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All Things Michigan

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Take a shortcut across Lake Michigan on the S.S. Badger

Andrew Norton

I was eleven or twelve years old when my grandparents took my cousin and I on the S.S. Badger car ferry out of Ludington. We were on our way to northern Wisconsin where my grandpa grew up and he wanted my cousin and I to experience a trip across Lake Michigan. What an experience it was! We had to go to bed early the night before because we were making an early start the next morning to get on the first trip across the lake. My grandpa had the car all packed and we slept in the clothes we would be wearing the next day. Grandpa woke us up in the pitch black early hours of morning. With a large thermos of coffee in hand Grandpa, Grandma, my cousin, and I made the three hour trip up to Ludington.

I remember the feeling of awe at how huge the S.S. Badger was when we pulled up to the dock. Threads of black smoke were rising up from the large stack as the coal-fired boilers were warming up. The dock was a hustle of activity as my Grandpa handed over the car keys so one of the attendants could drive it onto the car ferry. It took a bit longer than planned to load the Badger that morning as they had to load up a number of railroad cars first. I couldn't believe they still used the car ferry to haul rail freight.

When we were onboard and it was time to go my cousin and I made sure we were standing out in the chilly morning air. We didn't want to miss a thing as the ship pulled away from the dock and began the trip across the lake. The deck beneath us rumbled with the thrumming of the engines and spray began to fly off the bow as we left the harbor and increased to cruising speed. I watched the shoreline slowly dissolve into the hazy morning air and then, there we were, all alone on the big blue waters of Lake Michigan.

Never before had I been out so far onto the lake that I could not see land in any direction. It was a strange and peaceful sensation that only added to the excitement of the adventure. My cousin and I spent the trip exploring the entire ship (well, the parts open to the paying passengers anyway) and I was a bit disappointed when the harbor at Manitowoc, Wisconsin came into view. All too soon our voyage across the lake was over.

It was time to get back into the cramped confines of the car. No more wandering about with freedom in the fresh air. Back to playing games and getting on each others nerves to pass the time until we would pull into Tomahawk, Wisconsin.

Oh what a trip that was :). Someday, when my kids are older, I will take them on the S.S. Badger for an adventure that I hope they will always remember just like my adventure with my grandparents and cousin.

More information about the S.S. Badger Car Ferry as well as schedule and Fares -

Get a brief taste of the S.S. Badger in this wonderful Pure Michigan ad that made me remember my first crossing: