It was day twenty-five of my fifty-six day trip bicycling from New Jersey out to Wyoming on July 7, 1983 as I prepared to board the Chessie car ferry S.S. City of Midland 41 on that Thursday morning in Ludington (MI) to cross Lake Michigan. Before that would become a reality, twenty-three railroad freight cars needed to be off-loaded before departing passengers and their vehicles could be loaded on for the trip to Manitowoc (WI). Having never been witness to such an operation, it was fascinating to see the way these freight cars where offloaded efficiently and methodically, first from one side of the ship and then the opposite side until all twenty-three cars were off. B&O 3743 had the honors of this task.
Fast forward thirty years later to June 30, 2013 when my wife and I were scheduled to cross Lake Michigan on our annual road trip. Passenger boarding was delayed by an estimated forty-five minutes as two huge wind turbine columns were off loaded from the S.S. Badger. From what I learned, they were destined to be transported across Michigan to the DTE Thumb Wind Farm located near the town of Battle Axe. Watching these truck drivers maneuver their over sized loads off this ship and the teamwork involved between driver and the ground crew guiding him with hand signals was fascinating. The most common designs for these steel towers is a cylinder about ten feet in diameter and anywhere from 150 to 200 feet long. After the second over sized load was off and boarding started, I commented to my wife how I would "...never complain about how hard it is to parallel park our little Kia!"
What has happened to B&O 3743 and S.S. City of Midland 41 over the past thirty years? First up is B&O 3743. It was built in December, 1970 as a GP40 and later would be renumbered and repainted as CSXT 6519. It would later be rebuilt as a GP40M-3 and renumbered as Texas Mexican 1175. First Union Leasing Corporation would repaint it into a grayish color and retain its 1175 road number. Last report had FURX selling it to Herzog where they renumbered it as 206.
The S.S. City of Midland 41 has also had a long history that dates back to March, 1940 when its keel was laid. It was built by the Pere Marquette RR at a cost of $2,000,000. She was considered to be the finest car ferry that was ever built. Statistics about this ship's capacity showed it was capable of carrying thirty-four freight cars, fifty automobiles and 376 passengers. In 1988 a routine Coast Guard inspection revealed her boiler mounts to be in bad condition and in dire need of major repairs. The S.S. City of Midland 41 would be forced into retirement.
On September 23, 1997, Lake Michigan Carferry announced plans to renovate ship, but not as a carferry. It was to be towed by the tugs "Mary Page Hannah" and "Bonnie G. Selvick" to Muskegon (MI) where plans called for its superstructure and most of its hull cut down to her cardeck in order to be converted to a barge hauling heavy cargo. In June, 1998, the City of Midland began its new career as the PM41, nearly 10 years after she ended carferry service.