2011-10-27 / Front Page

Chief Wawatam Artifacts Exhibited

Mackinaw City
By Matt Mikus


A Chadburn used on the Chief Wawatam is part of the display at Mackinaw Area Public Library. The Chadburn was used to communicate from the bridge to the engine room the power to apply to the engines. A Chadburn used on the Chief Wawatam is part of the display at Mackinaw Area Public Library. The Chadburn was used to communicate from the bridge to the engine room the power to apply to the engines. To honor the 100-year anniversary of the railroad ferry Chief Wawatam, the Mackinaw Area Public Library will host a display of artifacts for the next year.

A majority of the artifacts come from the Mackinac State Historic Parks, but some have been donated from local collectors, like Dick Campbell of Mackinaw City.

Walking into the library, visitors will see a model replica of the railroad ferry, which actually serves as a time capsule of the Chief. The time capsule was made by Jane and Marne Smith and donated to the library. Jolene Michaels, library director, said that since the time capsule has never been opened, no one can remember what kind of documents or artifacts are hidden away inside the model ship.


A model of the Chief Wawatam will be on display at the Mackinaw Area Public Library. The replica also serves as a time capsule, said library director Jolene Michaels, holding unique documents and artifacts from the ship. A model of the Chief Wawatam will be on display at the Mackinaw Area Public Library. The replica also serves as a time capsule, said library director Jolene Michaels, holding unique documents and artifacts from the ship. A display of stoker tools, including a T-bar, hooks, slash bar, and coal shovel, are on display in another case. These tools, according to Brian Jaeschke, historian with Mackinac State Historic Parks, were used to help move coal in the engine, and remove clinkers, or exhausted coal, from the engine. By removing clinkers and adjusting coal, engineers could maintain maximum efficiency.

“The clinkers would build up and it wouldn’t provide enough heat, so they had to pull them out,” said Mr. Jaeschke.

The engine room telegraph, more commonly known as the Chadburn, was used to send messages from the captain to the men in the engine room. To determine the speed of the ship, the captain would move the dial on the Chadburn from one side to the other, and a large dial, similar to a clock, would display the message from the captain for power and direction.

Another artifact on display is the tattletale. Three of these bronze, goblet-shaped devices resided in the pilothouse and were directly connected to each of the engines. On the side of the tattletale is a small opening, and by putting a hand up to the opening, the pilot engineer could determine by the amount and direction of air flowing through the slot how the engines were performing. If they were blowing air out, the engines were heading forward, while sucking in air meant the engines were in reverse.

One display features some of the safety equipment, like a life vest made from cork, a life ring, an axe, and a flare. Another shows the captain’s logbook and a chair from the captain’s quarters.

Mrs. Michaels hopes to use the opportunity to collect new memories of the Chief Wawatam before the stories are lost to time. One woman viewing the display told her that local families used to do their laundry based on the Chief’s schedule, since the soot from the engines would turn white laundry hanging on a line to gray.

“Hopefully, people will rustle up some memories of the ship with us, and we can get them down on a CD to help preserve some of these stories. The Chief pops up in conversations everywhere,” Mrs. Michaels said. “It’s part of the maritime culture and history.”

Mr. Jaeschke is excited to hear about the library’s project to document memories of the ship.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “A lot of these guys [who worked on the boats] are passing away, so we won’t have the oral history of how these ships operated.”

Mr. Jaeschke will give a presentation on the Chief Wawatam Monday,

November 14, at the Mackinaw Area Public Library Common Room in Mackinaw City. The presentation begins at 7:30 p.m.

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