February 28, 1974: Launching of the Incan Superior

On this day in 1974 the Incan Superior North was launched in Vancouver, British Columbia. On her maiden voyage the vessel travelled from North Vancouver down the west coast, through the Panama Canal, up the eastern seaboard, down the St. Lawrence Seaway, and across the Great Lakes to her new owners, Incan Ships, Ltd., in Thunder Bay. According to Twin Ports railroad historian Jeff Lemke, the Incan Superior was built as a “railroad car ferry—a flat decked rail car carrying ship—that operated on the big lake hauling railroad cars between Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada and Superior, Wisconsin.” Essentially, she was more of a train than a boat. Made of steel, the Incan Superior was 373 feet long, 66 feet wide, had a depth of 23 feet, with a gross tonnage of 3,838. The deck of the vessel was fitted with five tracks that could carry up to 32 40-foot boxcars or 26 50-foot boxcars. Captain Dick Metz remembered the boat’s first trip to Superior on June 12, 1974: “On our first trip to Superior, we had a deck load of only one rail car as a test. As we entered the break wall at Superior with flags blowing steadily into the wind, a group of small craft came out to escort Incan through the piers and along the inside harbor to Duluth. Television helicopters flew overhead taking pictures, various tugboats and ships blew whistle salutes, and high-pressure water hoses shot streams of water far into the air.” There is much more to the Incan Superior’s story, and you can read it here.

The Incan Superior, loaded with rail cars, navigates the Duluth Ship Canal as it leaves Duluth for Thunder Bay. (Image: Courtesy of Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, Bowling Green State University)