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Mason County Memories

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Ann Arbor Carferries History Column Dave Petersen Ludington was not the only port and the Pere Marquette and C&O were not the only companies that had carferry service on the Great Lakes. Just a short distance to our north in the town of Frankfort another carferry service was operating as a part of the Ann Arbor Railroad. The third carferry operator on the Great lakes was the Grand Trunk Western Railway. There were three other minor and short lived attempts to provide carferry service by the Manistique Marquette and Northern Railroad, the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Western Railroad and the Lake Michigan Carferry Transportation Company. James M Ashley was the force behind the creation of the first cross lake ferry service, he was so confident in his idea that this would work and be profitable that he ordered the construction of the first two ships 2 years before the construction of a terminus at Elberta. Ashley and his two sons James Jr and Henry pushed through the construction and consolidation of 300 miles of railway from Toledo to Elberta Michigan from 1877 to 1890. The Ann Arbor's ships were also magnificent and were as important to Frankfort and the surrounding areas as our Carferry service is to Ludington. Carferry service on the Great Lakes began when the Ann Arbor 1 sailed out of Frankfort November 24th 1892 with four boxcars of freight and promptly became stuck on a sandbar outside the port of Keewaunee. Many people thought that the ship would founder or roll over under the shifting weight of the cars and were not anxious to be the first to ship goods in this new fangled manner. After the ship was released from the sandbar a couple of days later she docked and on November 27th 1892 the Ann Arbor No 1 sailed out of Keewaunee with 22 boxcars of flour. According to the New York Times of September 29th 1892 she was launched in Toledo Ohio by the Craig Shipbuilding Company with the capacity of carrying 20 boxcars "without break of bulk". This was an important change in the way that materials were handled, the railroad cars could be run up into the ship on the rails that extended the full length of the ship and thus saving the extra work of loading and unloading cargo. It also was a timesaver in that they could avoid costly delays in shipping by rail around Chicago. The new ships were designed to run year around and be able to break there way through the winter ice. That first carferry cost 250,000.00 in 1892 and almost 60 years later the last 2 that were built (The Badger and the Spartan) cost 5 million dollars each. The Ann Arbor 1 was designed by Frank Kirby and its hull was wooden, she could travel at 14 miles per hour and make the trip in about 4 and 1/2 hours. The first Steel hulled carferry however was launched was the Flint & Pere Marquette in 1896, (later named the PM 15) The F&PM had been operating a break bulk shipping operation out of Ludington since it chartered the John Sherman in 1875 and buoyed by the success of the Ann Arbor line it jumped ahead with both feet to enter the cross lake carferry business. If you have any stories or photographs that you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact met at 757-3240, email to davep@blackcreekpress.com or mail in care of the Ludington Daily News Po Box 340 Ludington Mi 49431. End part one All the photographs in this article were provided by James Nelson Pic #1 AA #5 in Drydock, this shi was known as the "bull of the woods" she served for about 50 years and did the heavy work of crushing the ice and keeping the channel open during the winter months. Pic#2 Wabash, At 380 feet in length was the largest ship in the Ann Arbor fleet. She was built by the Toledo Shipbuilding Company and put into service in 1927. Pic#3 Inside the wreck of the Ann Arbor #4 Pic#4 Wreck of the Ann Arbor #4, This was the voodoo ship of the Ann Arbor fleet and was involved in many accidents and mishaps during her career. On May 29th 1909 railroad cars were unevenly loaded and with the weight of the load promply rolled over on her side. A hole had to be cut in her side so the boxcars and freight could be pulled out by a crane. Pic#5 Ann Arbor #7, The number 7 was bult at a cost of about one million dollars and launched n Manitowoc in 1925. She could carry up to 375 passengers as well as up to 26 freight cars. She was converted and renamed the Viking. Pic#6 The Ann Arbor #6 was originally destined to be the SS Maitland #2 but was purchased by the Railroad and renamed the AA #6. In 1958 after being refitted she was renamed again as the Arthur K Atkinson and taken out of service in 1982. This ship spent some time here in Ludington in recent years and was towed out to Detour Michigan in 2003 after plans to refit her as a casino ship fell through, her fate is yet to be determined.

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