“Car Ferries in Ice” – Presented by Grant Brown – Video Replay

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“Car Ferries in Ice”

Presented by:  Grant Brown, Author, “Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan”

Video Replay:

Click  Here to View on YouTube

In most winters the Ann Arbor car ferries ran across Lake Michigan with ease. There were occasional bouts with ice and Green Bay was often a problem but, by and large, the big ships ran without difficulty. Yet there were exceptions!

Grant Brown, Jr., author of Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan, talks about some of those exceptions. He begins by discussing the various forms of ice—windrows, sheet ice, ice fields, etc.—and how the boats broke ice, how they became stuck, and how they broke each other out. He then tells of some of the worst winters on Lake Michigan, years in which the lake froze shore to shore, and the heroics of the men fighting the ice. They never stayed in port but did get stuck in the ice for prolonged periods of time—eight and one-half days off Frankfort in 1917 and 63 days on Green Bay in 1900. They battled the ice around the clock but there were times when the ice was simply too powerful.

Special attention is given to the conditions on Green Bay, which froze earlier and stayed frozen longer than the rest of Lake Michigan. Brown describes how the Ann Arbor largely conquered the bay with larger, more powerful ships, but never completely won the battle.  It is a fascinating story of men fighting severe elements with weapons that were not always up to the task by today’s standards.

Grant Brown was born in Joliet Illinois and moved to Highland Park, IL in 1942 where he graduated in 1953.  He earned a BA from the University of Michigan 1957 and served as a lieutenant USCGR.  Brown worked for S.D. Warren Company, a manufacturer of fine printing, and has experience in manufacturing, sales, and technical sales.  He has lived in Muskegon, Boston, St. Louis, Dallas and Chicago while working for the company.  He retired to Frankfort in 1997 where his family has had property since 1907.

Grant rode the Ann Arbor car ferries across from Manitowoc as a child. Upon retiring in Frankfort became very interested in their history. Over eight years, interviewed five former captains, about forty former Ann Arbor employees, researched hundreds of newspaper articles from cities on both sides of Lake Michigan, and accessed information from the National Archives, Clarke Historical Library, Historical Collections of the Great Lakes at Bowling Green, OH and others. Experience in the US Coast Guard helped with understanding of shipboard procedures. His discussions with former captains helped particularly with the understanding of ice-breaking procedures.