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The Detroit: 1905

The Detroit River circa 1905. "Transfer steamer Detroit." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

The Detroit River circa 1905. "Transfer steamer Detroit." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Train ferry Detroit and its rare 2 pairs of propellers

Most people comment about the large size of this ferry, its fortress, its resistance to the ice, its operative life for nearly 60 years, but nobody use to comment that this train ferry was one of the few (or maybe the only one) to have a double pair of propellers to navigate. It is rare and their function would surely be to facilitate the "go and return" with the trains, avoiding the need to make the turn to direct the bow to the destination pier and then to turn the ferry again to put the bow back toward the first dock. All with the trains over the deck. Of course, it is a rare mechanism, that of having two quiet propellers in the bow which would mean to have a small brake and resistance to the free slip of the ferry over the water. And in addition, also to have a double rudder system, one at each end.

What a problem should have been driving this ship, my God!!

I can´t upload a picture because it was not taken by me, (and this is not allowed in this site) but I may send pictures to the person who is interested on this point.


Recent View

Here is a recent view just off the Detroit River in Ecorse. It is still there, but not floating.

Prolific GLEW

Carferry Detroit was built by Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ecorse, in 1904. Converted from 3 tracks (24 cars) to 4 tracks (32 cars) in 1927. Reduced to car float at Detroit, summer 1969.

-- Bowling Green State U.

Detroit disposition

The most recent info I could find on the Detroit. It was converted to a barge around 1970.

The Detroit may still exist!

After seeing this photo I remembered that I had seen something similar in a Bing aerial view -- sure enough, there it was. Its very reasonable to assume that the Detroit, with its very sturdy icebreaker hull, would have been converted from a steamer to a barge at some point in its life (probably right after WWII), and had additional track laid to carry more cars once the funnels were gone. The outline, size, and general arrangement, particularly the long deckhouses on each side, convinces me that this is the old Detroit. Bing aerials are usually 2 to 3 years behind, so I'm sure its gone by now. The location is in Ecorse, on the Detroit River, south of the city itself.

Real Example of Foreshortening

At least I think that is the correct term, the head on shot makes it look much shorter than the side shot!

Pinch Points Old and New

Won't see any pinch point warning signs on the bow of this ferry. Nice pair of capstans to snug the ferry to the dock. Hope for the crew's sake they are steam powered and the holes for the capstan-bars at the top are for emergency backup purposes only. Tunnels under the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers now handle the rail traffic while the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan and the the Ambassador Bridge near downtown Detroit, Michigan handle the truck traffic. The steady increase in traffic flow at these border pinch points over the years, together with the wear and tear of decades of use has Michigan and Ontario governments scrambling to fund the billions it will cost to replace them.

A Brief Trip to the Southwest

This book has an account of a man traveling by train which was transported across the Detroit River From Canada to the US by the Transfer Ship Detroit in the late 1800s.

Our trip in Canada terminates at Windsor Here we are confronted by the Detroit river about a mile in width which flows between Canada and the State of Michigan. To continue on our way we must pass this barrier This is successfully accomplished by means of an immense ferry boat Our lengthy train made up mostly of sleepers is broken into three sections placed on board of the boat and firmly secured Thus we are ferried over to the American shore The trip across this river is most interesting Steam and sailing craft plying in either direction are numerous while the shores on sides representing as they do the two foremost nations the world as well as the rippling sparkling water of the river charm and hold the eye with constant delight.

From the ferry we are landed at Detroit Michigan.

Exceptional Ice Breaker

Bulletin of the International Railway Congress
Volume 19, 1905.

Car-ferry steamer "Detroit": Michigan Central Railway

A four-screw car-ferry steamer of exceptional size and power, designed to serve as an ice-breaker and maintain communication through the heaviest ice, has been built for the Detroit River service of the Michigan Central Railway (between Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Ont.). The railway company has four car-ferry steamers, and all but the new one are propelled by side wheels. The distance across the river is half a mile, and the time allowed for crossing is ten to twelve minutes, including landing. The new steamer has been in service through the latter part of the winter, and in January performed successful work in contending with very heavy ice and ice jams.

The Detroit is 308 feet long, 64 feet beam of hull, and 76 feet beam over the guards, with a molded depth of 19 ft. 6 in. and a displacement of 3,850 tons. Its average speed is 18 miles an hour. The draft is 10 feet light and 14 feet loaded. The engines and boilers are placed below the deck, from which rise four smokestacks. On each side is a deck house about 90 feet long, with accommodation for the officers and crew (34 in summer and 55 in winter), and for the American and Canadian customs officers, as well as special quarters for the superintendent and superintending engineer of the railway company's marine department. The top of each deck house forms a promenade deck. There are three tracks, the two outer tracks being spread so as to clear the smokestacks, and the vessel can carry 24 freight cars or 12 Pullman cars. The cars are secured to the tracks with clamps and chains. The vessel had rudders and screws at both ends, for use in manoeuvring, but it is not double-ended; one end is normally the bow and has a high steel bridge spanning the tracks and carrying the pilot house. At each side of the river the boat is run with its bow against a pier or slip having three tracks.

There are four compound engines of the marine type, with cylinders 24 X 33 and 48 X 33 inches. The crank shafts arc 10 3/4 inches diameter, of the built-up type and with counterbalanced cranks.

There are two twin vertical compound air pumps, and duplicate compound boiler-feed pumps. As the vessel may stay in the slip for several hours, and the hot-well supply is then cut off by the stoppage of the air pumps, a special feed system is used. Two of the air pumps discharge into the bottom of a large feed tank, from which the water is pumped into an open Cochrane heater connected to the suction pipes of the feed pumps. The tank pump and feed pumps are fitted with pressure governors, and the feed-water supply is controlled entirely by the feed valves at the boilers. When the feed pumps are stopped, the water rises in the heater and by means of a float closes a valve in the delivery pipe of the tank pump, which pump is then shut down by its governor. The exhaust steam from the engines of the pumps, dynamos, fans and steering gear is passed through a separator and thence to the feed-water heater. Two direct connected dynamos supply current for the lighting system, including a large searchlight.

Steam is supplied by four Scotch boilers; they are built for 150 lb. pressure, but except when the vessel is working in the ice the working pressure is 100 lb. Forced draft on the closed ash pit system is provided in case of necessity. There are four oblong smokestacks rising 35 feet above the deck and surrounded to a height of 14 feet by casings which serve as ventilating trunks for the fire rooms. The bunkers carry 300 tons of coal and are supplied by hopper bottom cars standing on the outer tracks over deck openings 40 feet long.

The steel hull is very heavily built, but the keel is straight from end to end instead of being curved upward as in most ice-breaking steamers. The vessel is therefore designed to cut and drive a way through the ice instead of riding upon it and breaking it by the weight of the vessel.

In 1910, the Michigan Central Railway completed a tunnel under the Detroit River and no longer needed use of transfer ferries. The Detroit was sold to the Wabash Railroad in 1912 (along with two other ferries: Transfer and Transport). She served the Wabash line until the 1960s.

The above photo appeared in a 1905 news article in the Bulletin of the International Railway Congress. It was one of two included figures. The other figure is shown below.


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