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Young steamboaters

Posted 05-30-2011 at 08:58 PM by Bob Reynolds
With apologies to Alan Bates, I'm going to do a rather lengthy blog entry dealing mostly with the DELTA QUEEN. This subject really came to my mind as I was reading some older posts about the DQ's new owners, catering to younger crowds, etc. I got to thinking about how a number of us who worked on the DQ in the 1970's and early 80's were not / are not what many would consider to be "riverboat crew material", and this blog explains what I feel are some of the reasons for that.

One of the first things that came to mind was the boat itself. Not only does the DELTA QUEEN have a certain "something", as many have written on the steamboats.org message boards, but the marketing of the boat done by Betty Blake and Bill Muster enter into this as well. The nationwide and worldwide marketing of the boat's plight in the 1970's brought her to the attention of many who might never have otherwise heard of her.

Another thing that enters into this is the time in history. The 1960's and 70's were a time of some social upheaval, with young people especially questioning long-accepted norms as far as class and gender were concerned, and also questioning "traditional" jobs and roles in life. The 1970's was a time on the DELTA QUEEN when many middle and upper middle class whites gravitated to the boat for work that had traditionally been done by those of a lower socio-economic level. I think this was due to the general questioning of the status quo in our society and the general social upheaval present in the 70's, as mild as it now seems to us witnessing the world events of even the past few months.

I think all these things came together: the general novelty of the DELTA QUEEN, the marketing and advertisement of the boat during that time, and the general discontent among the young middle class and the freedom of the 70's that made doing something "different" acceptable in the eyes of their parents and society. Prior to these times it would have been more or less unthinkable for middle and upper middle class whites to work as a deckhand, maid, busboy/waiter or galley hand on a steamboat, yet during this time period the middle class was very well represented in all these areas of the boat operation.

For myself and quite a few others, the "bug" came as we responded to Greene Line's marketing of the boat, and we booked a short trip on the boat and fell in love with her. For others, just the marketing campaign alone raised awareness of the boat, and people realized that jobs were available and this might be a way to try something new and unique -- do a little traveling, make a little money, take some time off from school, meet some new people, even "drop out of society" for a while; the list goes on. For others, it opened their eyes to a career opportunity they never really knew existed, one that offered something more than the mundane lives of their parents or friends, and paid good money to boot! I won't mention any names, but feel sure that there are several regulars on this board who fall into this category. Some went on to make a lifetime career of the river, and some worked at it for a while before moving along to other things, but I don't think anyone who ever worked on the boat during that period would say they regretted it. Some did not make a lifetime career of it and wish, in retrospect, that they had. Almost all feel that their days on the DELTA QUEEN were some of the best of their lives, if not THE best.

For this writer, the DELTA QUEEN opened my eyes in so many ways to real lfe and "the ways of the world". Not only did this kid experience for the first time people who actually really embraced lifestyles and beliefs totally different frrom my own and those of my peers at home, but also those who shared many of my interests that had never before been shared by anyone else I knew.

Was all this unique to "our" time in the 70' and 80's, or did it go on right up until the time the boats quit running? I would welcome others' thoughts and comments!
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Cap Reynolds,

My experience in the mid 90's on the DQ was short lived but I don't feel the crew element then fit the demographic you mention in your blog. Most were from lower income families. Working on the boat was more of a job than an adventure it sounds like it was back in the day.I really loved my time on the boat. Every minute was a learning experience. I wasn't ever afraid of the hard labor or the conditions, just realized one day that I needed to go to college to have something to fall back on. There is also a lot to be said for those who can be gone from home for those long periods of time. It's a rewarding but also at times very difficult lifestyle. Had a been under the mates watch instead of the lead deckhand who know's where I'd be right now.

Thanks for sharing this blog; the crew has always been as much of a story maker as the boat herself.

Aaron Richardson
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Posted 05-31-2011 at 11:31 AM by inactive user 01 inactive user 01 is offline
 
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