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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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It All Boils Down to This: Week of August 10-16 and Beyond

Posted 08-18-2008 at 12:53 AM by Jon Tschiggfrie
There is a very real sense of loss that tends to accompany the completion of a personal journey and the subsequent retrospection. Maybe the loss is better described as an inward perception of uselessness or stagnation, rather than regret or grief. But in many ways they feel the same. It is my solemn yet heartrending duty to announce that what you see before you is the last in this blog, “Notes” From the Road. As I will assume that you know, dear reader, I have been spending this summer “traveling the country to research the steam calliope tradition on America’s inland rivers.” What a trivial and immaterial description that turned out to be.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this summer, it’s this: when it comes to the type of project I’ve undertaken, it’s really not about the research. What are truly important, what really matter, are the people you meet and the friends you make. The “work” comes second. It only takes a brief glance through my postings – or so I would hope! – to realize this immutable fact and the effect it has had on me. I think of the individuals I’ve been fortunate enough to know and work with over the last three months and I begin to appreciate the level of friendship and generosity that comes as second nature to these folks. My experiences across the country have solidified my impression of the river community.

The second week of August is no exception to the rule, as I shall illustrate. Some people have inquired as to whether or not we made it aboard the Delta Queen in Cape Girardeau this past week. Rest assured, my personal “holy grail” of steamboat calliopes was visited by this intrepid father-and-son team last Tuesday, but in no way as a result of our efforts alone. Both Capt. Paul Thoeny and Discovery Guide Mary Sward Charlton ensured that we would be taken aboard, and taken aboard we were! Amid a crew turnover, with no passengers for miles around, we had free reign up on the Sun Deck and the hot rubber roof. I learned a second valuable lesson that day: given the right conditions, summer sun and rubber roofing will effectively erase the treads right off of your sneakers.

Dad, Caitlin, and I got into St. Louis Monday evening to stay with my sister at her apartment downtown. The next morning, we got a call from Capt. Jim Blum, with the Coast Guard office in St. Louis and a dear friend of both Dad and me. The boat wouldn’t be making it to the Gateway City due to heavy traffic. We made the split-second decision to drive the ninety minutes down to Cape Girardeau, while Sarah and Caitlin would spend the day together doing whatever a pair of twenty-something women do in St. Louis. I’m sure they had a grand time. No sooner did we arrive in the Cape than we were greeted on the head of the boat by Mary, a welcome face amid a security crew of strangers. We lugged our gear aboard and then had a pleasant surprise in meeting up with Fred Carmichael down in the engine room (pictured below with Dad topside). Mary and Fred made for a wonderful yet brief stay on the DQ, and I severely regret not having the presence of mind to get a photo of the four of us together.

Then it was to work! I got my measurements up on the roof, taking time to really appreciate this Nichol-crafted work of art. While up there, I got some extra photos for posterity. After setting up recording devices and all the fancy physics paraphernalia, we set to tootling. Dad took to it like he hadn’t been off the boat for a day. My heart skipped a beat when he turned to me and said, “You wanna play a few?” I nervously approached the shimmering golden console, as I recognized the sheer power bestowed upon he who strokes those ivory keys. When you play the steam calliope, you command the complete attention of anyone within earshot, whether they like it or not. I laid my fingers upon the keyboard with caution.

Well, I just about died. This was heaven. Here I was, playing the archetypal steam calliope aboard the matron of American steamboats. I believe this is what the poets call “a dream come true” or “having the time of your life.” And here’s the thing – nobody told me to stop. Dad and I had drawn a crowd down to the riverfront, and after each song people would cheer from the shore. I don’t usually surrender my humility like this, but I felt like a king. After striking my final chord, Dad exclaimed to the clapping throngs, “Thank you, music lovers!” In my few precious minutes, I’d ascended to the ranks of those who got to hammer out more than five notes on the Delta Queen calliope. If that’s not pure, unadulterated ecstasy, I don’t know what is. For your viewing enjoyment, please find a photo of Dad at his post below, as well as a video of the whole occasion on YouTube here. I seized the opportunity to play “The Delta Queen Don’t Come Here Anymore” while I still had the chance.

That statement brings me back to where I began. As I painfully admitted above, the summer is coming to a close for me and the pangs of wistfulness are tugging at my heart. After finishing up aboard the boat and checking off, Dad and I photographed the grand lady from outside the floodwall at the Cape. I found myself preoccupied with the phrase “the last time.” The final photo below may be, it breaks my heart to say, “the last time” we’re pictured with the boat. Even now, I am struck by the sobering thought of this possibly having been our “last time” aboard the Delta Queen. In my memory, the strains of our ballyhoo echoes in the distance, a fitting metaphor of my melancholy. While the campaign to save the boat continues under the guidance of some wonderful and able persons, I already feel like I’ve lost a close friend. All in one week, three things have been taken from me: my steamboat, my travels and friends, and my better half. Now I am tasked with composing this paper for the University, as well as a multimedia presentation in September. My productivity has suffered due to my distracted mind.

But in the wake of this overwhelming sense of loss come the uplifting reminiscences of yesterday and the hopeful promise of tomorrow. I’ve taken the liberty of creating a photo album on my own website, accessible by clicking here, documenting the places we’ve gone and the people we’ve encountered. I have folders and tapes and files full of the data and information I’ve gathered since June. I have a blank notebook and plenty of hard drive space for the results to be captured. And the Save the Delta Queen Campaign presses on with the help of Senator George Voinovich. Things look bright.

It all comes full circle, you see. In February, I had this crazy idea that I might be able to get a grant to study riverboat calliopes, of all things. Getting paid to have the best summer of my life sounded like a pretty good deal. I had no idea just how life-changing it would turn out to be. And I owe it all to you.

You are the ones who have made my summer so enjoyable and even remotely feasible. You are the ones who told me to keep up the good work and helped me get where I needed to be. You are the ones who I am honored to have visited and worked with.

You are the ones that this summer was really for.

Thank you all so very much from the bottom of my heart.

See you ‘round the bend,

Jon Tschiggfrie
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Posted in Music, Travel
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To read Jonathan's comments over the past three months in his blog has been a source of both great pride and humility for his dad. I have refrained from making any comments as his research continued, but now that our travels are over, I feel that I must echo his sentiments in offering my deepest thanks to all our friends who have done so much for Jonathan and his calliope project. You can't begin to explain to someone what it means to be part of the steamboat community; it's something that has to be experienced. Each of you have welcomed and supported us at every bend in the river! THANK YOU ALL for making this a summer to remember for a father and his son. You have given us a great gift that we will always treasure.
Posted 08-18-2008 at 11:56 AM by David Tschiggfrie David Tschiggfrie is offline
You are to be commended on your efforts....and have enjoyed reading your blogs,,..
AS in playing a steam calliope or (building one)
it is a love,,,it comes from your heart ,,,
as is your endeavor,,,,..
YES ,,their is no feeling in the world,,,playing your best and a crowd of people absolutely
LOVING it,,as you said (make me feel like a king)
(AND ,,you will find yourself ,playing all the harder for them)
We are more than happy to be a part of your friendship/research,,,,...
OH and tell DAD ,,we'll lit off the boiler<<anytime>>
Posted 08-19-2008 at 01:58 AM by Dave Morecraft Dave Morecraft is offline

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