This month, the 69-year-old SS Badger arrived for maintenance and inspection at Sturgeon Bay, where she was built. The country’s last major coal-fired steamer is in dry dock alongside the Clean Canaveral, a barge that carries liquefied natural gas. Photo by Craig Sterrett.
The arrival of Badger SS in Sturgeon Bay this month for routine maintenance drew spectators to the sea channel and drew photographers to various vantage points as the ship passed between the pillars of the lift bridges.
Facebook came alive with comments from residents and tourists, with some posting photos of the ship passing under the spans of the Sturgeon Bay elevated bridge, taken from the top of the new maritime lighthouse tower. A Pulse Peninsula post of an aerial photo circa 1952 of the Badger and Spartan being built in the shipyards sparked many memories, such as Betty Holland telling her children that this is where their father worked in the early 1950s.
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“It’s a great opportunity to see the Badger in its home port, ”said Sam Perlman, deputy director of the Door County Maritime Museum, of the Badger‘s for its quinquennial inspection of the Coast Guard.
The 410 feet Badger is the last coal-fired steamship in the United States and has always received a little more attention than its peers, who no longer sail. The National Park Service gave the ship national monument status in 2016. The Badger almost stopped sailing a few years ago because the Lake Michigan Carferry Service had not deactivated its system which regularly dumped coal ash into Lake Michigan. The new system, installed in 2015, transports coal ash from the ship’s four boilers to four retention basins on the car decks, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The Badger had a slightly more formal farewell than his sister ship. Egg Harbor resident Richard Dannhausen said he was 7 when his family attended the christening of the ships, and his family were invited aboard for tours and a celebratory dinner on the deck.
The Badger also caused a sensation on the day it was launched, September 6, 1952. Launched into the water north toward railroad tracks and shipyard buildings, the chain reaction triggered by the launch – now dubbed “The Big Splash” “in historical exhibits – caused significant damage.
Those preparing for the launch tried to avoid the damage by putting a bunch of wagons in the yard with metal plates at the bottom of the wheels so the tidal wave didn’t hurt the buildings, recalled Rich Hanneman, 92. years old, who had worked in RA Stearn’s naval architecture office at the shipyard.
“All the engines and everything were in the Badger when they threw it, ”said the Sturgeon Bay resident. “It was very heavy, and it caused a tidal wave that knocked over all the cars, and they knocked over the pipe store. [building] out of line.
Hanneman, who had guided the annual shipyard tours, helped design the Badgerheavy metal castings at the rear that protect the platforms and help support the cars. He also did some drawing work so that the roof braces of the ferry deck were high enough to allow clearance for cars carrying upright truck frames.
Hanneman donated some of his drawings for inclusion in the Badgeris on board the museum.
“About eight or ten years ago my daughter called the people of Badger and I said I had drawings to give them, ”he said. “They gave us a free dinner and a round trip to Ludington. My son still has a drawing of the stern casting, and the rest of the drawings I gave to the ship’s captain. I stood behind the wheel and drove it out of Manitowoc for a bit.
Thomas Ahrens grew up near the 3rd and Delaware shipyards near Sturgeon Bay and never lost his fascination with the place. He was delighted to see pictures of Badgerand old photos of the shipyards he and his friends used to sneak in to fish for pike from the greasy hub of the railroad.
He was only 5 years old when the Badger and Spartan launched, but has fond memories of swimming on the beach at Sunset Park and playing in big waves when another big ferry, the SS Ann Arbor, crossed to get to Marinette.
The Ann Arbor Railroad used its ferry for rail cars, just as the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad primarily used the Badger between Ludington and Manitowoc, and the Spartan for ports including Kewaunee.
Ahrens said he rode the Badger several times in recent years with a group of motorcycles.
“It’s pretty unique,” he said. “It’s a beautiful ride. It’s fun to do.
Motorcyclists see the ship more than motorists. Badger staff members park cars and semi-trailers on the ferry deck, but staff do not handle motorcycles, Ahrens said.
“We get on our bikes and tie them up so they’re safe. You walk through gates and you can see where the old train tracks are sort of paved. These are small neighborhoods, rather neat, ”he said.