Hibernating for Winter

While the S.S. Badger made its final crossing of the 2018 sailing season Oct. 14, the crew was hard at work preparing it for winter. Here’s a sneak peek of what goes into winterizing the last coal-fired steamship in the United States. 

VP of NavigationNot unlike closing up a cottage or taking a personal boat out of the water at the end of the season, the S.S. Badger needs to be winterized, too. But unlike a personal watercraft or home, the Badger is seven stories tall, 410 feet long and 59 feet wide!  After the ship docked on that final sail, the Engine Department took another four weeks to properly winterize the ship. Here to tell us more about it is Chuck Leonard, VP of Navigation. 


What happened once the Badger docked after its final run of the season?

SS Badger Boiler RepairAfter the boat docked, we let the fires go out on the ship’s coal-burning boilers. The next morning, we started the winterizing process in earnest — removing safety equipment such as life rafts and inspecting them over the winter; cleaning, breaking down and draining the boilers plus draining and clearing the tubes of water; draining and blowing out potable water systems on the vessel; and hooking up an external natural gas furnace to heat the engine room all winter long so nothing freezes (there is always some water in the plumbing). Pictured on left: Tyler Walton and Beto Ramirez prepare a boiler for repair. (Not shown is Eric Roberts.)


What was the most laborious part of the process?

Cleaning the boilers is certainly a tough job. Draining the pipes also is a huge undertaking — we have miles of plumbing, and it takes a long time!


How many people assist with the winterizing process?

Our entire 20-person Engine Department starts the process, and then we taper off the crew until we’re down to four or five people in the final week. 


How long does the winterizing process take?

Installing gangwayWe started the work Oct. 14 after the Badger came in, and it was done Nov. 8 — a four-week process. It’s no small task to properly winterize a steamship of the Badger’s size! To give you a comparison, the Pere Marquette 41 barge and its tug, Undaunted, take two to three days to winterize. A steam vessel such as the Badger adds another level of involvement for winterizing because you’re breaking down boilers, which are only on steamships. A coal-fired steamship is one of the most complicated ships to lay up properly. Pictured on right: Scott Rogers and Will Oscaboose fabricate a new gangway.


How did you know when the Badger was done being properly winterized?

Chief Engineer Chuck Cart (read our blog interview with Chief Cart) inspected the ship and gave it his blessing after checking that was all properly completed. 


What happens next?

The winter season is an important time for us to do equipment inspections, parts replacement, and upgrades. We always pull the high-pressure steam pistons out of the main engines and inspect them. We might also replace parts that we notice need upgrading, sometimes getting them from our “Spartan store” — the twin S.S. Spartan parked next to the Badger. 


Are there any standard maintenance items that the Badger performs in the winter?

Every year, we pull the pistons out and inspect and replace rings and rod packing as needed. And this year, we are installing new lighting on the car deck.


Does anyone work on the Badger in the winter?

While no one works on the Badger full time after the winterizing, Chief Cart and members of his Engine crew walk through the Badger periodically throughout the winter months to ensure all is well. Also, onboard alarm systems monitor the heat, noise, and power and will remotely alert the chief engineer if there are any issues.


What else happens during the winter to prepare for the next sailing season?

This winter, we are conducting maintenance on the docks at both our Ludington and Manitowoc ports. The work in Manitowoc has begun, and the work in Ludington is scheduled to begin in early December. We are installing new timber docking walls at both piers since the current walls were built in the 1930s.  Some of the existing elements such as the loading aprons and counterweight systems will remain.


Is the dock repair work anything to do with damage from storms earlier in the year?

No — this dock work is strictly about maintaining the docks at both ports. Any repairs from storm damage have long since been completed.


When does the crew start coming back to prepare for the spring 2019 season?

While our 2019 sailing season doesn’t start until May 10, we start bringing a few people back in mid-January to do boiler work, take the rings out of the pistons, inspect the chains and carrier portion of the ash retention system, inspect machinery, rebuild pumps, etc. The team will continue ramping up each month as demand requires to prepare for the sailing season.