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Join me this summer as I travel the country to research the steam calliope tradition on America's inland rivers.
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Taking the Plunge: Week of May 25-31

Posted 06-01-2008 at 06:22 PM by Jon Tschiggfrie
Welcome to my blog, “Notes” From the Road! Join me weekly this summer 2008 as I delve deep into the world of steam calliopes. This is a[n attempt at a] side project of a research grant that I’ve received from the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul. Every Sunday I’ll post updates on my research, including interesting and/or questionable facts, calliope mysteries, and of course, the stories that accompany any earnest discussion of the river.

Today’s entry comes after a full week of searching through the archives at the Capt. Bill Bowell River Library, which has left me with more questions than answers. As such, the following is my first call for info from the steamboat community. You can email me directly at if you like on any of the following issues:

1. Any information on the authentic Str. Alaska Queen, renovated 2007 which carries 1880s-vintage engines and recently had installed a steam calliope that appeared at Sacramento's Railfair 1999

2. Str. Chin-du-Wan, which ran on the Sacramento River from ca. 1850 to at least 1916

3. Any calliope manufacturers (steam only!) other than Stoddard/American Steam Music Co., Kratz, Wilde, Nichol, Frisbie, Davis Call. Works, Morecraft Mfg. (this can include Kirkup Co. and Van Duzen Bellworks, which I have only a passing mention of)

4. Str. Gracie Mower, probably a towboat or rafter, referenced in Frank Fugina's "Lore and Lure"

5. Strs. Armenia, Glen Cove, Amazon, Unicorn, James Raymond, Denmark, Melnotte, Glendale, that variously claim to have been the first boats to carry a calliope (my current evidence suggests that it was NOT the Armenia, but the Glen Cove)

6. Any info on the Str. Julia Belle Swain calliope's origins, in addition to the fact that it came from the Circus World Museum

MYSTERY OF THE WEEK: While searching through the "Merchant Vessels of the United States," we found that the Idlewild's beam is listed in 1915 as 36 feet, and beginning in 1916 and for the rest of her documentation, it is listed at 46 feet. Is this a typo, or was there a completely undocumented, major renovation?

FIND OF THE WEEK: Showboat names ran the gamut from completely uninspired to completely over-the-top. The winners so far are Bart's Big Fun Show and Buhoup's Great Floating Hindoo [sic] Pagoda, respectively.

Also an interesting "fact:" the Tall Stacks website misquotes Way's Directory and claims that there were over 9000 calliopes in use on the rivers! Just think if they had all played at once... the racket heard 'round the world.

MUCH OBLIGED for any assistance provided! Next week's entry comes after my first trip northward to La Crosse, Winona and Baraboo.

See you 'round the bend,

Jon Tschiggfrie
Posted in Music, Travel
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