Slideshow and film from a variety of sources showing the Chief Wawatam rail ferry which once plied the Straits of Mackinac (pronounced MackiNAW). Originally served by the Duluth South Shore and Atlantic on the north end and PRR/NYC on the south, the ferry was jointly owned by the three railroads. After the Penn Central merger the southern routes were not taken over by Conrail, so the Detroit & Mackinac assumed the NYC’s role of switching the ferry and the Michigan Northern took over the former PRR from Grand Rapids. The Staggers Act killed the ferry by changing the rate structure that kept it viable, and service was discontinued in 1984. Without the ferry there was no reason to keep the rail routes to St. Ignace and Mackinac City, so they were abandoned within a few years. The Chief was cut down to a barge and later scrapped, leaving only her engine and some appliances surviving in museums.

This guy should be given a medal!!! There is a lot of photos and video shorts in this 26 minute Youtube video story about the Chief!!!!




Chief Wawatam T-Shirts


All proceeds go to the Chief Wawatam General Fund for Project #1 Saving the Chief’s Engine and Project #2 Saving the Chief’s Upright’s from her loading dock.

Colors Available: Sky Blue and Ash Grey

S, M, L, XL come in Sky Blue and Ash Grey are $15.00 each.

2XL come in Sky Blue and Ash Grey are $18.00 each.

3XL only comes in Ash Grey are $18.00 each.

If you need them Delivered, Shipping and Handling is 1 Shirt $5.00, 2 Shirts $6.00, 3 Shirts $7.00, 4 Shirts $8.00, etc.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       To Order: Stop in, send check, or call Chuck Cullip at the Feed Station W728 US Highway 2, St. Ignace 49781 (906) 643-6411   Make Checks out to: “Friends of the Chief”

“SPECIAL” ALL Small Shirts (both Sky Blue and Ash Grey) $10.00 ea. ______________________________________________________________________________

Save the Chief’s Engine Fund: http://chiefwawatam.com/?page_id=1099


We have got the Chief’s Engine Sandblasted and a good primer set on her, now we need to get a good coat of paint on her to seal her from the elements. Chuck Cullip has taken the helm and self funded the sandblasting and primer.

We are now looking for donations for the paint. It’s not going to be much, but we need help in this area. If you feel you can buy a gallon, or two of paint, please feel free to drop off the money at the Feed Station on US Highway 2, or at First National Band (downtown St, Ignace) attn: Jim North, manager, on acct. “Friends of the Chief”. We think it will take 10-12 gallons to do the job. If someone wants to fund the whole paint bill, we would be honored to take your money, as it’s for a good cause. Chuck says a gallon is about $47.00

By the way, Chuck has volunteered to paint to engine, I need to get this on camera. lol.

Here are some photos of the Chief’s primed engine:

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Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #8
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #10
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #11
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #12
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #13
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #9
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #1
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #2
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #3
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #4
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #5
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #6
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #7
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #8
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #10
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #11
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #12
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #13
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #9
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #1
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #2
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #3
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #4
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #5
Chief Wawatam's Primed Engine #6


PositivelyMichigan.net   Update on Project #1 Saving the Chief’s engine and also Project #2 Saving the Chief’s Uprights from her loading apron.



A tribute to the train ferry “Chief Wawatam” which served the Straits of Mackinac in Northern Michigan from 1911 through 1984.

Original Song – “Last of the Hand-Bombers” by Rob Kneisler


NEW INFORMATION VIDEO:  Since the Chief has been gone for so long and having no videos of the steam engine operations we have substituted a YouTube Video from the S.S. Badger which still sails out of Ludington, Michigan today. Most controls of steam ships were done with this form of time proven control (chadburn to engine room) This is also the way the S.S. Titanic was operated as well. (This video is very informative)


On March 4, 2013, Maverick Construction removes debris of collapsed Chief Wawatam’s Elevator. Chief’s Demo Photos


The Chief’s Engine was moved on Wednesday September 26, 2012 from Arnold Lines Mill Slip to The Feed Station. Chief’s Engine Moving Photos


Chief’s Engine Saved:

On September 17, 2012 the City Council of St. Ignace had planned on scraping the Chief Wawatam’s Engine, but with persistence from Doug Taylor and Chuck Cullip from the Friends of the Chief Wawatam convinced the City Manager and City Council that it should be saved. The council voted unanimously to sell the engine to The Friends of the Chief for $1.00. The friends of the Chief plan on sandblasting and painting the engine to be put on display on the waterfront in a protected building. All of this will be done with donations and a possible grant. Gary Nitz a local Civil Engineer has provided a rendition of the Chief’s Engine Building on short notice, to show what can be done to display this Icon Relic from the elements. The Friends of the Chief are planning a host of fundraising events to procure money for this project.


Chief Wawatam Dock Collapsed 8-5-2011

Chief Wawatam Dock Collapse 8/5/2011

Chief’s Loading Dock before collapse








The Chief Wawatam’s Loading Apron is an Iconic Relic from the past and it’s the only visual remnant that’s left that connects St. Ignace to the R.R, Car Ferry Service. The very first thing you would see in the Bay coming down the hill into St. Ignace was the Loading Dock Upright’s, until the dock collapsed into Bay at 3:00 AM on August 5, 2011.

Once this Iconic Relic is gone, it’s gone forever. It will be a sad day when it happens, because it was part of something that supported so many families over the many years it was there.

Historical Society members Cheryl Schlehuber  said, “Down the road, were going to wish we had saved some of that stuff, Prentiss (Moie) Brown also concurs strongly for the preservation of the Dock.

Doug Taylor an Historian, who has been working a grassroots effort to save the uprights from day one, has been presenting various ideas for rebuilding the entire structure to rebuilding the structure as a cosmetic restoration, the later, seeming the best solution.

One of many solutions was generated by Gary Nitz, (G.D. Nitz Associates, Inc.) a local civil engineer Taylor recruited, as an authoritative, if any of these ideas are doable or not, from an engineers outlook. Gary has come up with a whole bunch of very good ideas, in a letter (Link to Letter) to the Historical Society, which Doug Taylor read at the June 18, 2012 Council Meeting.


S.S. Chief Wawatam

SS Chief Wawatam was a coal-fired train ferry and icebreaker that operated in the Straits of Mackinac between 1911–1984. Her home port was St. Ignace, Michigan, and she shuttled back and forth during her entire working life between that port and Mackinaw City, Michigan.

Chief Wawatam with Steam Up


Railroad Ferry

The Chief Wawatam was designed by Great Lakes marine architect Frank E. Kirby. She was launched in Toledo, Ohio by the Toledo Shipbuilding Company on 26 August 1911, and went into service for the Mackinac Transportation Company on 18 October 1911. The Mackinac Transportation Company was a joint venture of the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, and the Michigan Central Railroad, the three railroads that serviced the Straits of Mackinac.

Year-round train ferry service in the Straits of Mackinac was a significant challenge because of the heavy ice buildup experienced by these straits in winter. The Chief Wawatam was designed to break ice floes with her bow propeller, which could both maneuver the boat and suck water out from underneath the ice to enable it to be broken through force of gravity.

The Chief Wawatam was 338 feet in length and had a beam of 62 feet. Her three propellers, two in the stern and one on the bow, were driven by coal-fired triple-expansion steam engines. The Chief is believed to have been the last hand-fired, coal-burning boat in commercial service on the Great Lakes. Other coal-burning vessels that survived longer in revenue service, such as the SS Badger, had automatic stokers.


Need by shippers for the Straits of Mackinac train ferry service provided by the Mackinac Transportation Company declined following construction of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957. After cross-Straits of Mackinac railroad car ferry service ended in 1984, the Chief lay in mothballs for several years in Mackinaw City. She was towed to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in 1989 and cut down at that port to serve as a barge. In November 2009 it was reported that barge Chief Wawatam was being scrapped.[1] At the time of this final scrappage she was one of the last survivors of the Great Storm of 1913.

One of the three Chief’s triple-expansion engines was withheld from salvage and, after being restored to operating condition, was placed on display in 2005 at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a second one is in the presents of the City of St. Ignace where the future is not known of this rare gem. Other artifacts from the ferry, including the whistle, wheel, telegraphs, and furniture, are preserved by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in Mackinaw City.


Click Below to Hear the Chief’s Whistle:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Maritime News

The S.S. Badger a Railroad Car Ferry much like the Chief Wawatam is offering a Bed and Breakfast Special: http://www.ssbadger.com/news-media/badger-boatel.html

S.S. Badger’s Website: http://www.ssbadger.com/

Special Maritime News

S.S. Keewatin

On Wednesday June 6, 2012 at about 11:45 AM the S.S. Keewatin was towed by tug boat Wendy Anne under the Mackinac Bridge. This vessel is a 1905 luxury steam ship, the only one left like it in the world. It is being berthed in one of the State Car Ferry Docks at Mackinac City until it’s departure for it’s original home where her career began at Port McNicoll, Ontario, Canada,  for restoration and permanent display as a maritime museum and event facility. See stories at these Links: http://sskeewatin.com/   http://maritimematters.com/2012/06/104-year-ss-keewatin-departs-douglas/  http://www.saugatuck.com/Keewatin_skycam.asp

Bring Her Home: YouTube 8:11



12 Responses to HOME

  1. Wendy says:

    Hi Doug,
    If people want to see another Chief engine restored they can visit the following link and see ours at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc!

  2. Doug Taylor says:

    NEW INFORMATION VIDEO: Since the Chief has been gone for so long and having no videos of the steam engine operations we have substituted a YouTube Video of the S.S. Badger which still sails out of Ludington, Michigan today. Most controls of steam ships were done with this form of time proven control (chadburn to engine room) This is also the way the S.S. Titanic was operated as well. Very Informative Video

  3. Doug Taylor says:

    The Chief’s Engine will be moved tomorrow from Arnold Lines Mill Slip to The Feed Station up on West Highway US2 about 9:00 AM. by Rob Fraser of Maverick Construction. There will be 2 trips made, as each piece weights about 25 tons. Support the Chief and come out and watch the move and bring your cameras.


    Doug Taylor, Friends of the Chief

  4. Martin R. Bliss says:

    I have many photo’s of the Chief inside and out and I would be happy to share them. I have photo of my cousin Doug Litzner which appeared in the Detroit Free Press when the Chief was tied up in Mackinaw City. Doug was a deckhand/wheelsman also a second cousin Bob Tamblyn senior and junior. I live in Stockbridge Mich. But like to join your group. Looking forward to hear from you. Thanks Martin Bliss

  5. Doug Taylor says:

    The City Council last night voted to sell the Chief’s Engine to the Friends of the Chief Wawatam, so it will not get scraped after all. The Friend of the Chief Wawatam plan on sand blasting the engine and then painting it and doing it all with private funding. It will be moved from the Arnold Lines as early as Wednesday of this week and moved to Chuck Cullip’s Feed Station on US2 next to Timmy Lee’s Pub.

    People will be able to watch the progress on the engine when the weather gets warmer in the spring.

    If anybody wants to be involved in this project, please contact us, “Friends of the Chief Wawatam” at theChiefWawatam@yahoo.com

    Doug Taylor, Member of Friends of the Chief Wawatam

  6. Doug Taylor says:

    On my way out of a Council Meeting at City Hall on Wed. night May 2nd, Mayor Grondin called me aside and told me that the Historical Society of Michigan has put a halt to the Demolition of the Chief Wawatam Loading dock. This is the latest in all the turns this story has been through. Very Interesting!!! Doug Taylor

  7. Doug Taylor says:

    It will be a sad day if the Chief Wawatam’s Elevator will be sold for scrap, because that will put an end to any possibility’s of there ever being a Restoration of an Icon so authentic and as large as this structure is. Nothing will ever be as good as the original! A mock up, or model, will never stand as majestically as this Icon once did.

    It was and can still be the first thing that you seen in the Bay when you start coming down into the town of St. Ignace….. What an attraction for tourism, it doesn’t get any more Grandeur than that, because it’s something that catch’s your eye the second you see it, even better, if it was lite up at night.

    Below is some past comments from I Love Saint Ignace Michigan/Facebook and Chief Wawatam/Facebook about the Chief, please feel free to add to these comments:

    Brian Perrault: it is said that st.ignace can’t rebuild the apron, but that’s your city fathers they just don’t care that is just a small part of history for a town that draws on tourist Wednesday at 9:52am ·

    Bill Brown: We need to save what’s left of the Chief. This IS the history of St. Ignace for the past 100 years!
    12 · April 14 at 8:51pm

    Isobel Flietstra: the families that were raised from the employment is enough to praise the chief it’s such a shame we could’nt keep her but there are such great mmories of it that h] April 20 at 2:40am ·

    Rhonda Webb: Wow! That is sad. I thought they were going to restore it. My husband will be crushed. He loved to look at that.
    March 30 at 10:56am ·

    Rhonda Webb: How do I do that?March 30 at 11:08am ·

  8. Doug Taylor says:

    Today April 12, 2012 is the 100 Year Anniversary of the Titanic Sinking. You ask me why am I bringing the Titanic up on this comment board? Well, the two Steamships had a lot in common, the Titanic was built in 1911 and so was the Chief, the Chief’s Triple Expansion Steam Engines are the same as the Titanics, just smaller, they was revolutionary and state of the art in 1911. The Titanic was the largest ship ever built in the world at the time and the Chief was this awesome coal-fired steamer, which, at the time, was “the largest, fastest, most powerful, most modern ice-breaking car ferry in the world.”

    I’m sure that the Chief Wawatam would have received a lot more press around the world, if it wasn’t for the Sinking of the Titanic at about the same time the Chief should have been receiving attention. It was six months later, but dignitaries didn’t travel with the ease of today’s air travel and might have taken months to plan a trip to see the Chief. But, for the most part, the Titanic stole the headlines and most commentary sections of the papers for months on end and any news of the New Chief Wawatam and it’s glory, got dismissed.

    I say “Hail to the Chief” out of respect!!!

  9. Jim Ryerse says:

    Good work Doug, cant wait to see all the pics people will contribute.

    • Bob Thiry says:

      Which “Jim” Ryerse are you?
      The 70+ year old one that I rode tugs with, or his kid? I’ve been out of the area for a long time, would not mind a good BS session.
      I still have your CommHat (deiving helmet), by the way.

  10. Bill & Carol Brown says:

    Glad to see this great website! Hoping we can get a group of people together to raise money to remount the elevator apron. This is so central to the history of St. Ignace, and NEEDS to be fixed! Thank you for this site.

  11. Doug Taylor says:

    I finally have the website populated enough to publish it, as there is enough content in it to keep some busy for some time. I will continue to place content into the site, as it comes in. So, if you have stories, pictures, etc. of and about the Chief, here is your time to save them.

    This website was built for a couple of reasons, one being an interactive archival database for the Chief Wawatam Car Ferry History and second to gauge public support on artifacts of the Chief’s History.

    As most know of the collapse of the Chief’s elevator apron on August 3, 2011, we the “Friends of the Chief Wawatam” are trying to organize and fund the restoration of this Iconic Historical artifact.

    We are asking everybody concerned about this Artifact to voice your comments, opinions and come forward on the cause to restore this historical structure. Please follow the progress of the efforts by visiting this site often.


    Doug Taylor, Webmaster, Friends of the Chief Wawatam

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