Dockside Classic: 1953 Navy Surplus Landing Craft – Still A Working Ferry For the State of Michigan

Mrs. Carlsberg66 and I had a chance to steal away to northern Michigan for a few days this month.  One of the stops was arguably Michigan’s crown jewel, Mackinac Island, located on Lake Huron just off the tip of the mitten between the upper and lower peninsulas, accessible by aircraft, private boat and ferries from St. Ignace or Mackinac City.  The State of Michigan has title to most of the land (80%) on the island and it’s been a state park since 1895 (the State’s first), but there are hotels, residences and businesses that are privately owned as well.

We enjoyed our stay on the island, just the two of us…. hiking and cycling and as it was off peak, it was 75% less crowded than in the summer, and the weather was perfect.  The hotels shut down around October 31st, and the year round population as of the 2010 census was just 492, but there is a K-12 school on the island.  And a very vintage ferry.

Cars have been forbidden on the island for well over 100 years and horses and bikes are the primary conveyances, so there wasn’t much to look at car-wise.  Horses and carriages of all shapes and sizes carry passengers to the hotels and around the island, as well as everything under the sun to keep the place going year round.

But when they need to get some major maintenance or projects done, way on the other side of the island away from the tourists, there is a service dock to accommodate a large cargo ferry.  They even sneak in some big stuff when they need it, like a dump truck or road grader, and have them creep along very slowly on defined roadways, almost as if to keep it a secret.  It was there that I spied this watercraft below, a State of Michigan owned army surplus landing craft, which the operator said was made back in 1953.

While I am intrigued by all things that float, drive or fly, I do not profess to be an expert at identifying seagoing craft, so I won’t even try, but they sure are cool.  This one had a small backhoe on it as well as some other materials.  Researching it, it was made by Avondale Marine Ways, Inc., in New Orleans, in 1953, registered to the Navy, and ended up with the State of Michigan in 1964.  It measures 56′ long and 14′ wide.

Here she is, docked just off the main tourist area downtown not far away from much fancier sailboats and yachts.  The operator said it had twin Detroit Diesels that were overhauled not long ago.  Kind of sad though, the State of Michigan has yet to grace the proud old girl with a proper name.  Just LCM-6.  I wonder what kind of life she led before being put into service here?

I think it’s amazing that the State of Michigan has something like this in its inventory, but you have to have the right tool for the job.  It is about 5 miles or so by ferry to St. Ignace from the Island, and about 7-8 from the island to Mackinac City.  In the jet boat to St. Ignace, it was an 18 minute trip, have to say it would be an hour or more in this craft.  In the photo above, she is quite happy chugging along in calm waters at I would guess a casual 10-12 knots.  I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how rough the Great Lakes can be during high winds or a storm.  I am sure the landing craft was tested to navigate the rough waters they might face with troops storming a beachhead, but it would be a rough out in this on Lake Huron in 6 foot waves with a flat bottom boat.  Nevertheless, it’s always great to see something still going after 67 years!