take the weekend “cruise” across the lake to Manitowoc and stay with The Boy, then go back. We could leave the car and save some money that way.

At Dad’s, I… well, that’s the next post!


  1. Never been on such a ferry, I think you made the right choice being out there and enjoying the view. For such a short trip it would seem a waste to go indoors and watch TV or something.

  2. The boat trip sounded really nice. Sometimes we catch the ferry across from Sorrento to Queenscliff - but it's not a too longer journey.


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