Michigan and the Great Lakes

Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan

The History of the Ann Arbor Car Ferries
Grant Brown, Jr.
An illustrated book about the visionary, risky, and influential business of transporting loaded railroad cars across Lake Michigan


"A must buy for anyone interested in the Great Lakes."
—Frederick Stonehouse, maritime historian

In 1892, the Ann Arbor Car Ferries shook the transportation world by doing what was then deemed impossible—carrying loaded railroad cars by ship across the sixty-two miles of open water between Frankfort, Michigan, and Kewaunee, Wisconsin. With passion, acuity, and remarkable detail, Grant Brown describes the nearly one hundred years of crossings—from their beginnings with James Ashley's bold new idea of car ferrying down to the last fight for survival before the Michigan Interstate Railway Company finally closed in 1982.

Crossing the lake with loaded freight cars was a treacherous task that presented daily obstacles. Knowledgeable people believed it was impossible to secure railcars from tipping over and sinking the ship. Weather and ice presented two near-insurmountable hurdles, making car ferrying doubly difficult in the winter, when nearly all shipping on the Great Lakes shut down. This vivid history gives voice to the crews and their ships as they battled the storms without modern navigational aids or adequate power.

Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan draws on ships' logs from various museums, over two thousand newspaper articles, annual reports from 1889 through 1976, and interviews with former employees. The result is a living history of the ships, the crews, and their adventures; of the men who built and ran the business; and of the enormous influence the vessels had on the communities they served.

Grant Brown, Jr., worked for S. D. Warren Company, a paper manufacturer, for thirty-seven years. He raced sailboats on Crystal Lake in northern Michigan for ten years while growing up, continued to do so in Boston and St. Louis, and has since returned to living and racing in Frankfort, Michigan. He spent eight years in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, where he learned navigation and shipboard procedure.

Praise / Awards

  • "Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan is a detailed, well-researched and enjoyable story of trains, ships, and human innovation"
    —Jacqueline Justice, The Great Lakes Historical Society

  • "For anyone who remembers the car ferries and for anyone interested in the history of the Great Lakes, this is a must read book."
    Voyageur, Timothy F. Nixon, Godfrey & Kahn, Attorneys at Law

  • Winner: Historical Society of Michigan State History Award 2008

  • Named a 2009 Michigan Notable Book

Look Inside

Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
  • 144 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2008
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05049-9

Add to Cart
  • $24.95 U.S.