Chief Wawatam
St. Ignace MI

Chief Wawatam

Story and Photo contributed by Paul Petosky

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

The Chief Wawatam was designed by Great Lakes marine architect Frank Kirby. She was launched in Toledo, OH by the Toledo Shipping Company on August 26, 1911, and immediately went into service for the Mackinac Transportation Company on October 18, 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 severe challenge because of the heavy ice builup experienced by straits in the winter months.

One of the earlier postcards of the Chief Wawatam (1912) shows loading trains on railway ferry Chief Wawatam, Mackinaw, MI. The town of Mackinaw by the way changed its name to Mackinaw City on January 1, 1935.

The need by shippers for the Straits of Mackinac train ferry service by the Mackinac Transportation Company declined following construction of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957. The Chief Wawatam ended car ferry service in 1984, and lay in mothballs for several years in Mackinaw City, and was towed to Sault Ste, Marie, Ontario, Canada in 1989, and cut down at that port to serve as a barge.