Friday, June 29, 2012

A bit of history goes to the scrappers

While rubbernecking aboard a Soo Locks sightseeing boat today, I spotted on the shore an old favorite of rail buffs: the ancient railroad car ferry Arthur K. Atkinson.

Rather than sailing proudly across Lake Michigan with a load of 20 to 30 boxcars, however, the Atkinson has at last ended her days below the locks on the U.S. side of the St. Mary's River, where she is being scrapped.

The Atkinson, like her sisters, was built so that Midwestern railroads could bypass the yards in Chicago, heavily congested even at the turn of the 20th century. Instead of taking days and even weeks to snake their way around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, cars with time-sensitive loads could be sailed across the lake in four to seven hours.

The Atkinson was launched in 1916 as the Ann Arbor Railroad No. 6 (railroads at the time numbered their ships as they did their locomotives), 384 feet long and 3,241 tons displacement. In 1958 her steam power plant was replaced with diesel engines and No. 6 was renamed the Atkinson to honor an old president of the Wabash Railroad.

She continued sailing until 1982, when the labor-intensive effort to beat the Chicago bottleneck at last became too expensive, and car ferries quickly were laid up everywhere. For a brief time in the 1990s there were plans to resurrect the Atkinson as a casino ship, but they fell through.

Now only one Great Lakes railroad car ferry remains in service: the coal-fired 1950s-era Badger, converted decades ago to an automobile carrier, which still transports tourists between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in the summer.

So it goes.

The Atkinson's massive stern gate was lifted to allow railroad cars to be switched into her hold, and lowered to prevent following seas from flooding the ship.

All photos were taken with a Pentax K-5 and SMC Pentax-DA 55-300mm at varying shutter speeds and apertures. Click on the photos for larger versions.


Mike P. said...

I believe there are a couple of relatively new startup car ferries in operation, although not as large as the Badger, that cross Lake Michigan. I did some research on that a couple of years ago.

Does a car ferry figure into the Steve Martinez pursuit?


Yes, there's a modern high-speed catamaran auto ferry between Muskegon, Michigan, and Milwaukee, but it never carried railroad cars.