Ironton Ferry 70 percent complete

Now back in the water after undergoing a winter of reconstruction, the Ironton Ferry is more than halfway to completion.
Now back in the water after undergoing a winter of reconstruction, the Ironton Ferry is more than halfway to completion (Courtesy Photo/BC Gazette)
Now back in the water after undergoing a winter of reconstruction, the Ironton Ferry is more than halfway to completion (Courtesy Photo/BC Gazette)

Now back in the water after undergoing a winter of reconstruction, the Ironton Ferry is more than halfway to completion.

According to Ironton Ferry Board Committee Member and Ferry refurbishment project manager Richard Gillespie, the ferry could be back in Ironton and making runs as early as Memorial Day weekend.
“There is much to do,” he said. “Everyone is working hard to shoot for two days before the Memorial weekend starts—but that is a very ambitious thought (so) we shall see.”
The nearly $200,000 refurbishment project has been delayed by U.S. Coast Guard regulations, a harsh winter, and slower than anticipated engineering work.
“We were promised the (engineering) drawings for the first of January and they did not get delivered to the Coast Guard until April 18—that is the delay,” Gillespie said.
“With the vessel back in the water I would rate it as 70 percent (finished) given that the larger structural items are in place.”
He added, “It’s down to wiring, plumbing and connections. The biggest remaining item will be plugging the hole in the deck.”
The heavy snowfall this past winter also kept Charlevoix County Road Commission crews busy plowing roads and gave them less time to help with the reconstruction of the ferry.
Gillespie said he understands some people are annoyed with the delays but the ferry had to be dealt with as it was a safety issue.
“It was suggested by the Coast Guard that we should fix the vessel up,” he said.
“Having dealt with the Coast Guard for many years it was a clear message.”
Gillespie said, in addition to completely re-powering the ferry and building a new wheelhouse they are pretty much rewiring the vessel, reworking the bilge system, repainting the interior, reworking the propeller shafts, bearings, repositioning the wheel house to make the vessel capable of carrying cars and trucks with trailers, emergency vehicles, ambulances and other vehicles of the like.
“The improvements will be very much worth the wait and improve customer satisfaction and mobility,” he said.
Work on the ferry began back in November 2012 with plans to move the control center, or wheelhouse; rebuild the tired 1978 diesel engine; and completely rewire the craft.
A crew of men removed the old wheelhouse on Friday March 22. It was donated—as was the last engine—to the Northern Michigan Antique Flywheelers in Walloon Lake where it will be displayed among other historic items.
A new wheelhouse has been built, the new diesel-powered hydraulic power plant is more environmentally-friendly than the 1978 model, and the ferry will be able to operate further into the winter season, if deemed necessary, due to its self-contained cooling system; the old engine was cooled by taking in lake water.
The ferry, which generally opens on or around April 15 of each year and closes around Thanksgiving, has made nearly 700,000 trips during its lifetime.
According to Gillespie, the ferry continues to operate through user fees, which helped generate the fund balance to pay for improvements.
The ferry is Coast Guard-approved to haul four cars at a time. And, for the first time, it will be rated for its hauling ability, which will improve safety.
The ferry improvements are being funded through the ferry’s operational fund.
The ferry will remain docked in Boyne City until completed.