SS City of Midland 41 was a railroad carferry serving the ports of Ludington, MI, Milwaukee, WI, Manitowoc, WI, and Kewaunee, WI, for the Pere Marquette Railway and its successor, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway from 1941 until 1988. The ferry was named after the city of Midland, MI.
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 with a cruising speed of 17.6 miles per hour.
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 2 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 & Ohio (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.
C&O Car Ferry “City of Midland” #41 Milwaukee, WI 1958. © Red Border Kodachrome from the Joe Geronimo collection.