The paddle wheel

The paddle wheel in action on the Ohio River.

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Route 1, Box 309, Frederic, Wisconsin 54837

Being retired, is in a sense a privilege, and with all my hobbies, I seem pressed for time. We thank our Good Lord for every day He gives us strength to enjoy this version of freedom. 'Hobby-farming' gives a chance to play with 'old iron,' disking ground or threshing oats with my old 10-20 Titan, sawing stove wood with a 5 HP Galloway, etc., all in fun, good exercise and something accomplished. Going places has a lot of priority, though I have this continuous yen to look at old thresher catalogs and copies of 'American Thresherman.' I also have complete sets of hobby magazines, 'The Iron-Men Album,' the 'Gas Engine Magazine,' 'Engineers and Engines,' and 'Western Engines.' The winters may be long by the calendar, but I just scratched the surface on reading these 'collected items.'

In so doing, I came to the July-August 1971 issue of 'I.M.A.' This issue is in memory of our beloved founder and publisher of Stemgas Publishing Company, the Reverend Elmer L. Ritzman. From a humble beginning in 1947 to 9,000 subscribers in 25 years. His inspiration, was in reality the beginning of the steam shows, and his efforts have preserved the past for the present and the future. I feel very honored and grateful for having known him as a personal friend. Certainly his acquaintance, his faith and love of people has added much to the life of those who knew him. He was indeed, a great and humble man.

In this July-August issue, is an article by Ted Knack of St. Paul Park, Minnesota. The story of another passing, or so it was designated by Congress, to terminate a boat's career. This 'Great Lady,' none other than the majestic riverboat, the 'Delta Queen.' My one fantasy had long been to some day board this boat and cruise down Old Man River. Since that article came out, through the efforts of Delta Queen fans, and Senators Robert Taft (of Ohio) and Hugh Scott (of Pa.) they sponsored a bill that exempted the steam paddle wheeler from provisions of the 'Safety at Sea' law. Thus the veteran of some 50 years is still cruising the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio from New Orleans to Pittsburgh, and St. Paul. At any rate, it was this article by Ted Knack, that prompted me to add another chapter.

My wife, Hazel, and I, having had the opportunity to board the Delta Queen on two occasions, will say that those relaxing adventures are moments never to be forgotten. In '76 we cruised down the Mississippi River from St. Paul to St. Louis (July 29-August 3). In '77 we were again fortunate to get reservations in our same cabin, number 336, on top deck. This time we went aboard at Cincinnati and cruised up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh, and back (September 16-23). This cruise was indeed a historic trip. A bus tour through Pittsburgh was highlighted by a ride up the Monongahela incline railway, constructed over 100 years ago. It was quite a contrast to the 64 story, all steel building, 841' high, in downtown Pittsburgh. We were really impressed by the old river towns, stopping off at East Liverpool, Marietta, and Parkers-burg.

The friendly people and the leisure atmosphere are typical of the Delta Queen. The food was generous and excellent. We were assigned to table #23 for this trip; together with another couple from Canton, Ohio, Paul and Donna Kutcher. It was a thrilling occasion on September 23, when the Kutchers were surprised by the gift of a fancy 35th wedding anniversary cake 'on the house' 'boat house,' that is. Congratulations were in order and it was a picture-taking event. Upon landing in Cincinnati, the Kutchers were gracious to drive us to the airport. Thankful we are for friends like that. We harbor hopes to meet them again, just maybe on the Delta Queen.

History on the Delta Queen is indeed a book by itself. Perhaps one of the better publications is 'The Saga of the Delta Queen' by Frederick Way, Jr. The 'Queen' was built at Stockton, California in 1926, at an all time high cost of any river stern wheeler, $875,000. The steel hull, 258' by 58' was fabricated in Glascow, Scotland. The paddle wheel shaft and cranks were cast in Krupp, Germany. The cross-compound condensing engine was built by C. H. Evans & Company, San Francisco, using a 'California cut-off' valve arrangement. The cylinders are 52' and 26' by 10' stroke, rated 2,000 horsepower at 150 pounds pressure. Two water tube boilers are fired with 'Bunker C' (no. 6 crude oil). The fuel tank capacity is 42,000 gallons. The pit mans turning the paddle wheel at 15 rpm's are 40' long and weigh 10 ton each. The paddle wheel has 28 arms, diameter 28' and 19' wide, with a 28' water dip. The speed of the luxury liner is from 3 to 7 miles per hour. It was designed to carry 200 passengers on overnight trips on the Sacramento River.

The depression years of the 1930s slowed down business and when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy took over the two identical boats; the Delta Queen and the Delta King, painted them gray and used them for serious duties during the war, ferrying troops to and from ocean going vessels in San Francisco Bay, and wounded men from ships to hospitals. In 1946 the Navy auctioned off the Delta King for $60,000 to an ocean firm, the Delta Queen for $46,000; the only bid received. It was purchased by Tom Greene of Green line Steamers, Cincinnati. An ocean going tug was engaged to pull the Queen, and on April 19, left San Francisco and arrived in New Orleans one month later via the Panama Canal, a distance of 5,261 miles without incident. It was then taken to Pittsburgh for complete overhaul where it remained until February 1, 1948, making a trip to Cairo, Illinois by June 30, 1948. Since that time it has built up nostalgic popularity and public support, being listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In trying to picture a cruise on the Delta Queen, I am at a loss for words. One is free to roam the boat, to write letters, or play cards in the main lounge, play 'boat-bingo,' buy films, souvenirs, soft drinks (and others), join the sing-a-long in the Texas lounge. There is live entertainment and dancing in the evenings. It is very interesting passing through the river locks, meeting the many barges, passing under or through drawbridges with no two alike. It is interesting to watch the steady valve motions of the steam engines, the powerful strokes of the connecting rod arms, the constant mist about the huge paddle wheel and the endless river sweels left behind; definitely a past time never to be forgotten. In this age of space talk, speed and confusion, this nostalgic lure of the past has no comparison. Try it, you'll be glad you did. It's fantastic!