The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 26 Sep 1865

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An Enterprise of Much Commercial Importance
A Ferry Capable of Transporting a Train of Cars Across the River

There was never greater commercial activity throughout the country than at present. Commercial conventions have been and are being held, and business men are getting together to discuss matters affecting their interests, and to study out plans for the increase of the commercial greatness of the country. New lines of railroads are being opened, and still numerous others are being projected. The carrying facilities of the old established lines are being greatly increased. A desideratum now seems to be to transport freight as far as possible without breaking bulk - an operation that is performed at the expense of much time and labor. An illustration of the views of business men on this subject may be seen in the consolidation of the Atlantic and Great Western broad-gauge route, and its connections from New York to St. Louis, and in running cars from Boston to the latter city, a distance of over twelve hundred miles, without disturbing their contents. The Great Central Route, as it is called, including the New York Central, Great Western (of Canada), Michigan Central and Illinois Central, is hindered only by trifling obstacles from the similar transportation an equal distance. These obstacles are the difference in gauge between the Great Western, of Canada, and the other roads, and the Detroit River. The first obstacle can be overcome by the laying of a third rail. This matter has already been thoroughly canvassed, and it is likely that the third rail will be laid at no distant day. The second obstacle, the Detroit River, will shortly be no obstacle at all. To bridge the river is out of the question. The Great Western Railway have, therefore, resorted to the construction of a ferry-boat of sufficient dimensions to transport a train of cars.

This ferry-boat is one of the greatest achievements of modern enterprise, and is in itself a wonder. Nothing like it has ever been seen on the Western waters. It will be the "Great Eastern" of the lakes. It is already well under way at Jenkin's ship-yard, near Windsor, and a brief description may not be uninteresting. The vessel is being built entirely of wrought iron, and the weight of the hull alone, exclusive of the boilers and machinery, will exceed five hundred tons. The length of keel is 220 feet; breadth of beam, 40 feet; depth of hold, 12 feet. There will be a rudder at each end, to prevent the necessity of turning in the river. The rudders themselves are ponderous pieces of workmanship of solid iron, weighing not less than five tons each, and are to be so fitted that by the action of a very simple and easily worked piece of machinery, the one can be easily secured while the other is in use. There will be eight water-tight compartments or bulkheads. Besides the iron keelsons, the boat will be further strengthened by immense wrought-iron stanchions, or pillars, at intervals along its whole length. There will be a double track laid down on the deck, to accommodate fourteen freight cars. The boat is especially adapted for overcoming the difficulties of winter navigation here, and it is fully expected, from the peculiarity of her construction, and the immense strength of her bows, and steering apparatus, that she will be able to make her regular trips irrespective of weather. The boat was originally built at Glasgow, Scotland, by Messrs. Barclay & Curle, ship-builders, according to the plans and specification furnished by the Great Western Railway Company. It was then taken apart and transported hither, and is being reconstructed under the superintendence of Mr. Neil Currie, of Toronto. Before being taken apart, the several thousand pieces which compose the hull were marked and numbered, so as to be again fitted into their proper places. Most of the iron is now delivered at the ship-yard, and the work of putting it together is going rapidly forward. The boat is designed to be ready for use next summer, but we learn that the contractors for the engines will fail to complete their part of the work by that time. If the contract had been given to some of our energetic and skillful Detroit engine-builders, it would have been filled in splendid style inside of three months.

Should the third track on the Great Western, alluded to above, not be laid, the transportation of cars across the river will still prove a great savings of time and the handling of freight. The cars will then be placed side by side and the contents of one transported to another, thus obviating the tedious task of handling half a dozen times, as is now the case. This project of building a ferry has been under consideration for several years, and it has now taken such tangible shape that it is likely to be completed and in active use before many months shall pass. The enterprise is one of considerable importance, as affecting transportation to the seaboard.

The boat will present a novel appearance. To gratify the curiosity of those who may wish to see the great iron vessel, one of the ferry-boats will convey visitors to and from the ship-yard on Sunday afternoon next.

*Actually Jenking, but often misspelled as Jenkins.

NOTE: The ferry was completed the next spring and launched as GREAT WESTERN (C#80576) amid great fanfare. She had a long and successful career as a ferry on the Detroit River until finally being reduced to a barge in 1924. She was the second carferry and one of the largest vessels of any type on the lakes.

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26 Sep 1865
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Dave Swayze
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 26 Sep 1865