2012-10-04 / News

Chief Wawatam Engine Finds Temporary Home at US-2 Feed Station

Volunteer Effort Saves 1911 Engine from Scrap Heap
By Martha Stuit


The engine from the Chief Wawatam railroad ferry awaits restoration at The Feed Station. The top part of the engine is in the foreground, and the bottom section is in the background. Friends of the Chief, the new nonprofit caring for the engine, moved the engine with assistance from Maverick Construction Wednesday, September 26. J & R Building Movers lowered the engine Monday, October 1, to reposition it for restoration. (Photograph courtesy of Doug Taylor) The engine from the Chief Wawatam railroad ferry awaits restoration at The Feed Station. The top part of the engine is in the foreground, and the bottom section is in the background. Friends of the Chief, the new nonprofit caring for the engine, moved the engine with assistance from Maverick Construction Wednesday, September 26. J & R Building Movers lowered the engine Monday, October 1, to reposition it for restoration. (Photograph courtesy of Doug Taylor) The Chief Wawatam engine was relocated to The Feed Station on US-2 from the Mill Slip Wednesday morning, September 26. The preservation group, Friends of the Chief, plans to research its original appearance, restore the engine in the spring, and then exhibit it in St. Ignace.

Jim Brown, Paul Brown, and Jimbo Brown of Arnold Transit hooked the engine to the Arnold Line boatlift with chains. They moved half the engine at a time, transporting the bottom part on a Maverick Construction truck to The Feed Station first, and then the top section. The third part, an A-frame connecting the two halves, is stored at the City Garage, where the group will leave it until the restoration is complete, because its valves are prone to rust.


Assisting with the Chief engine relocation are Jeff Wollos (from left), Rob Fraser of Maverick Construction, Eldon Winberg, Doug Taylor of Friends of the Chief, Chuck Cullip of The Feed Station, Paul Brown, Jimbo Brown, and Jim Brown. The move was Wednesday, September 26, from the Mill Slip to The Feed Station on US-2. Assisting with the Chief engine relocation are Jeff Wollos (from left), Rob Fraser of Maverick Construction, Eldon Winberg, Doug Taylor of Friends of the Chief, Chuck Cullip of The Feed Station, Paul Brown, Jimbo Brown, and Jim Brown. The move was Wednesday, September 26, from the Mill Slip to The Feed Station on US-2. Using a lowboy trailer, Rob Fraser of Maverick Construction and Maverick driver Jeff Wollos helped Jim Brown align the boatlift with the flatbed. Maneuvering the boatlift, Mr. Brown hoisted the bottom half of the engine, weighing more than 20 tons, onto the flatbed truck.


Jimbo Brown (from left), Paul Brown, and Chuck Cullip carry wood blocks to put under the engine and stabilize it for travel on the lowboy. Part of the engine can be seen in the background. Jimbo Brown (from left), Paul Brown, and Chuck Cullip carry wood blocks to put under the engine and stabilize it for travel on the lowboy. Part of the engine can be seen in the background. The crew drove the engine down State Street to its temporary resting place outside in front of The Feed Station on US-2. The engine sat outdoors at the Mill Slip and will remain in the elements at The Feed Station. In the afternoon Monday, October 1, J & R Building Movers repositioned the engine at The Feed Station to better situate it for renovation work.

Chuck Cullip of The Feed Station said the Friends of the Chief hopes to coordinate with the Wisconsin Maritime Museum at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, as well as research the engine design and appearance, during the winter. The Wisconsin museum has another of the Chief’s three engines, and the third of them was scrapped. Fundraisers in the winter months will support the sandblasting and painting in the spring, said Mr. Cullip.

In early September, the city resolved to scrap the engine that was stored at the Mill Slip since 2008 because no action had been taken to preserve the engine from the Chief Wawatam railroad ferry. After the decision, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Cullip approached the city council September 15 and persuaded the city to sell the engine to Friends of the Chief for $1. The engine came into the city’s possession as a donation from its owner, Purvis Marine. Chief Wawatam carried train cars between St. Ignace and Mackinaw City from 1911 until 1984.

“The ball is rolling,” said Mr. Taylor, noting that community members have come forward to help with the project.

When he was eight years old, Mr. Taylor recalled, he had the opportunity to visit the engine room in the Vacationland car ferry, which transported cars and trucks across the Straits of Mackinac in the 1950s. It made an impression on him.

“To see something that massive turning down there, it’s just something you don’t forget,” recalled Mr. Taylor, a historian.

His interest in history drives his involvement with the engine and Friends of the Chief. The engine is a piece of history that needs to be preserved, said Mr. Taylor

Launched in August 1911, the Chief featured a triple expansion engine incorporating three cylin ders of increasing size and pressure. Such engines, according to Mr. Taylor, are no longer in production. If it were destroyed, he said, another one could not be made.

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