1911 : SS Chief Wawatam Railroad Ferry Launched

August 26, 2022 all-day

SS Chief Wawatam

The Chief Wawatam was designed by Great Lakes marine architect Frank E. Kirby. She was launched in Toledo, Ohio, by the Toledo Shipbuilding Company on 26 August 1911, and went into service for the Mackinac Transportation Company on 18 October 1911. The Mackinac Transportation Company was a joint venture of the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, and the Michigan Central Railroad, the three railroads that serviced the Straits of Mackinac.

Year-round train ferry service in the Straits of Mackinac was a significant challenge because of the heavy ice buildup experienced by these straits in winter. The Chief Wawatam was designed to break ice floes with her bow propeller, which could both maneuver the boat and suck water out from underneath the ice to enable it to be broken through force of gravity.

The Chief Wawatam was 338 feet in length and had a beam of 62 feet. Her three propellers, two in the stern and one on the bow, were driven by coal-fired triple-expansion steam engines. The Chief is believed to have been the last hand-fired, coal-burning boat in commercial service on the Great Lakes. Other coal-burning vessels that survived longer in revenue service, such as the SS Badger, had automatic stokers.

The vessel was named after an Ojibwa chief of the 1700s; he was said to have rescued trader Alexander Henry during the Ojibwa uprising at Michilimackinac in 1763. A wooden statue of the chief stands near the harbor in Mackinaw City, Michigan, in Wawatam Park. It was carved by Jerry Prior from a one-hundred-year-old white pine log.

Need by shippers for the Straits of Mackinac train ferry service provided by the Mackinac Transportation Company declined following construction of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957.  The Chief Wawatam was mothballed in 1984.

Source : SS Chief Wawatam Wikipedia Entry.