Coal-powered passenger ship on Lake Michigan to convert to new fuel source


LUDINGTON, Mich. – A coal-powered passenger steamship on Lake Michigan, the last of its kind in the United States, will stop using coal to power its historic engines once its operators switch to an alternative power source.

Lake Michigan Carferry Inc. is early in its search for what could replace the coal that currently propels the 410-foot (125-meter) SS Badger on cruises between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

“We are only in the early stages of looking at other options that might be viable for the badger,” said Sara Spore, general manager of Lake Michigan Carferry, Told

“There are no specific plans, but we know that coal is not the long-term solution. We are really starting from scratch and looking at all of our options.

She said there was no timetable yet for when a power conversion might take place on the ship, which can accommodate 600 passengers and 180 vehicles, and operates between May and October.

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The vessel, which was built in 1952 and 1953, changed ownership in 2020 when Lake Michigan Carferry was purchased by Interlake Holding Company.

The SS Badger became a National Historic Landmark in 2016. Although its coal-fired propulsion system is unique and part of the historic designation, Spore said the company has no concerns that it will lose that historic status.

“We’re looking at how to keep the historic engines in the boat and possibly be able to open that area up for people to see,” she said.

The SS Badger hauled railcars across Lake Michigan between 1953 and 1990, when it appeared destined for scrap. It was rescued in 1992 by Ludington native Charles Conrad, who converted it into a ferry, and since then it has carried passengers and vehicles on the lake.

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