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The S.S. Badger Car Ferry and the Steamer 43 Song

S.S. Badger - Ludington Mi.
S.S. Badger – Ludington Mi. by R.J.E.

As a kid, I used to ride the Badger frequently back & forth to Wisconsin to see my dad. It might have cost $20, and on just about every trip there 6 or 8 people were taking a round trip,playing cards and generally had a great time. The Badger is a little too spendy these days for idle round-tripping, but it’s still a great way to experience the Great Lakes.

Launch, September 6, 1952 at Sturgeon Bay, WisconsinThe S.S. Badger web site says:

The 410′ S.S. Badger entered service in 1953, designed specifically to handle the rough conditions that it would likely encounter during year ’round sailing on Lake Michigan. Built primarily to transport railroad freight cars, but with superior passenger accommodations, the Badger reigned as Queen of the Lakes during the car ferries’ Golden Era in the late Fifties, with Manitowoc, Milwaukee, and Kewaunee as her Wisconsin ports of call. By the Seventies, changing railroad economics were condemning other car ferries to mothballs or the scrap yard. With little railroad freight business left, and without ever tapping into the opportunity to serve the needs of the vacation traveler, the Badger sailed from Wisconsin to Ludington and tied up for the last time in November 1990 – signaling the end of the century-old tradition of car ferry service on Lake Michigan.

The demise of the car ferries was devastating to the communities they had served and the thousands of passengers who loved them. It seemed that the magic of these wonderful ships would only live in memory, never to be experienced by future generations. However, in 1991, an entrepreneur named Charles Conrad committed his own financial resources to reinvent the S.S. Badger to carry leisure passengers and their vehicles.

Since then, this legend of the Great Lakes has delighted a whole new generation of people, allowing them to experience a bit of history that almost slipped away while cruising to fun destinations on both sides of Lake Michigan. The S.S. Badger now sails daily between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan from mid-May through mid-October.

Here’s The Steamer 43 Song by Pete Host, featuring photos of the SS Badger. Pete writes that this is from a 45 he recorded in the early 70s about a sailors life on the C&O carferries out of Ludington, Michigan. With his spare time aboard the Badger, he learned how to play the guitar, and in just a few months, went to Milwaukee Wis. and recorded this song.

The historical photo is the Badger being launched on September 6, 1952 at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. You can see more old photos of the Badger and other Lake Michigan Car Ferries at carferries.com!