The Suitcase Lady


June 16, 2020, 4:18 pm

Driving home from a hike last Saturday, we spotted a little tug and its huge, empty barge turning into the Manitowoc River from Lake Michigan. Since our house is a reporting station for Marine Traffic (1080 Cat Cove) we decided to detour down to the riverbank to check out the tug’s name. We are familiar with the vessels that regularly ply the lake 5 to 7 miles in front of our house.

The tug was our old friend, the John Marshall, and we instantly decided to try and track her down the river, no easy task as the river soon would twist and turn through an industrial area of huge factories, overgrown foliage and no frontage roads.

She was quickly out of sight and we were zigzagging up and down many dead end streets trying to get her back in view. When we found her, she was moored, but not loading, an activity we wanted to see. Then we noticed two giant cranes on the opposite side of the river busily swinging back and forth, their vessels obscured from our view.

A quick check to Marine Traffic on our phone informed us that the Undaunted, another tug familiar to us, was over there. Determined to view the action, we continued our pursuit to find a viewing point. We found it on a hill high over the river where a small break in the trees afforded us a partial view of a big, old, tired looking boat named the Pere Marquette that was being loaded with giant scoops of gravel. We could not see the Undaunted.

When we got home, we immediately started a computer search to find out what we had seen. Why was an unreported boat receiving cargo? We found an amazing and detailed answer to our question.

The “boat” we saw was a boat but wasn’t a boat at the same time. It is a marvelous tale of use, recycle, and then recycle again and again. Here is a quick summary.

The Pere Marquette began as a Lake Michigan carferry, the City of Midland, that was launched in 1940. She had room for 367 passengers,  60 luxurious staterooms, 12 parlors, 34 rail freight cars and 50 autos. For 45 years the vessel faithfully traversed the lake until the cross-lake  service was ended in 1985. Upon inspection, the City of Midland was found to have an unrepairable boiler, and she was retired and moored in Ludington, Michigan. Then, in 1998, her two powerful engines and deck cabins were removed and she was converted to an open- deck barge. She would never move again without a tow boat, but an extremely historic vessel was found and fitted to her.

The tug, Krystal K., was built in 1943 as a Rescue Ocean Class tug and was used during World War II to service and salvage U.S. war ships. After the War ended, she was renamed Undaunted and became part of the National Defense Fleet. That lasted until 1963 when she was moved to the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, where she was called the Kings Pointer. Her Great Lakes debut came in 1993 when she was sold to Basic Marine who once again called her the Krystal K.. They, in turn, sold her to the Pere Marquette Shipping Company in 1998 who reverted her name back to Undaunted and made her the permanent tug partner to the Pere Marquette barge.

Both vessels are still going strong after combined service of 157 years. I find that wonderfully daunting.



John Marshall


2 Comments for this entry

  • evie robillard

    Mary–Ah, yes. The Pere Marquette was a familiar sight in Kewaunee when I was a child. I can still hear the sound of railroad cars unloading . . . they were filled with automobiles . . .thanks for the memory . . .

  • Elizabeth Levins

    WOW. 157 years.