2008-01-17 / Front Page

Chief Wawatam Engine To Be Returned to St. Ignace

By Karen Gould

This is one of the three engines taken from the Chief Wawatam, which once served on the Straits of Mackinac as a railroad ferry. Purvis Marine in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, now operating the ferry as a barge, is donating one of the ferry's 65-ton engines to St. Ignace. The gift was announced during the Downtown Development Authority meeting Friday, January 11. George Alward of Cedarville (pictured) proposed the idea to St. Ignace, said DDA Chairman Gene Elmer. (Photograph courtesy of George Alward) This is one of the three engines taken from the Chief Wawatam, which once served on the Straits of Mackinac as a railroad ferry. Purvis Marine in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, now operating the ferry as a barge, is donating one of the ferry's 65-ton engines to St. Ignace. The gift was announced during the Downtown Development Authority meeting Friday, January 11. George Alward of Cedarville (pictured) proposed the idea to St. Ignace, said DDA Chairman Gene Elmer. (Photograph courtesy of George Alward) Two city preservation projects have received the support of the St. Ignace Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Last week, the DDA welcomed an offer for one of the engines from the Chief Wawatam railroad ferry and agreed to pay fuel costs to bring it here. The authority also began the bidding process to paint the inside of the Museum of Ojibwa Culture and decided to apply for a loan that may be needed to pay for additional renovation work on the 171-year-old former Catholic church building that houses the museum.

If the St. Ignace City Council approves the gift of the 65-ton Wawatam engine next week, it could be delivered by the end of the month. One of two stern steam engines that once helped power the Chief Wawatam is being donated to the city by Purvis Marine, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, company that converted the ferry to a barge in the mid-1980s.

The 338-foot, coal-fired icebreaking ferry sailed between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City from 1911 through 1984, transporting trains, passengers, and automobiles across the Straits of Mackinac.

Purvis Marine will keep the second 14-foot-tall stern engine. The ship's bow engine is on display at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc.

"They're looking at a gift to St. Ignace because this is where it belongs," said City Manger Eric Dodson, who attended the DDA meeting Friday, January 11. "It's pretty sad to see the Chief in its current state. Although it is being tugged around the Great Lakes, it is a barge. It's nothing [like] what it was before. This is sort of a move toward preservation of the memory of that ship that served us for so long."

The engine now is in eight to 10 pieces, and the DDA agreed to pay for the gas to transport it to St. Ignace on three flatbed trailers. The city will provide the trucks and drivers, said DDA Chairman Gene Elmer, and Purvis Marine has agreed to load the pieces onto the trucks. The city will look for a donation of a crane to unload the trucks once they arrive in town.

Once a permanent location has been established for the engine, Purvis Marine has agreed to provide a supervisor, at no charge to the city, to work with city crews to reassemble the machinery.

Problems are not expected when the three trucks pass through customs, said Mr. Elmer, since the engine was built and operated in this country.

The DDA would like to house the engine in a transportation museum now being planned for St. Ignace. DDA Director Deb Evashevski is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to seek transportation enhancement funds for the museum. The Mulcrone building on McCann Street that once housed the food pantry and now serves as a bus depot is being considered for the site.

The city will store the engine until then.

"The thought behind this is if we have a transportation museum, this would be a nice focal point with a whole display about the Chief," said Mr. Elmer.

The engine, said Mr. Dodson, would join Forrest "Frosty" Wyrick's 101-foot-long Erector Set model of the Mackinac Bridge as a main feature in the museum. Mackinac Bridge artifacts and state car ferry items are other displays being planned.

Progress continues at the Museum of Ojibwa Culture, with insulation work complete. The DDA agreed to seek bids to paint the interior and begin the application process for a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Discussions on renovation projects on the 1837 structure are planned for future meetings.

"We want this building to be in good structural shape and viable in our downtown district for a long, long time," said Mrs. Evashevski. "If we're going to make it that way, then we need to do it right."

The DDA, which received $80,000 from the sale of property at 3 Glashaw Street to apply to the renovation work, also is seeking donations and looking at historic preservation grants, although they are difficult to get now, said Mrs. Evashevski. At Friday's meeting, the DDA agreed to apply for a maximum $250,000, 30-year loan at about 4.38% interest, which would cost approximately $15,000 annually.

Museum director Shirley Sorrels said she is getting renovation advice from historical architect Robb McKay, who works in the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, including information on the proper siding to use on the building, if the board decides it must be replaced.

"The siding is in really rough shape," said Mrs. Evashevski.

Getting paint to stick to the wood siding has been a problem the city has been dealing with for years. Options, said Mrs. Sorrels, include repairing existing boards, scraping old paint from the building and repainting, or replacing the old pine siding with new. According to Mrs. Sorrels, the Historic Preservation office also would accept the installation of cement fiber siding, which looks like wood.

"We just have to be really careful what we put on the outside of the building," she said. "If we put something on the building that is not approved, we could be de-listed as a National Historic Landmark."

Additional work needed on the building includes replacing windows and exterior doors, upgrading the heating system, repairing the foundation, adding air conditioning and dehumidification, installing a new restroom, constructing a new protected main entry modeled after the one on the original structure, and repainting the interior.

The design of banners to hang from downtown lampposts this summer will be discussed at the DDA's February meeting. The board will consider banners that mark the 100th sailing of the Chicago-to-Mackinac Island yacht race, using a combination of different theme banners, or the old city banners.

The St. Ignace special events committee is expanding winter celebrations to include two weekends. The pond hockey championship is set for February 22 through February 24 and now a softball tournament and a snowmobile adventure race will take place February 16 and February 17. Snow bowling and other events are planned, including live music and a heated beer tent.

Lights on downtown trees will be back once the state prisoner work program is operating again. The city expects its return by April. The program provided a labor force for municipal projects, including installing Christmas decorations, lawn care, painting sidewalk curbs, and maintaining ball fields.

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