The history of the SS SPARTAN
Go Spartan! I never thought I would ever say these words, given that I am a huge University of Michigan fan, but this is one Spartan I can definitely get behind. (Ok, MSU is not that bad, I guess! LOL). In this article, I am going to take you back in time to 1952 when the Spartan was launched as a car ferry for west Michigan in Ludington, up until 1979 when it last set sail on the great Lake Michigan. See how the ship looks today from a perspective that many people are not able to see, and how it still stands as an icon of the Great Lakes.
Below: An full length view of the SS Spartan at its final resting place!
In 1952 the C&O Railroad commissioned the SS Spartan in Ludington, MI at Pere Marquette. There were already 5 ferry ships at the time, but like any great business does, they thought expanding what they had by adding 2 more ships would be a perfect move for them. The design was fairly similar to the well known "City of Midland 41" but did have some noticeable design changes and updates which set it apart. The first was a full width pilot house which allowed the crew to get an almost 360 degree view of the ship, and also a new and improved lifeboat davit system that allowed for more deck room.
The Spartan began construction in late 1950, and even though it was finished and launched in 1952, there was no major ceremony for it. Instead, they wanted to wait until the sister ship that was currently undergoing construction was finished, so they could have a double christening ceremony on September 6th for both the Spartan and the Badger.
After a popular tradition of the ships being named after cities on the other side of Lake Michigan, such as the "City of Midland", they thought there would be fewer hurt feelings if they named the twin ships after the mascots of the University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University. The Spartan and Badger had alternating routs to Milwaukee, Manitowoc, and Kewaunee, with the home port being Pere Marquette in Ludington, Michigan.
The Spartan and Badger were almost identical in size, except that the Badger was 18 inches taller, so it could accommodate the new larger railroad cars that it took on many trips across Lake Michigan. They actually cut the ship in half and added the 18 inches in the middle to make this work. The Spartan was already completed at the time and did not have this done. Both ferries could usually hold around 150 -180 vehicles.
Some interesting facts about the build of the Spartan:
4,244 Gross Tons in weight
410 ft. 6 in. long
Beam - 59 ft. 6in.
Depth - 24 ft.
Steam and coal powered
Top Speed- 18mph
Nickname- "The Mighty Spartan"
The following pictures were found on the SS Spartan Facebook page. I DO NOT own the copyright to the following images. ((3) SS Spartan | Facebook)
Text below is from the reverse of card.
The S. S. Spartan and its sister ship, the S. S. Badger, are the new twin queens of the Great Lakes. They are the largest and finest ships of their type in the world. Facing Chesapeake and Ohio Railway's year-'round Lake Michigan fleet of seven vessels, the ' train ferrying steamers provide frequent service for passengers, autos and freight between Ludington, Mich, and the Wisconsin ports of Milwaukee, Manitowoc and Kewaunee.
July 20 at 9:59 AM ·
Found this in my garage over the weekend. I took this picture for my 8th grade photography class. This was 1992, taken on a Sunday from the Badger. My Mom was working that day and I was able to snap this shot. I took the picture, I developed the picture and I saved it all these years:-)
The Final Years
The Mighty Spartan took its last cruise in September of 1979 and then returned to dock. The workers thought it was just like any other day, only it was not. Crew left the ship that night and also left behind years of hard work and personal effects. The log book was on the bridge, life preservers still in the life rafts, chairs, cleaning materials and uniforms left behind, that would now become a memory of what it was like on board the Spartan. The C&O Railroad decided it would not be profitable anymore to keep multiple ferry services running. A glimmer of hope in the Spring of 1980 led to the ship being steamed up again for a project with the Ann Arbor RR out of Frankfort, MI, but was abandoned after it was found out the harbor was too shallow for the Spartan, in Frankfort. Originally tied up at Ludington's 3 1/2 slip for many years, she was moved to the 2 1/2 slip where she sits today.
The Spartan has not left that spot, except for one time, during a strong storm that hit the area, which released the cables and allowed it to float across the harbor. It has since been re-secured with larger cables. Since its final stay at port, the Spartan has been a major supplier of parts for its sister ship, the Badger over the years. Having the same size ship available at your disposal when you need it is pretty handy! It has definitely helped keep the Badger running throughout the years! Family sticks together, LOL.
I had the chance to visit this beautiful ship at the end of July, 2021 and was able to take my drone up to get pictures and video of this amazing ferry. Below are the pictures taken with my Mavic Mini drone, as well as a link to a video flyover that I did. What I wouldn't give to step onto the bow of this ship itself!
Above: The bow of the ship, looking quite happy in its current state. It almost looks like a character out of the Cars Movie. Below: Side view of the Spartan bow from the parking lot.
Below: Directly overhead the pilot house. Notice the amount of rust, and trees growing out of the life boats.
Below: A closeup of the pilot house.
Below: Directly over the bow of the ship.
Link to my video flyover of the spartan: (2) Drone Fly over, SS Spartan, Ludington, MI - YouTube (subscriptions are greatly appreciated)
One great thing about this ship being where it is at, is you can visit it too! If you are heading to Ludington and want to stop by Pere Marquette where the Badger takes off from, you will be able to see this very ship. It is right behind the Badger, and you can walk right across the parking lot to view the incredible size in person.
Looking to book your cruise on the SS Badger, check out their website here: Book Now | SS Badger | Contact Us