Front view of the majestic Delta Queen. Courtesy of Ted Knack, 1545 Tenth Avenue East, St. Paul Park, Minnesota 55071.
1545 Tenth Avenue, St. Paul Park, Minnesota
On October twenty-first a great lady passed our town on the Mississippi River heading for St. Paul. I am speaking of the Delta Queen; that big paddle wheel steam boat that has plied the rivers of the United States for forty years. Now maybe a lot of you Iron-Man readers have never seen the Delta Queen, but I am sure that most of us steam engine fans have heard of her.
She carried many tourists on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, making trips that were five days or more, from New Orleans all the way to St. Paul and from Cinn. on the Ohio, to St. Louis, Missouri. It was the last overnight passenger steam boat on the inland waterways. You probably think, what is so special about the Delta Queen to the river? To many people who live near the river the Delta Queen is like a steam traction engine was to the men who ran them. The Delta Queen to me is like a steam traction engine is to a steam engineer, or the railroad steam engine was to the men who ran them. The Delta Queen to me is the greatest of the steamers that used to move on the rivers before the coming of the diesel engine.
Many times I have gone down to Lambert Landing in St. Paul to see the Delta Queen on its arrival. I have been fortunate to go aboard and see how well the Queen is made the Teak and Mahogany woodwork and the brass that just shines and shines. The big paddle wheel that pushes the Queen through the water and the calliope playing music by steam power makes this a sight to see. I have never been able to see the Delta Queen running on the river. I always was working when it went by, but this trip was going to be different. It was departing St. Paul at 8:00 pm on the twenty-second and I was in great anticipation to see it moving on the river.
This trip was special too. It was the last time the Delta Queen would be coming to St. Paul. Congress would not give the Queen an extension on a safety law that they passed which prohibits vessels with wooden structures to carry passengers overnight. The Queen has a steel structured hull, but its super structure is wood. How Congress ever included the Delta Queen in the safety at sea law I don't know, but November 2, 1970 was the last day it was allowed to run on the river as an overnight passenger steamer.
On the day She arrived I told the wife to have an early supper and we would take the kids to see the Delta Queen. As we came near the landing I could see that a lot of people had come to see the Queen, just as I was doing. In fact, it was so crowded it reminded me of some of the steam engine shows we had gone to the past year; many people coming to see something of the past. After driving one half hour to find a parking place and not finding one, the wife and I decided we would go home and try the next night when it departs for what would be its last time in St. Paul.
I decided to go to Lambert Landing at 7:00 pm the evening She would be leaving. Departure time was 8:00 pm. I was sure it would be exciting to see the Queen leaving and moving down the river. Well the Queen never let us down! There were many more people there this time. The paper said over three thousand came to give their last salute to this Great Lady. Parking was almost impossible except on the street which was a thoroughfare and no parking on it. But tonight was different! So many cars were parked on the street that it would have been impossible to tag all of them. I commend the Police Department for the good job in keeping one lane open for traffic, and still letting the people stop who came to see the Queen.
What a sight it was! It was misting that night and a light haze covered the river. By the Queen, bands were playing, people were singing and dancing. Every one was in a state of excitement. Pictures were being taken. As the tow boats passed by, their whistles blasted a salute to the Queen. The calliope was playing songs such as; 01 Lang Syne, Minnesota's Hats off to Thee, and many other old-songs connected with the river. As the steam would come out of the calliope, different colored lights would show the steam in different colors.
Standing there watching this I got to thinking how in this world could there be people who want to stop this great steamer from operating on the inland waterways?
Now the time had come for Her to leave and as she backed into the main channel, whistle blowing and calliope still playing, she left St. Paul in a true send off. As we drove back to St. Paul Park, our home, I said to the wife, 'You know, we could still get one more look at Her as She went through St. Paul Park Bridge.' It wouldn't take her long to get there, so we did.
The night was very quiet and as it came into view the search lights scanned the banks. You couldn't even hear the Queen as she slipped through the night. Then the long blast of the whistle for the bridge. As she came by it was so quiet you could hear the people on board talking and hollering to the people on shore. The paddle wheel was stopped as it coasted toward the bridge. As the bridge opened, the paddle wheel began to move and soon she was out of sight.
That was the way it was all the way down the river clear to New Orleans as the paper said. No matter what time of the day or night, midnight or daylight, when the Queen would go through the locks or dams on the Mississippi, people were standing on the banks to see Her as She would go by.
Just to see Her and hear the whistle as it slipped quietly by is a sight I will never forget.
Incidentally, this trip was sold out for over a year. And if you never had a ride on the Delta Queen or have not seen it, write a letter to your Congressman to save the Delta Queen.