LUDINGTON, MI – After sandblasting and 800 gallons of paint, the 69-year-old SS Badger looks like new again.
The exterior of the moving historic landmark has been restored to its original glossy black, white and red aesthetic, said Sara Spore, general manager of Lake Michigan Carferry, Inc., which owns the Badger.
“There wasn’t a complete paint job done since the railroad owned it,” she said.
That was more than 40 years ago.
There had been touch up, she said. Several layers of paint came off when the ship was sandblasted.
Painting the ship coincided with its five-year drydock inspection, which is required by the US Coast Guard. The ship finished its 2021 season in October, docked and turned off its coal-fired engines in Ludington and then was transported by tugboat to a dry dock in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. on Nov. 3.
Vehicles gathered on the Ludington shoreline to see her off.
The journey took 14 hours.
The Badger arrived at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding facility – where she was built by Christy Corporation about 70 years ago – on the morning of Nov. 4. The tugboats floated the ship into the dock where blocks marked by bobbers were waiting for her. Once in position, the water was pumped out of the dock. Crews then conducted a visual and ultrasound inspection of her hull and underwater equipment. Work included repairs to a propeller but the focus of the drydock was the paint job.
When the drydock was complete, the Badger was towed back to Ludington, arriving at her home port on Jan. 13. The tugs turned her around in Pere Marquette Lake and backed her into her slip where she awaits the May 12 start of the 2022 season.
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“The Badger looks as beautiful as ever and has a bright future ahead of her,” Lake Michigan Carferry, Inc. said in a blog post about the new paint job.
The Badger went to work in 1953 transporting railcars across Lake Michigan for Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company. But by 1980, that was no longer profitable for C&O, and the ship was sold. It continued to transport railcars until 1990 and seemed destined for the scrapyard at that point. However, she was saved in 1992 by Ludington native Charles Conrad who converted it into a car ferry. The Badger has been transporting passengers and vehicles across Lake Michigan ever since.
The SS Badger became a National Historic Landmark in 2016. She is the last coal-fired passenger steam ship in the United States. The 410-foot ship can accommodate 600 passengers and 180 vehicles.
The ship came under new ownership when Lake Michigan Carferry was bought by Interlake Holding Company in 2020.
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