I mentioned earlier this week that I was picking up a new car for my retired parents. They live on an island on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, and aren’t able to car shop easily, so I helped them out. Being retired, they have a limited budget, but also would like luxury amenities like heated seats, remote start, leather, etc. They also need the car to last them 150k miles, be large enough for their long road trips and fit my 6'9" tall dad. Literally a tall order.

After much searching, I found a 2013 Cadillac SRX with 14k miles with an asking price at around $25k. A little wheeling and dealing, I get them out the door for $24,500. Deal’s done. The only problem is, the car is in Ludington, MI. That’s a 10 hour, 550 mile drive for my parents. Lucky for them, I only live about 40 minutes from the SS Badger, the last large coal burning steamship in the US.

Image from Wikipedia, because who has time to take this shot when you’re trying to catch a ferry?

I’ve taken many a ferry in my life, but this was a totally different experience. The Badger is over 400' long and was designed to carry railroad cars. It was converted in the 90s for truck and car service and marketed more to the general public rather than strictly commercial traffic.

The sky has a brown tinge due to the coal smoke from the ship

The Manitowoc side sports a fairly sizeable coal pile. I have no idea how this gets loaded into the Badger. I could see no obvious path that the front end loader would take to load it onto the ship. Beautiful (?) downtown Manitowoc in the backgroud. There area 3 things of interest to maritime geeks in Manitowoc. One of course in the Badger. Another is Burger Boat works, makers of 200'+ super yachts. The last is the USS Cobia, a WW2 era submarine moored to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum’s dock and open for tours and overnight stays.

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Off we go, next stop Michigan. (Note: I tried to use the slideshow function but Kinja...Kinja just sucks)

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Welcome to Ludington, a much less industrial town than Manitowoc. Wisconsin is still very blue collar and industrial along the lake, whereas Michigan is more touristy along the lake.

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The county sheriff escorted us in and out of the harbor. The Badger’s sister ship, the Spartan, sits dockside as a parts boat. I’m sure many of you can relate to this. The salesman picked me up at the dock, we ran out to the dealer to sign the paperwork, I ran through Wendys for a burger, then headed right back to the boat. Time spent in Ludington: 25 minutes.

My prize, a super low miles, uber-minty SRX. Literally driven by a little old lady on Sunday, the previous owners were in their 90s and traded it in on “their last car”. The interior is in perfect condition. The downside to 90 year old drivers is they tend to gently bump into things. The front bumper has a chip and both front doors are missing paint along the back edge where they were regularly opened into the garage walls. Also, the pinstripe is starting come off. But those areas can both be fixed with a little touch up paint. No dents, dings, or other concerns. Back to Manitowoc.

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Feed me, Seymour!

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The trip back was much less crowded, with 75% of the deck chairs free on the bow. After a beautiful sunset leaving Ludington, the night sky opened up over the middle of Lake Michigan. Lots of shooting stars and a great view of the Milky Way. Close to 11pm, I was pretty much the only one out on the bow.

Some interesting tidbits about the experience. The boat was virtually silent. Very little NVH issues. I am used to riding on diesel powered boats that seem like they are going to shake your fillings loose at times. But coal fire steam power makes almost no noise. Just a little bit of hissing from the smokestack that you can only hear when you are right next to it. And the steam drive was totally vibration free. All you heard or felt was the boat plowing through the water and the wind flowing by.

Since the Badger is an older ship, it doesn’t have any bow thrusters, azimuth pods, or any other way to steer in port other than a fixed screw and the rudder. Since it loads and unloads from the back, it has to make a 180 degree unassisted turn. It does this by dropping anchor at just the right pivot point, turning the rudder, and idling the engines forward. The bow strains against the anchor chain while the back end SLOWLY turns.

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Also, it’s hotter than hell below deck. Jimminy.

Sorry there wasn’t more info about the car. Honestly, you really aren’t interested in it anyway. The star of the show is an obsolete bit of tech that somehow manages to do it’s job so competently, that it’s still regularly full of cars, trucks, semis, RV’s, and Uhauls. You need to call weeks in advance for reservations, otherwise you might just have to drive around.  I suggest the Mackinac Bridge if you do...but that’s a different post.