She Traveled the Waters of Lake Michigan for 47 Years

March 12, 1941

The car ferry S.S. City of Midland 41 made her maiden voyage along Lake Michigan between Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Ludington, Michigan. (The ferry’s namesake was the city of Midland in central Michigan.) The all-steel vessel, which had been launched the previous September, was constructed by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company for the Pere Marquette Railway’s ferry operations on Lake Michigan.

Measuring 406 feet (123.8 meters) in length, the City of Midland 41 was the world’s largest combined freight-and-automobile ferry at the time of her debut. The ferry could accommodate as many as 34 standard-size railroad cars and 50 automobiles and had a carrying capacity of 376 passengers. Charles E. Robertson, who was described by Harold Foust of the Chicago Tribune Press Service as “60 years old, slight of figure and as soft in social conversation as an old-time railroad conductor,” served as captain of the new vessel.

The City of Midland 41 set sail from Manitowoc for her maiden voyage with much fanfare. In addition, a total of 30 railroad cars filled with containers of evaporated milk from the White House Milk Company were brought on board.

Foust was among the passengers for this Ludington-bound trip. “A maiden voyage, it soon became apparent, is not all flowers and speeches,” reported Foust in his article. “It’s somewhat like breaking in a new automobile. In a ship, however, the adjustments are made by chief mechanics of the manufacturers. In the hull, below decks, experts were at the elbows of crewmen at dynamos, pumps, automatic stokers, and at valves and dials of the 6,000 horsepower [6,083.2 metric horsepower] steam engine.”

The ferry’s afternoon arrival at Ludington – taking place after a voyage of four hours and 15 minutes — was a festive event, with approximately 10,000 people standing along the shore there to welcome the vessel. The Manitowoc Herald Times reported, “There was flag-waving, whistle tooting, band music, and general rejoicing.”

As a nod to all of the milk that the City of Midland 41 was transporting, “baby officials” were brought on board the ferry by their parents. The City of Midland 41 served the Pere Marquette Railway until 1947 when that company was taken over by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O). In 1983, the C&O sold the ferry to the Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company. The ferry was retired from service altogether in 1988 after a career that encompassed sailing hundreds of thousands of miles on Lake Michigan. The vessel can be seen today in Ludington as the deck barge Pere Marquette 41.

For more information on the S.S. City of Midland 41, please check out http://carferries.com/midland/.

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