Unusual Tourist Sites: Delta Queen Riverboat in Cincinatti Ohio Part 1

About the unusual tourist site the Delta Queen Riverboat in Cincinatti Ohio, history and information about the boat.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Delta Queen Riverboat . . . In a real-life nautical version of a melodramatic movie in which the prisoner keeps getting reprieves before being led down the last mile, the venerable Delta Queen--the last steam-powered stern-wheel riverboat offering overnight passenger service in the U.S.--has received several stays of life by Congress, which, among other things, allowed sentiment to overcome the stringent regulations of the 1966 Safety at Sea Law.

The antique paddle-wheeler, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, received exemptions in 1966, 1968, and 1973 because the Delta Queen's superstructure (made largely of wood and treated with NASA-recommended fire-retardant intumescent paint--part of more than $1 million spent in renovations including fire-safety equipment) still can't meet, and can't be altered to meet, the fireproof ocean vessel construction standards set by the 1966 law--which calls for vessels carrying 50 or more overnight passengers to have steel super-structures.

The current reprieve is until November 1978, by which time the line will have an other, more modern riverboat in service. Meanwhile, America's most famous riverboat continues to ply the Mississippi and other inland waters with its distinctive red paddle-wheel (still the original 26-ton apparatus), trying to make up in nostalgia what it lacks in modern conveniences.

Surprisingly, the 50-year-old Delta Queen wasn't even intended for use on the Mississippi. The 258'-long hull, made in the early 1920s on the River Clyde, in Scotland near Glasgow, was shipped to Stockton, Calif., for final assembly and overnight employment between Sacramento and San Francisco, on the Sacramento River. Accordingly, the superstructure of oak, walnut, teak, mahogany, and ironwood was completed in 1926 and commissioned for use by the California Transportation Company.

Its career in California was rather unheralded until the U.S. Navy used the boat during W. W. II to ferry troops and the wounded in and about San Francisco Bay Decommissioned in 1947, it suffered the ignominy of being auctioned. Highest bidder for the vessel was Tom Greene, president of a Cincinnati-based line of packet steamers.

Painstakingly "crated," the Delta Queen was towed down the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal, up the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, and then on to dry dock in Pittsburgh, where the riverboat was remodeled to the tune of close to $750,000. Thereafter, the paddle-wheeler enjoyed moderate success from 1950 to 1958, but was in financial trouble by the time Californian Richard Simonton came along to restructure the company. In 1969, the company was sold again to its present owners, Overseas National Airways.

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