This book strives to be a comprehensive history of car ferries on the Great Lakes. (By car ferries the author is referring to train car ferries, not aThis book strives to be a comprehensive history of car ferries on the Great Lakes. (By car ferries the author is referring to train car ferries, not automotive ferries.) While very thorough, the book fails in that goal on two points: 1) the book was written in 1962 and thus doesn’t cover the denouement of the car ferry which didn’t come until the 1980’s, and 2) it focuses too much on list-like descriptions of minor (and sometimes major) accidents and business dealings between the various companies involved, and doesn’t give enough attention to the normal operation of the ferries and the men who worked them.
The author himself touches on this second point in his introduction: “I have, naturally, described the accidents of the car ferries in some detail. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about a normal voyage across Lake Michigan. Consequently, although I dwell on the disasters of the car ferries, the reader should not forget that these are atypical.” I would argue that normal operations of the ferries would be of great interest and worthy of more coverage. Most of the accident stories in the book are short on details and sometimes devolve into rote lists. (“Such-and-such ferry grounded at someplace on some date. It grounded again at a different place at a later date.”) I expect that the author was striving for completeness and did the best he could with whatever source materials were available. The few occasions where the author does go into greater detail and is able to actually tell a story is where the book picks up. But there are long stretches without relief.
The book tends to be focused on the ships, and not the men who worked them. While an average reader might crave a more “human interest” angle, students of the ships themselves should be pleased with the author’s thoroughness. I believe he touches on every single car ferry that worked the Great Lakes (including the Detroit, St. Clair, and St. Lawrence rivers). The book is arranged mostly by the bodies of water, with separate chapters for Detroit River, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the Straits of Mackinac, etc. Lake Michigan ferries are split into three separate chapters covering the Ann Arbor Railroad, the Pere Marquette (C&O), and finally all other ferries. The end of the book contains a ship index and a fleet list. The fleet list includes the names, dimensions, builders, engines, capacity, and general description of all the ships. This would be a great reference by itself.
[Aside: the day I finished reading this book I was dining at The Real Seafood Company in Ann Arbor, and was seated at a booth with a model of the side wheeler Tashmoo on the wall. I went home and looked the ship up in the index, and sure enough, there it was. Although the Tashmoo was an excursion steamer, not a car ferry, it was involved in the sinking of the Detroit River car ferry Huron in 1907.]
Also worth mentioning are the numerous photographs and drawings of the ships. Although not every ship is pictured, there are enough pictures and drawings to give the reader a visual sense of how ship design evolved over the years.
I should note that some of the book’s shortcomings can also be intriguing. The book was published in 1962, at a time when the car ferries were still a significant presence on the Great Lakes. The author’s frame of reference in discussing car ferries of the late 50’s and early 60’s reads like the contemporary account it was, not a sixty-year-old history. I found that fascinating, especially the sections about the latter day Ann Arbor Railroad and Pere Marquette (C&O) ferries. Having ridden the Badger many times, it was satisfying to read about the days when it was a real working car ferry.
This book is best suited for the true aficionado of shipping and rail history and not the casual interest reader. I believe that a greater book could be made of this material if it were updated to cover the conclusion of car ferry service, along with reducing the rote listing of accidents and increasing the descriptions of the men who worked the boats....more
Fascinating and disturbing, both the level of safety and the delegation of authority. The devices themselves must always be readyJust some thoughts:
Fascinating and disturbing, both the level of safety and the delegation of authority. The devices themselves must always be ready when needed and yet never be able to go off accidentally. This always/never conflict was resolved to the benefit of readiness and the degradation of safety nearly every time.
The lack of a robust communication system, or even a strategy, that could be used following a nuclear attack called into question even the theoretical effectiveness of the nuclear arsenal. If the President couldn’t get reliable information or transmit verifiable orders, what would be the point in having an arsenal to respond to a nuclear attack?
More interesting than the Damascus event was the history of America’s nuclear war institutions – SAC, the AEC, the government in general.
The idea of having a plan of attack that would kill 220 million people – in the name of national defense – ignores the fact that perpetrating such a holocaust would effectively destroy our country, regardless of what our enemies might do. What idea of America could survive such a crime? Even Henry Kissinger was quoted as wondering “how one rationally could make a decision to kill 80 million people.”
Greater detail on the Soviet side of the equation would have earned this book a 5-star rating. The U.S. decision makers always seemed to be either over-estimating or under-estimating Soviet nuclear capability. And either assumption was considered grounds for increasing America’s nuclear arsenal. If the Soviets had more bombs, then we needed to make more bombs to keep up. If the Soviets had fewer bombs, then we needed to make more bombs so that the threat of total destruction would keep them from using their limited arsenal for a first strike. The “why” didn’t really matter. The answer was always “more bombs”....more