June 12: 1974: First trip of the ‘Incan Superior’ from Thunder Bay to Superior

On this day on Lake Superior in 1974, the car-carrier Incan Superior made the first of hundreds of crossings from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Superior, Wisconsin. One of the most unique lake vessels to sail through the Twin Ports, the Incan Superior was a railroad car ferry—a flat decked rail car carrying ship—that operated on the big lake hauling railroad cars. Twin Ports railroad historian Jeff Lemke describes her as “more of a train than a boat.” According to Lemke, “The Incan Superior was a Canadian vessel owned by Incan Ships, Ltd. and built by Burrard Dry Dock Company in North Vancouver, British Columbia and designated as a ferry. With twin screw propellors powered by twin General Motors diesel engines of 2,150 horsepower each, she was capable of reaching speeds of 30 knots, making her the fastest freight carrying ship on the Great Lakes. Made of steel, she was 373 feet long, 66 feet wide, had a depth of 23 feet, with a gross tonnage of 3,838. Flat-decked railroad car ferries like the Incan Superior have served railroads since the turn of the last century. Most of them were locally built, slow moving, worked across rivers, bridged islands, or connected two communities—sometimes in different states. But none were as streamlined, as powerful, as fast, or as widely traveled as the Incan Superior—not during her days on Lake Superior.” Read Lemke’s entire history of the Incan Superior here.

The Incan Superior, “more of a train than a boat.” (Image: Jeff Lemke, Twin Ports Rail History)