This was one of those things that it was really fun to do once. Instead of driving around the south end of Lake Michigan and fighting our way through Chicago traffic, we stayed overnight in Ludington, Michigan, then took the car ferry across the lake in the morning.
The S.S. Badger was built in 1952 as a railroad ferry, but now it is used exclusively as a car/passenger ferry between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
We arrived at the ferry dock at 6:30 am. The hold of the ship was divided down the middle by a bulkhead. The cars were driven up the port side to the bow, then back down on the starboard side until parked, so all the cars on the port side were facing the bow and the cars on the starboard side were facing the stern. The large scaffolding in the panorama shot above can be used to park cars on the upper deck.
In the photo above, you can see the railroad tracks on the deck, left over from when the ship was a railroad ferry. The black gate that is raised here is lowered when the ship is on the lake. In the early days, the ships were built without these gates, but one ship was hit by a large stern wave and sunk immediately with the loss of all on board. Since then, all ferries have had this gate. We climbed up those stairs on the right to the passenger deck.
Two other railroad ferries, the Spartan and the City of Midland 41, are docked in Ludington awaiting their fate.
We found a table in an enclosed portion of the top deck near the stern. We finally sailed at 8:00, a half hour late.
My older daughter and I spent the first half of the voyage exploring the ship — the gift shop, the maritime museum room and every other part we were allowed in. The only time I sat down during the entire voyage was the 15 minutes I stayed with the girls while my wife toured the ship and the 20 minutes I stayed with my younger daughter while my wife and older daughter visited the gift shop to buy a T-shirt.
The voyage took four hours, with perhaps 30 minutes in the middle of the lake out of sight of either shore. The lake was smooth and the trip was relaxing. The strangest thing about it was that it seemed to be a tourist attraction, not a method of transportation. I woke up 400 miles from home, visited a tourist spot for four hours, and the next thing I new I was just north of Milwaukee and headed for home.
In the shot above you can see my car being driven off the ship.