SS City of Midland 41

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Career (US)
Name: SS City of Midland 41
Namesake: Midland, Michigan
Operator: Pere Marquette Railway (1941–1947)
Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (1947–1983)
Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company (1983–1988)
Route: Ludington, MI to Milwaukee, WI,
Ludington, MI to Manitowoc, WI, and
Ludington, MI to Kewaunee, WI
Builder: Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company
Cost: $ 1.75 million
Yard number: Hull number 311
Launched: September 18, 1940
Completed: March 1941
Maiden voyage: March 12, 1941
Out of service: November 1988
Identification: Official No. 240326
IMO number: 5073894
Nickname: Queen of the Lakes
Fate: Cut to barge in 1997
General characteristics
Tonnage: 3968
Length: 389 ft (118.57 m)
Beam: 58.2 ft (17.74 m)
Installed power: Steam (Coal-fired)
Propulsion: Two Skinner Engine Company Unaflow engines
Speed: 18 mph (15.6 kn; 29.0 km/h)
Capacity: 72 staterooms, 50 automobiles, 34 freight cars on four tracks

The S.S. City of Midland 41 was a railroad car ferry serving the Ludington, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, route for the Pere Marquette Railway and its successors from 1941 until 1988. The ferry was named after the city of Midland.

Railroad car ferry

The vessel was built by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in 1940 at a cost of $1.75 million. One of the last coal-burning car ferries on Lake Michigan, she entered service for the Pere Marquette Railway company in March 1941 as the largest Great Lakes ferry ever built. Powered by two Skinner Unaflow steam engines, the City of Midland 41 was capable of speeds up to 20 miles per hour (17.4 kn) with a cruising speed of 17.6 miles per hour (15.3 kn).

The City of Midland 41 was unique for car ferries in that she also contained many amenities for the automobile and passenger traffic that crossed the lake in the warmer summer months. She had an extra passenger deck compared to the other ferries of her time, and frequently would run the Ludington-Manitowoc route during the busy summer months, serving as a moving connector of U.S. Highway 10. Because of her exemplary amenities as well as her size and aesthetic silhouette she was nicknamed the "Queen of the Lakes".

In addition to transporting railroad cars through the World War II years, the City of Midland 41 also served as a training vessel for United States Coast Guard and United States Navy enlisted sailors, since the vessel's Unaflow engines were similar to those used aboard the Casablanca-class escort carrier.

In 1947 the Pere Marquette Railway was acquired and its assets, including the City of Midland 41, merged into the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O). During the late 1940s through the 1960s the City of Midland 41 experienced the prime years of her career. In 1952 and 1953, the carferries SS Pere Marquette 21 and SS Pere Marquette 22 were upgraded, and two new carferries, SS Spartan and SS Badger, entered service. They were the last two railroad car ferries built on the Great Lakes.

Barge conversion

By the mid-1970s, the C&O was seeking to abandon its car ferry routes. Many of the older ferries, including the Pere Marquette 21 & 22, were retired and sold for scrap, leaving only the Spartan, Badger, and City of Midland 41 as the last three ferries operating. In 1979 the Spartan was laid up in Ludington, leaving only two ferries still in operation.

In 1983, the C&O completed the abandonment of its car ferry routes and the three vessels were purchased by Glen Bowden and George Towns, who formed the Michigan-Wisconsin Transportation Company (M-WT). This venture, while keeping the ferries running, was doomed to fail almost from the start. Increased labor costs, combined with improved rail and highway routes through Chicago rendered the ferries obsolete. In 1987, USCG inspections showed that the boiler mounts on the City of Midland 41 had deteriorated and needed replacement, however these repairs were waived for a year.

Rather than losing the only ferry in service (the Badger had been laid-up in 1984), M-WT opted to refurbish the Badger and in 1988, the City of Midland 41 made her last voyage in November of that year. She was laid-up in Ludington's No. 2 1/2 slip. She sat rusting in the harbor for nine years before her fate was decided.

After a 47 year career in which she carried approximately 1 million railroad cars and sailed 3.5 million miles, it was determined that the City of Midland 41 would be converted to a barge. She was towed out of Ludington harbor on 1 October 1997 and had her superstructure reduced on 7 November.

The City of Midland 41 can be seen today as the deck barge Pere Marquette 41, that makes its home port in Ludington, Michigan.


  • Chavez, Art (2004). Images of America: S.S. City of Midland 41. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing. 
  • Chavez, Art (2003). Images of America: S.S. Badger- The Lake Michigan Car Ferry. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing. 
  • Zimmermann, Karl (1993). Lake Michigan’s Railroad Car Ferries. Andover, New Jersey: Andover Junction Publications. pp. 8–31. ISBN 0-944119-11-5.