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St. Marys Challenger Makes Possible Final Voyage To Chicago

The St. Marys Challenger sails on the Calumet River in Chicago. (Credit: Bob Roberts)

The St. Marys Challenger sails on the Calumet River in Chicago. (Credit: Bob Roberts)

roberts250 Bob Roberts
Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – The oldest freighter on the Great Lakes is back in Chicago for what might be one of the last times.

The St. Marys Challenger, better known to Chicagoans of the Baby Boomer generation as the Medusa Challenger, arrived shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, loaded with powdered cement loaded in Charlevoix, Mich.

A group of ship enthusiasts greeted her arrival, shooting photographs at the 92nd, 95th, 100th, and 106th Street bridges over the Calumet River. One fan, Mark Wolodarsky, flew in from New York to photograph the vessel.

“I’ve been photographing it for about five years now, and it’s an amazing piece of machinery,” he said.

As WBBM first reported last week, the ship faces an uncertain future. She faces a mandatory five-year federal survey inspection next month. At that time, owner Port Cities Steamship Services is expected to decide whether to re-engine her with a modern diesel power plant, or convert her to a faceless barge, removing the wheelhouse and stern of the ship so that it can be pushed by a tug.

The Challenger was built in 1906, two years before the first Model T Ford, and six years before the Titanic. She was built as a general purpose freighter but was converted by the Medusa Cement Co. to haul powdered cement in 1968. From 1968 until 1979, she traveled between Medusa’s Charlevoix, Mich., facility and Goose Island using the Chicago River. The traffic jams and stuck bridge leafs she left in her wake downtown were legendary.

Since 1979, she has off-loaded the powdered cement in Calumet Harbor.