Despite the efforts of those who would rule the ship off the rivers because of her wooden construction from the main deck up, the QUEEN sails on in all her magnificence, living proof that there is still a great market for the type of hospitality, friendship and isolation from the world's troubles that the cruise ship has always offered. This vessel also offers an intimate view of the heart of America, the Mississippi River and its tributaries, the Ohio and the Tennessee.
Yet the strange part of the story is that the DELTA QUEEN, for over twenty years the pride of the Mississippi, is not a product of that river nor is she typical of the many steamers which once graced it. Her unusual appearance will be apparent in the photo in this issue. The QUEEN was, in fact, built in Glasgow, Scotland with work commencing in 1924. She was then knocked down, shipped to Stockton, California, and there completed in 1926, along with her sister, DELTA KING, for the overnight San Francisco to Sacramento service of the California Transportation Co. The service did not last for long, however, and the ships passed to River Lines Inc. in the 1930's. Soon the ships were laid up. Isbrandtsen Lines, which later acquired the ships, did not operate them and the QUEEN, rechristened YFB 56 was taken over the the U.S. Navy for personnel ferry on San Francisco Bay during the Second War. She was turned over to the U.S. Maritime Commission for disposal at the close of the hostilities.
It was while she was laid up in 1946, covered in gray paint and showing little of her former elegance, that she was discovered by Capt. Tom Greene of the famous Greene Line of Cincinnati. He took an immediate desire to have her for his river cruise service and, after buying her and having her two lower decks boxed in to prevent damage, had her towed, via the Panama Canal, all the way from Antioch, California, to New Orleans, Louisiana. In charge of the tug, OSAGE, she made the treacherous open-sea voyage in thirty-one days, arriving on May 19, 1947. She was then "uncrated"and sailed under her own power, with a stop at Cincinnati, to the Dravo Shipyard at Neville Island, Pa.
Then commenced the second half of Tom Greene's dream. The QUEEN was extensively rebuilt for her new service, alterations including the addition of much new equipment below decks. Above, she was improved by, among other changes, extending the Cabin and Texas decks all the way to the bow, by removing the cumbersome wooden paddlebox, by relocating the dining saloon on the main deck and by shortening the funnel for high-water bridge clearance. In short, she emerged in 1948 as a luxurious cruise vessel, a fitting addition to the service built up by her owners with, among others, the well-known GORDON C. GREENE.
The QUEEN's hull measures 250 feet in length, 58 feet beam and 11.5 feet in depth giving her a tonnage of 1650 gross and 589 net, but the ship is actually 285 feet in length over the sternwheel. Two oil-fired water-tube boilers feed her 2000 h.p. cross-compound engines. She has capacity for 194 passengers and her accommodations and public rooms occupy four decks. The five main public rooms are most elegantly decorated, the predominant shades being white, green and gold and everywhere are large observation windows and quantities of leaded stained glass and brass, the latter being in evidence everywhere from the magnificent stairways to the solid brass clothes-tree and spittoon in the forward cabin lounge. The staterooms are all spacious and well-appointed, there being six classes of accommodation, all very reasonable in cost.
All of the ship's officers are very friendly and seen to take a personal interest in each passenger. A prime example of this is Capt. Clarke Hawley, Master of the QUEEN on a recent voyage to Kentucky Lake. Excellent entertainment is provided by Cruise Director Vic Tooker and his staff while the crew, under Chief Steward Franklin Myles certainly knows how to give gracious service. The cuisine aboard the ship could only be described as first class in all respects. The QUEEN is, by the way, very comfortably air-conditioned despite her age.
Unfortunately, the DELTA QUEEN has been given only until November 1, 1970, to operate and, unless the much-sought extension on her certificate is approved by the U. S. Government, time for ship fans to take in the enchantment of a river cruise is short. Under the circumstances, the QUEEN's 1969 season of operation has been extended for the first time into the winter months. She will make a one-way St. Louis to Memphis trip November 8-10, a Memphis to New Orleans round trip November 10 to 19, respectively. As usual, the ship will move north come next season's warmer weather and will operate her great assortment of cruises out of Cincinnati and it is recommended that all enthusiasts seriously consider reliving the days of steamboat era of the past by relaxing for a few days aboard this, the last of the riverboats.
We wish the DELTA QUEEN many more years of sailing so that more may know her, the pleasures to be found on her decks, the merry sound of the steam calliope saluting the passing river towns, and the plaintive echo of a steamboat whistle among the hills along a river.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.