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Mason County Memories

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Wilfred Abrahamson was a young man working aboard the Pere Marquette Carferry 21 on that fateful Armistice Day in 1940. He had started working aboard the PM 21 in 1939 and held the positions of Coal Passer, Fireman, and was also certified as an oiler.

Armistice Day 1940

The PM 21 was returning from Manitowoc and was about 20 minutes ahead of the City of Flint. As the PM 21 came into the channel side slipping at full throttle The bow pointing in one direction and the stern toward the other.

As the 21 swung by the Number one slip with one prop at full forward and the other prop at full astern the PM 21 turned around and drifted past the number 3 slip and ended up propped against the piling that was called Muskrat Point.

An attempt was made to winch the PM 21 forward to slip number 3 but the effort proved futile as the steel cable and 2 or 3 of the guy wires that held the smoke stacks were broken, the antenna for the wireless dropped from the smokestack and resulted in the loss of the wireless and contact with shore.

Later after the 21 was freed from the pilings it was discovered that 4 of the 6 lifeboats aboard the 21 had been damaged and could not have been released or used had there been an order to abandon ship.

Moving the City of Flint off from the sandbar was no easy task, the ship was drawing 17 feet of draft while sitting in 12 feet of water, the 21 did not have any freight on board and was drawing 14-2 feet of draft. In addition to the PM 21 the Tug John F Cushing of Chicago was brought in to assist and was drawing 17.6 feet of draft.

A line was placed from the 21 to the 32 and the Tug Cushing had a line on the bow of the 21. For 26 hours these boats ran at full throttle before the City of Flint pulled free from the sandbar. After being freed the PM 32 was towed to Manitowoc by the Tug John F Cushing to have 2000 tons of ice removed. Although local lore reports that an inspection showed virtually no damage to the Pm 32 there was some significant damage uncovered.

   Armistice Day 1940

According to carferry historian Art Chavez "When the Flint was dry docked at Manitowoc Shipbuilding, it was found that her hull was heavily damaged by the pounding on the beach. While the damage was not as severe as expected, it still was considerable. The repair was such that it took two weeks with yard personnel working two shifts to complete the job.

Twelve bottom plates were dented so significantly that they had to be torched out and replaced with new shell plating. A good deal of framework also required replacement and seams had opened between the shell plating, letting in a large quantity of sand into the ship's holds. Crews worked laboriously shoveling this sand into containers for hoisting by steam crane out of the bottom of the floating drydock. The 32 also lost her rudder and stern post, and the starboard propeller had to be replaced as all of the blades had been snapped off by the grounding."

   Armistice Day 1940

The PM 21 was under the command of Captain Altschwager, Wilfred believes that they would not have fared as well in going through the storm without damage had it not been for the skilled leadership of his Captain and that the crew of the 21 is also deserving of having their story of the Great Armistice Day storm told as well.

Wilfred worked for 3 and a half years working primarily aboard the Pere Marquette 22 before enlisting in the Army and serving during the Second World War. At the time of his enlistment the carferrymen of the Great Lakes who had been certified in the season prior to war being declared and who had committed to sail in the 1942 season were exempt from the draft.

Many thanks to Wilfred Abrahamson for sharing his story of the Armistice Day Storm and to Art Chavez for providing additional information about the condition of the PM 32. If you have photographs or a story to share with our readers please do not hesitate to contact Dave Petersen c/o the Ludington Daily News.

Photo credits: Photos taken by Wilfred Abrahamson #1 from the deck of the Pere Marquette 21 and #2 from the PM parking lot.

   Armistice Day 1940

   Armistice Day 1940

   Armistice Day 1940

   Armistice Day 1940

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