Mississippi Queen steamboat

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Steam specialists, we figure, are attracted by all uses of steam for providing power so we think you'll be interested in the operation of the Mississippi Queen, biggest steamboat on any United States river.

We took the trip from New Orleans to Vicksburg and back with a group of Montanans from Helena and Great Falls. We saw the whole boat including the modern engine room, with- its horizontal, tandem compound, condensing steam engine.

The Mississippi Queen is operated by the same company which runs the Delta Queen, the famous steamer that is half a century old. On the trip we took, the two Queens met twice at Natchez, they tied up together and passengers could exchange boat visits.

To give you some idea of the Mississippi Queen's scale, here are some of the vital statistics:

Length, 379 feet; beam, 68 feet; draft, 8 feet; cost of construction $24 million; passenger capacity, 400 number of staterooms, 218; crew size, 125; gross tonnage, 4,500 tons; steam engine horsepower, 2,000 HP; cruising speed, 12 MPH.

Fuel oil tankage totals 430 tons; fresh water tankage, 440 tons plus 150 tons daily; fuel consumption in service, estimated 335 gallons an hour; auxiliary generator capacity, 3,000 KW; steam pressure, 500 pounds.

The Mississippi Queen also boasts the 'biggest steam calliope in the world.' It can be heard for miles around when it is giving out with its tunes. It is placed high on the rear top deck. Sometimes it gets out of tune, and a wrench is used to tune it.

On the voyage we took, the calliope was played by the skipper, Captain Gabriel Chengery, who has a certificate attesting to his qualifications.

The Mississippi Queen has two boilers forward, producing steam to be sent back to the engine, which has a high and a low pressure cylinder on each side. The steam is condensed, changed into water and recirculated.

The drive power for the boat is provided solely by the huge stern wheel, kept revolving by one Pitman arm on each side. Each stroke of the arm produces one revolution of the paddle wheel. At full speed, the wheel makes 12 or 13 revolutions a minute.

The boat is equipped with evaporators which take river water and distill it before it is fed into the boilers.

Two 1,500-KW steam turbine electric generators supply all the electrical power for the vessel. A 500-KW diesel generator on the top deck is kept on standby, to be used only if the steam turbines both develop trouble.

Enough electricity is generated on the Mississippi Queen to take care of a small town. Close watch is kept on fuel use, for energy conservation.

Information on the use of steam was provided by Captain Chengery and Fred Klein, first assistant engineer.

The Delta Queen celebrated her 50th birthday in 1976. She has a fascinating story all her own. She is smaller than the Mississippi Queen, 285 feet in length; with 2,000 steam engine HP, and a passenger capacity of 192.

President of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, which operates both boats, is Betty Blake, 46, a graduate in commerce and business administration from the University of Kentucky. Headquarters is at Cincinnati, Ohio.


The $20 million Mississippi Queen is the first overnight steam wheel steamboat to be built since the Delta Queen in 1926. From stem to stern, from capstan to fantail, from her landing stage to her giant red paddlewheel, she embodies a renaissance in steamboat design. Her exterior is as traditional as the famous Natchez or Robert E. Lee. Her interior is a blend of nineteenth century grace and contemporary elegance.

The designing and planning of the new sternwheeler took more than six years with the major initial problem being finance. In 1969, when it became apparent that it would require far more money than was available, the stockholders sold The Delta Queen Steamboat Company to Overseas National Airways (ONA).

The shipbuilding contract was let in March, 1973 to Jeffboat Inc., Jeffersonville, Indiana. Of historical interest is the fact that from 1840 to 1880 more than 4,800 steamboats, including the Natchez of Captain Thomas P. Leathers, were constructed in Jeffersonville at the Howard Shipyard, making it the most prolific riverboat yard of the nineteenth century.

The Mississippi Queen design is a progressive development in the tradition of the steamboats that once plied the Mississippi River System. The Grand Staircase, the Grand Saloon, the Cabin Lounge, the pilothouse, the raised ceiling down the center of the main public rooms, the paddlewheel, the steam engine, the tall twin stacks and the calliope relate back to the old riverboats.

But the new steamer is outfitted with conveniences and facilities unknown to the oldtime riverboats. She has a swimming pool, sauna, exercise room, movie theater, beauty salon, two passenger elevators and air conditioning throughout with individual room controls.

The Mississippi Queen has been built to comply with the latest Coast Guard requirements. All bulkheads, decks and overheads have been constructed with steel, Marinite, and other fireproof materials. Major compartments are separated by electronically controlled, automatic doors.